At this point, here’s what I knew (or what I thought I knew) about prayer in Islam.
- One must face east.
- There are parts done standing, other parts done bowing, others kneeling, and other parts done with your face on the floor.
- Prayer is done multiple times a day, at specific times.
Not much to go on, but what did I expect? I hadn’t paid any attention to it until just recently, and my sole “education” was browsing through a prayer book on my phone and following along with others through a few Friday prayers.
This wasn’t what I wanted from the experience of prayer. I wanted to know what I would be saying and why I was bending my body in these ways, but moreso I wanted to understand how this seemingly repetitive ritual could be considered part of a “conversation” with the Creator.
I found most of those answers in the prayer book SALAAH: The Muslim Prayer by Ahmad Deedat. This wonderful illustrated guide summarized the context of prayer in the life of a Muslim, talked about how and when to perform Wudu, and then walked through the entire structure of the prayer, the prayer times and number of Raka’at for each, the call to prayer (Adhan)… it really is a complete guide and very easy to understand for someone new to all of this. May Allah reward Ahmad Deedat for writing this guide.
My initial incomplete understanding about prayer was quickly rectified. For example:
One must face east.Actually, one faces the Ka’Ba. (Here’s why.) Being a resident of North America, for me that is generally in an easterly direction, but not necessarily due east. Most of the Muslims I have come to know rely on a smartphone app for Qibla direction, there are many available. Of course, it is easy enough to memorize this direction in one’s own home, and naturally all proper mosques and masjids have their prayer room facing the Ka’Ba / Qibla.
- There are parts done standing… bowing… kneeling… prostrate. Now I knew the specifics on this, thanks to Deedat’s book.
- Prayer is done multiple times a day, at specific times. Five specific times, to be exact, though not based on clocks and timezones but instead based on the movement of the natural timekeeping device known as our sun.
Perhaps most important to me was the translation to English in Deedat’s book. I knew that, above all else, for prayer to become for me not just a ritual but a fully mindful act of worship, I needed to know exactly what I was saying.
Not content to rely on just one book, I found How to Pray: A Step-by-Step Guide to Prayer in Islam by Mustafa Umar. One of the things I found most helpful in Umar’s book was the way he recommended learning the prayer structure by taking on one part at a time. For example, he recommended learning the physical movements first to teach the body the structure of the ritual, then next learning one section, then another… and over a period of days or weeks one could learn the entire thing. I found that this gradual learning process removed my fear and intimidation… and also made me feel comfortable partaking in regular prayer even when I did not yet know the whole prayer. It is easy to see how I might have been discouraged early on without the process outlined in Umar’s book.
Another resource I found extremely helpful were the YouTube videos of Aman Siddiqi. Here is one example, the first of a nine-part series to learn the entire prayer in Arabic, slowly for non-Arabic speakers.
With the help of these videos, I memorized most of the primary parts of the prayer in one focused Saturday afternoon. And then once I was comfortable at that speed, I moved on to videos like this one:
And to tune up my pronunciation (and endeavor that continues to this day), I would consult resources such as:
While maintaining a priority of saying things correctly, I personally found it helpful to remind myself that Allah (swt) is the Most Merciful, and Insha Allah He (swt) would find my striving and effort to be pleasing. After all, the true communication going on during my prayers would be in the language of the heart, known and understood by Allah (swt) even while my lips and tongue may show imperfection in the sounds they would utter.
I am writing this months after it occurred, and I tell you that only to add here that my learning process with regard to prayer is continual, is joyful, and very often those moments showing submission to the Creator are the high point of my day.