Go Back and Pray, for You Have Not Prayed
by Muhammad Alshareef
In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
In the dark of the night, Abu Lu’lu’ Al Majoosi hid in the shadows in preparation for the Fajr Salah, during which he would execute his satanic mission to murder the Ameer of the believers – Umar ibn Al-Khattab radi Allahu anhu.
Umar used to lead the Fajr Salah with a long surah, giving members of the community time to join the congregation. On this day, as he recited, Abu Lu’lu’ advanced from a dim pillar, a poisoned dagger hidden in his sleeve. He jumped in front of Umar radi Allahu anhu and tore open his stomach with the dagger. He then attempted an escape through the congregation, slashing left and right, murdering in his path many others. One companion threw a cloth over him and – realizing that he was caught – Abu Lu’lu’ killed himself.
Abdurrahman bin Awf completed leading the Fajr Salah, which Umar radi Allahu anhu had started. Umar completed the salah as part of the congregation and passed away later in his bed, radi Allahu anhu.
The importance of prayer in Islam cannot be understated. It is the first pillar of Islam mentioned by the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam after the testimony of faith, by which one becomes a Muslim.
Salah was made obligatory upon all the Prophets and for all people. Allah declared its obligatory status under majestic circumstances. For example, when Allah spoke directly to Moses, He said:
And I have chosen you, so listen to that which is inspired to you / Verily, I am Allah! There is none worthy of worship but I, so worship Me and offer prayer perfectly for My remembrance (Taha 20/13-14).
Similarly, the prayers were made obligatory upon Prophet Muhammad sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam during his ascension to heaven. Furthermore, when Allah praises the believers, like at the beginning of Surah Al-Muminoon, one of the first attributes He mentions in relation to them is their adherence to prayer:
Successful are the believers / Those that offer their salah with all earnestness and full obedience (Al-Mu’minoon 23/1-2).
The importance of prayer is further demonstrated in many other statements of the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam. For example, the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said:
“The first matter that the slave will be brought to account for on the Day of Judgment is the prayer. If it is sound, then the rest of his deeds will be sound. And if it is bad, then the rest of his deeds will be bad" (Al-Tabarani).
In reality, when the prayer is performed properly – with true remembrance of Allah and turning to Him for forgiveness – it will have a lasting effect on the person. After he finishes the prayer, his heart will be filled with the remembrance of Allah. He will be fearful as well as hopeful of Allah. After that experience, he will not want to move from that lofty position to one wherein he disobeys Allah. Allah mentions this aspect of the prayer in the Qur'an:
Verily, the prayer keeps one from the great sins and evil deeds (Al-Ankaboot 29/45).
However amongst those who perform salah we find some lazy actions that need to be brought back into focus. For example:
• Some do not concentrate on what they are saying.
• Some rush through prayer.
• Some let their gaze wander during salah.
• Some constantly forget the number of rakaat performed.
• The dunya hugs the hearts of some during salah and clouds their minds.
• And some members of the congregation begin prostrating even before the imam says, “Allahu Akbar.”
Compare this to the prayer of those that came before us: people used to think that Ar-Rabee' bin Khaitham, due to his constant lowering of his gaze and lowering of his head during salah, was blind. He used to live behind the house of Abdullah ibn Mas'ood for twenty years and when his servant girl used to see him she would say, "Your blind friend is coming," and Abdullah used to laugh at her comment.
In Bukhari and Muslim, Abu Hurayrah radi Allahu anhu tells us that a man entered the masjid, wherein the messenger of Allah sal Allaahu alayhi was sallam was sitting. He prayed two rakaat and then came to the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam and said salaam. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam answered his salaam and then said, “Go back and pray for you have not prayed.” So the man went back, prayed (two rakaat) like he did the first time and then came back and repeated the salaam. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam answered the salaam and then said, “Go back and pray for you have not prayed.” So the man went back, prayed (two rakaat) like he did the first time and then came back and repeated the salaam. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam answered his salaam once again and once again said, “Go back and pray for you have not prayed.” He said this three times until, after this third time the man said, “By He who sent you with the truth O Messenger of Allah, I do not know any better than this. Teach me.” The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam then said:
“If you stand up for salah say ‘Allahu Akbar.’ Then read what comes easy for you from the Qur'an. Then, bow until you are comfortable in your ruku’. Then, stand up until you are standing up straight. Then, prostrate until you are comfortable in your sujood. Then, sit until you are comfortable in your juloos. Then, prostrate until you are comfortable in your sujood. And do this in your entire salah.”
So let us go back and repeat our salah.
Why do we come to the masjid; why do we perform salah? We do so in application of the command of our Creator subhaanahu wa ta’aala. Why should we then lose the blessing and reward because of a wandering heart and an itchy hand? Concentration is the soul of our salah. Concentration is the fruit of our eman. Yet, in spite of knowing this, people do not strive to perfect their salah and hence only a small portion of it is written for them. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said:
“Verily, a man will leave from (his salah) and only a tenth of his salah is written for him, a ninth, an eighth, a seventh, a sixth, a fifth, a forth, a third, half” (Abu Dawood and Tirmidhi).
Uthman ibn Abi Dahshah said, “I have never prayed a salah after which I have not asked Allah subhaanahu wa ta’aala to forgive me for my shortcomings in that salah.”
