Every major consulting company and expert is trying to figure out what the ‘new normal’ would be post-COVID19. In these moments of doubt of what the future holds, more than ever, we need to hold on to the certainties of life. One of them being Salah.
In this article, I’ll explore how Salah – the second pillar of Islam – can shift you from a state of confusion to assuredness, from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset, and from worry to hope, insha’Allah.
A quick note before you continue reading: Salah is an obligatory act of worship upon every adult Muslim and therefore this article is not meant to undermine Salah into some form of “emotional well-being/meditation” exercise. The purpose of this article is to showcase some of the powerful side-benefits of Salah that will deepen your experience with Salah (in addition to it being an act of worship and a gift from Allah ).
Salah Recharges You Beyond Your Physiological Capacity
There’s a concept in peak performance science known as “Allostatic load”. The premise of this concept is that when difficulties arise in your life, there’s only so much physiological stress you can handle before you ‘switch off’, ‘burn out’, or breakdown. This constant wear and tear of our physiological capacity to handle stress is known as “Allostasis Load” and depicted in the graph below:
Each day – we are able to handle a certain amount of “Allostatic Load” and usually, we manage to replenish ourselves with good sleep, nutrition, and fitness. However, in extreme circumstances, e.g. war, famine, a global pandemic, the physiological stress can be so overwhelming that you start experiencing “Allostatic Overload”, the extreme pressure from our external realities is overburdening our internal capacity to handle them.
Allah in the Qur’an gave us two powerful tools to help us tackle difficulties in life: Sabr (Patience & Perseverance) and Salah.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ
“O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” (Qur’an 2:153)
Sabr (patience/perseverance) is an internal, Barakah Culture Mindset, that you need to train yourself on and develop in life. However, Sabr can be ‘finite’ on a personal level, depending on your personal circumstances, environment, upbringing, and mental and emotional state (think about your grandparents and how much hardship they endured daily through life vs. our relatively comfortable lifestyle today). In order to increase our “Sabr capacity”, we need to connect to the second tool in the above verse, Salah.
Salah connects you to The Unlimited Source of Power -to the Divine – to help you harness spiritual energy throughout your day that you cannot get from this physical/material world. Whether you’re going through difficulties or not – Salah is your constant connection to the Divine that builds your internal capacity. This explains why Prophet Muhammad was instructed to pray additional prayers at night when he first received the revelation in order to handle the immense challenge of calling humanity to Islam:
يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُزَّمِّلُ
قُمِ اللَّيْلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
نِّصْفَهُ أَوِ انقُصْ مِنْهُ قَلِيلًا
أَوْ زِدْ عَلَيْهِ وَرَتِّلِ الْقُرْآنَ تَرْتِيلًا
إِنَّا سَنُلْقِي عَلَيْكَ قَوْلًا ثَقِيلًا
“O you wrapped ˹in your clothes˺!
Stand all night ˹in prayer˺ except a little—
˹pray˺ half the night, or a little less,
or a little more—and recite the Quran ˹properly˺ in a measured way.
˹For˺ We will soon send upon you a weighty revelation.” (Qur’an 73: 1-5)
Building our capacity to deal with the spiritual and emotional onslaught of this pandemic – especially if it continues for a long period of time – won’t happen by us simply sleeping better, eating healthier, exercising more, or meditating to an app. We need to recognize that we need Divine Assistance every day, and especially in these circumstances, and establishing Salah in our routines is the key to bringing that Divine Assistance/Barakah into our lives.
Salah Gives You Structure
We are creatures of habit. Habits give us structure; a necessary ingredient for psychological and mental stability. One of the major challenges of this pandemic is that we lost our habits and routines: we’re not commuting to work or going to school, can’t stop at our favorite restaurant for a bite, we can’t go to the gym or meet friends at a local coffee shop. This loss of habits and routines increases our anxiety because we don’t have the usual comforting sense of “normality” and the usual scaffolding that gives our life structure seems to be breaking down.
This is where Salah comes in. Allah says in the Qur’an:
إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ خُلِقَ هَلُوعً
إِذَا مَسَّهُ الشَّرُّ جَزُوعًا
وَإِذَا مَسَّهُ الْخَيْرُ مَنُوعًا
الَّذِينَ هُمْ عَلَىٰ صَلَاتِهِمْ دَائِمُونَ
“Indeed, mankind was created anxious:
When evil touches him, impatient,
And when good touches him, withholding [of it],
Except the observers of prayer –
Those who are constant in their prayer” (Qur’an 70: 19-23)
These five short verses of the Qur’an, capture the essence of human reality and it’s a response to the crisis now. We’re indeed full of anxiety and impatience, and we were (during the good times) ungrateful and not sharing the good with others, but there’s one group – the Qur’an promises – that won’t be in such a state and the first quality of that group is that they are those who pray constantly.
The power of Salah as a ritual is not only in the individual prayer in of itself – but it is a lifelong ritual that gives you structure, discipline, and comfort despite your circumstances. Whether you’re happy or sad, going through successes or failures, facing the death of a family member or the birth of a new child, you keep up praying five times a day.
