Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Boredom in Prayer

Many people feel bored in prayer. In the mosque we see people yawning in salat and shifting from side to side. The majority are hurrying to complete the required number of rakat and leave.

One reason people feel bored is because their salat is according to a formula they have memorized which they repeat again and again. They have repeated it so many times that they don’t pay attention to the words they are saying. Salat is something to be done and “be done with”. Your heart is not in it and your mind wanders everywhere.

It is important to know that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not pray according to a fixed formula. He changed what he said in salat according to how he felt. This is very clear when we read about the Prophet’s prayer in books of Hadith.

To give a simple example, when people are in ruku, they say “subhana rabbi-al- azeem”. Many do not know what it means. Most of those who know the literal meaning have never thought about how it relates to their lives. This is what they were taught and this is what they say every time. In Hadith we find that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said different things at different times in ruku. You can count more than five different supplications and affirmations people heard him say in ruku. And this is a count of what people heard him say. We can guess that the Prophet spoke with spontaneity in his private prayer also.

Also, the Prophet recited verses from the Quran in his salat but when he was particularly moved by some aya he would stop the recitation, raise his hands and make dua, then he would resume his recitation, and later when he was so moved he would again raise his hands and make dua.

The main point to understand is that we are not following the Prophet’s example when we are doing salat by repeating a fixed formula again and again in an absent minded manner. His salat was spontaneous and inspiring to him. When was the last time you were inspired in your prayer?

We should know that boredom is a negative emotion. It creates a feeling of helplessness, and if continued leads to depression. You can see how bored people in your mosque are. They are apathetic and not able to do even simple things.

Everyone knows that prayer can help you if it comes from your heart. That is how the Prophet’s salat was. Prayer according to a fixed formula in which you are bored and distracted is very different, and it does not help.

Mindless Prayer

An important insight about prayer or salat, which is almost never discussed, is in Sura 107 Ayas 4–5:

There is calamity for those who are praying,
Who are unmindful in their prayer.

As everyone knows mindless prayer is very common. You are praying and your mind is somewhere else. This is because you don’t find  inspiration or purpose in salat.
Children are made to memorize the Arabic words, the correct pronunciation and the body postures, with frequent reminders that any departure from the prescribed routine makes the prayer  unacceptable to God. People are told that it may be better for them to know the meaning of the words, but it is not necessary; what matters is that you utter the words with correct Arabic pronunciation.
The important fact that your innermost thoughts and feelings are the real prayer is never discussed. There is no mention of creating a high purpose for your life, and prayer a means of achieving it.
With absence of meaning and purpose, people often find their attention wandering everywhere. They experience boredom, frustration and dejection. They also experience guilt for feeling like this. These are the emotions they convey to God in their prayers day after day and month after month.
How these attitudes produce calamity is discussed in the commentary on the above given ayas in chapter 13 of my book ‘The Quran and the Life of Excellence”.
Calamity that has resulted from unmindful prayer can be  seen everywhere. People in almost any mosque are divided into groups quarreling with each other, as are Muslims outside the mosque. Everyone says Muslims should be united by holding on to “the rope of Allah”, but the feelings of enmity in the hearts are so strong they cannot agree even on simple matters.
How many times did you meet a person who prays regularly and on meeting him you said to yourself: ”Vow, this is a wonderful person, a great role model, I want to be like him”?

I believe that a mosque should provide education about prayer not in the traditional method of memorization, but by holding discussions on how to create a positive purpose for your life. How can we contribute to the society around us? How can we learn to live life such that when we are gone, people will remember us as doers of good?  Salat is then a way of finding help to achieve such a purpose.  We should remind people of Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) teaching that an hour of thinking is better than a year of prayer.