Someone who short-changes his salah is a thief. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said in an authentic hadeeth, “The most evil thief is he who steals from his salah.” The Sahaabaa radi Allahu anhum asked, “O Messenger of Allah, how does he steal from his salah?” He sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said, “He does not perfect its ruku’ and sujood.”
Because of the speed with which some people pray, they appear as if they are birds, pecking up and down. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam forbade that someone should peck (in salah) like a crow.
Umar radi Allahu anhu once stood on the pulpit and addressed the community with a loud powerful voice saying, “A man may grow old in Islam and never have completed for Allah a single salah!” They said, “How is this?” He said, “He does not perfect his concentration, nor his humbleness, nor his focus on Allah 'azza wa jall.”
Once, Ma’roof Al-Karkhee rahimahullah stood amongst some of his students and one said to the other, “Please lead the Isha Salah.” The first student accepted but said, “I shall lead the Isha Salah on the condition that you will lead the Fajr Salah and not me.” Ma’roof Al-Karkhee was shocked at what he said and commented, “By Allah, if you think that you’ll be alive at Fajr, then by Allah, you have not yet perfected your salah.”
PART II: How to Concentrate in Salah
Al Qaasim ibn Muhammad rahimahullah said, “I went out one day, and whenever I would go out I would always pass by Aisha radi Allahu anha and give her my salaam. That day I went out and when I found Aisha she was praying Salat al-Duha, reciting over and over the verse of Allah:
Aforetime we were afraid with our families (from the Punishment of Allah). / But Allah was gracious on us and saved us from the torment of the Fire (At-Toor 52/26-27).
She was crying and invoking Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala and repeating the verse. I stood there waiting until I got tired, whilst she remained as I found her. When I saw this I said to myself, ‘Let me go to the market, do what I have to do, and come back.’ So, after I had finished what I needed to do at the market, I returned to Aisha radi Allahu anha. She was as I left her, repeating the verse, invoking Allah, and crying.”
How do we concentrate in salah? From the Sunnah of the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam we are taught the following:
1. Come early for salah and prepare yourself to concentrate.
Repeat the adhan to yourself with the mu’adhdhin and after the adhan, say the prescribed supplication. Between the adhan and iqamah make du’a. Do wudu properly, cleansing your mouth, and wear your finest clothes.
2. Aim to get the entire reward of your salah.
Abu Bakr ibn ‘Iyaash said, “I saw Habeeb ibn Thabit in sujood. If you saw him you would think he was dead (by how long he held his sujood).”
3. Contemplate the aayaat and adhkaar being recited during the prayer.
Think about the meanings of the verses that you are reciting. Isn’t is disheartening that someone may perform salah for decades, day after day, and he still does not know what he is saying? The Qur’an was revealed to be pondered over! Allah revealed:
(This is) a Book (the Qur’an), which We have sent down to you, full of blessings that they may ponder over its verses, and that men of understanding may remember (As-Saad 38/29).
4. Pray in congregation. Allah subhaanahu wa ta’aala commands:
And perform salah, give zakah, and bow with those that bow (Al-Baqarah 2/43).
5. Never miss your Nafl (supererogatory) Prayers, especially those that the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam used to pray constantly, like Witr and the Sunnah of Fajr.
6. Do not rush your salah.
Take your time and do not allow your salah to become the most invaluable action of your day. Ibn Wahb said, “I saw Ath-Thowree at the Ka’bah. After Maghrib, he got up to pray and then prostrated. He did not come out of that prostration until the adhan for Isha’ was given.”
7. Know that Allah responds to your prayer. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said:
“Allah, the Blessed and Exalted has said: ‘I have divided the prayer between Myself and My slave, into two halves, and My slave shall have what he has asked for.’ [From Surah Fatiha] When the slave says, ‘Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds,’ Allah says, ‘My slave has praised Me.’ When the slave says, ‘The Most Merciful, the Bestower of Mercy,’ Allah says, ‘My slave has extolled me.’ When the slave says, ‘Master of the Day of Judgement,’ Allah says, ‘My slave has glorified me.’ When the slave says, ‘It is You alone we worship and it is You alone we ask for help,’ Allah says, ‘This is between Me and My slave, and My slave shall have what he asked for.’ When the slave says, ‘Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom You have favoured, not the path of those who receive Your anger, nor of those who go astray,’ Allah says, ‘All these are for My slave, and My slave shall have what he asked for’" (Muslim).
8. Pray with a barrier (sutrah) in front of you and pray close to it.
Another thing that will help you to have khushoo’ (concentration) is paying attention to the matter of having a sutrah and praying close to it. Having a sutrah will restrict your field of vision, protect you from the Shaytaan, and keep people from passing in front of you, which causes distraction and reduces the reward of the prayer. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said:
“When any one of you prays, let him pray facing a sutrah, and let him get close to it” (Abu Dawood).
9. Seek refuge in Allah from the Shaytaan.
The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam taught us how to combat the whispers of Shaytaan. Abu’l-‘Aas radi Allahu anhu reported that he said, “O Messenger of Allaah, the Shaytaan interrupts me when I pray, and I get confused in my recitation.” The Messenger of Allah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said, “That is a shaytaan whose name is Khanzab. If you sense his presence, seek refuge with Allah from him, and spit [dry] towards your left three times.” Abu’l-‘Aas rahi Allahu anhu said, “I did that and Allah took him away from me” (Muslim).
10. Pray as if you were told that after salah you would be going back to Allah. Abu Bakr Al-Muzanee said, “If you want your salah to benefit you, then say, ‘I shall die after this Salah!’”