قَدْ أَفْلَحَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ o الَّذِينَ هُمْ فِي صَلَاتِهِمْ خَاشِعُونَ.
Certainly will the believers have succeeded: They who are during their prayer Khashiyoon. [23:1-2]
Prayer without khushoo is like fire without warmth. It does cover your obligation of praying as a Muslim, but it does nothing more. Therefore we need to take some steps in order to make our prayers meaningful. One of these steps is removing distractions during salah. You will come across this piece of advice in many books and articles on khushoo. But what are these distractions that spoil our khushoo, and how to tackle with them? Let us look at some of them.
1. NOT TALKING TO YOURSELF ENOUGH
During the course of a usual day, thousands and thousands of pieces of information bombard our brains. We take some of these info in, but the thing is, they don’t get immediately organized in our brains. We need to give the brain time to assimilate, organize all this info, label them and put them into specific drawers.
In other words, we need to give our brains time to think. And if we don’t do so, these thoughts will capture whatever time they can grasp from our hectic schedule. They target the times when we’re eating, or just preparing to sleep, or praying salah. Of course, Shaytan facilitates the process by reminding us more and more of these during salah. Thus our brains are completely elsewhere while we’re standing in front of Allah.
In order to avoid this scenario, schedule some thinking time during the day. Just take a break from everything, sit back, and do nothing except daydreaming. Or you could try writing a diary if that works for you. The point is to clear away those thoughts so that they don’t take over your salah time.
2. SENSE OF URGENCY
Another thing that Shaytan does during our salah is to remind us of things we forgot to do. Suppose you have lost the key to your safe and search the whole house fruitlessly. No matter how much you think, you just can’t remember where you put it. But just as you say Allahu akbar, you suddenly remember that it’s inside your car. What are you tempted to do? Quicken your salah and rush to your car before you forget the location again.
Has something similar happened to you? I’m sure it has to many people. What to do in a situation like this? First of all, realize that it is Shaytan’s trick to spoil your rewards in prayer. Secondly, remind yourself that knowledge comes from Allah, and if Allah wills, you will remember whatever it is even if you recite surah Baqarah in salah. The angels said,
قَالُوا سُبْحَانَكَ لَا عِلْمَ لَنَا إِلَّا مَا عَلَّمْتَنَا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ
They said, ‘Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise.’ [2:32]
Thirdly, even if you can’t remember the thing after salah, that is no reason to hurry your salah, because whatever that thing is, it is not more important than salah.
3. WORRYING ABOUT THE VALIDITY OF WUDU
This is such a big problem that I have known people totally leave prayer because they’re never sure whether they are pure or not. Seriously, this is not taqwa, this is following Shaytan’s waswasa.
It is related from ‘Abbad ibn Tamim from his uncle that he complained to the Messenger about a man who thought that he had broken wind during the prayer. He said, ‘He should not turn away or leave the prayer unless he hears a noise or smells something.’ [Bukhari]
If you are sure that you performed wudu, the basis is that you have wudu until it is absolutely proven that you don’t have wudu. If you’re not sure if there is impurity on your body, clothes or place of prayer, the basis is that they are pure until it is absolutely proven that they aren’t.
4. WORRYING ABOUT MISTAKES
That is worrying about whether you said subhana rabbiyal adhim or subhana rabbiyal ala in the last ruku, whether you did one or two sujood, etc. during prayer. Again, the basis is that you have done them, until you can prove that you haven’t. So don’t worry, just put your mind in what you’re doing at present.
5. WORRYING ABOUT POSSIBLE FUTURE MISTAKES
You’ve perhaps experienced that anxiety of which surah to recite after, while reciting Fatihah. You are so worried that you finish Fatihah without realizing what you said. The easiest remedy for this is to select the surahs before you start praying.
6. UNCOMFORTABLE ENVIRONMENT
It is 38 degrees Celcius and you’re praying with your fan turned off. How much khushoo do you expect to have? The sahaba had the talent of praying during surgery, or while people were trying to kill them. But seriously, we shouldn’t test ourselves to that extent. Allah wants ease for us. Let us try our best to make the environment comfortable.
7. UNCOMFORTABLE CLOTHING
This applies more to women than to men. Often they pray in uncomfortably tight or long clothing, and almost trip over hems or topple over while doing sajdah. They are also concerned whether their satr gets exposed during the movements. It is good to worry about all these things– before prayer, not during it. Perhaps you could have a different set of clothes custom-made for prayer. Just make sure that you’re comfortable enough to concentrate on the actual prayer and not its conditions and validity.