In his book “Uncertainty”, Jonathan Fields talks about the importance of rituals and routines to help us deal with the uncertainty of life. And although many people are trying to re-introduce habits and routines in their lives (exercising at home, virtual coffee meetups with friends, etc) there’s a certain level of comfort and grounding that Salah provides that’s unmatched with any other habit or routine. And because it’s obligatory (i.e. you have to pray whether you feel like it or not), it is the anchor in your life, without which, you’ll constantly feel at loss. As one Productive Muslim Retreat participant once told me after realizing the importance of Salah in her life: “I need to pray, this was the missing anchor in my life, I realize I was floating without it”.
Nothing can be more powerful in the face of uncertainty – than the certainty that “it’s time to pray” and you’ll have to stand in front of Allah and be present.
Salah Teaches You to Be Present
One of the hidden victims of the global pandemic is our collective human focus. Although we’ve been slowly losing focus over the years due to the abundance of distractions through social media and phones, this global pandemic threw a spanner in the wheels of focus and our minds are spiraling out of control. From trying to figure out how to secure groceries, to worrying about our jobs and family. We are drowning in external and internal distractions that are making it hard to focus or be present.
Enter Salah. A simple, quiet ritual that asks you to ‘step out’ of your world and ‘step into’ a different dimension – the Dimension and Presence of the Divine . You stand there, facing one direction (the direction of Makkah), worshipping One Lord, in compliance with His Final Messenger – Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). You don’t look right or left. But you’re there, in the moment – reciting, bowing, prostrating, glorifying, supplicating, and yes perhaps even crying. Then you exit the Salah – renewed, rejuvenated, mindfully present and ready to face the world.
This ability to ‘switch’ dimensions – from worldly, ego-centric focus (my to-dos, emails, family, groceries, etc) to a hereafter, Allah-centric focus is an extremely powerful skill that would help break through the cycle of distraction, anxiety, and purposelessness that this pandemic is throwing at us. Moreover, from a neuroscience perspective, this ability to switch from a narrow “Task Mode Network” way of thinking (e.g. I need to send this email) and into an expansive, out of this world “Default Mode Network” (Subhana Rabbia Al-A’la (How Perfect is Allah My Lord, the Most High), opens new horizons of thinking and contemplation that helps you see the Barakah and silver lining even in the direst of circumstances.
Salah is our key to being mindfully present on-demand, and it’s a blessing that we are invited to be in that state of presence and connection with the Divine at least 5 times a day. Read the following hadith, and approach your next prayer with the mindset that Salah is a conversation between you and Allah :
The Messenger of Allah said that Allah the Exalted had said: “I have divided the prayer into two halves between Me and My servant, and My servant will receive what he asks. When the servant says: Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the universe, Allah the Most High says: My servant has praised Me. And when he (the servant) says: The Most Compassionate, the Merciful, Allah the Most High says: My servant has lauded Me. And when he (the servant) says: Master of the Day of judgment, He remarks: My servant has entrusted (his affairs) to Me. And when he (the worshipper) says: You alone we worship and of You alone do we ask help, He (Allah) says: This is between Me and My servant, and My servant will receive what he asks for. Then, when he (the worshipper) says: Guide us to the straight path, the path of those to whom You has been Gracious not of those who have incurred Your displeasure, nor of those who have gone astray, He (Allah) says: This is for My servant, and My servant will receive what he asks for.” [Sahih Muslim]
Salah Builds Your Resilience Capacity
You may have just lost a loved one due to COVID-19 or got the dreaded email from your boss that due to cost-cutting measures, the company is letting you go, or that big important client you were banking on, just canceled your contract due to cuts in budgets.
In the midst of your worry and concern, you hear the call to prayer, or your phone beeps to remind you it’s prayer time. You get up, make ablution, stand in front of Allah , and one of the first few words you say is:
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
“Alhamdulillah Rabbi Al-Alamin..”
“[All] praise is [due] to Allah, Lord of the worlds -” (Qur’an 1:2)
You are expressing gratitude in the midst of these circumstances. At first, you’re not sure how you feel, but then you repeat this verse again and the feeling of gratitude starts to overwhelm you: You feel grateful for what He has blessed you with despite the circumstances, you feel grateful for having Faith even when the world around you is losing faith, and you feel grateful for the blessing of Salah that gives you solace and comfort every day.
This gratitude that’s brought forth through Salah, coupled with the humility one feels in front of Allah through the bowing and prostrating, helps you recognize that you’re His slave and that He’s in Control. Once that recognition is internalized, it leads to building a unique form of resilience, that’s not ego-centered and reliant upon the self, but resilience that’s for Allah: beautiful, full of adab (respect/politeness), and sees nothing is “impossible”.
This resilience is built through constant Salah hence why the verse above about Sabr and Salah was followed with verses that remind people about how to react when the tough get going:
وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُم بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَنفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الصَّابِرِينَ
الَّذِينَ إِذَا أَصَابَتْهُم مُّصِيبَةٌ قَالُوا إِنَّا لِلَّهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ
أُولَٰئِكَ عَلَيْهِمْ صَلَوَاتٌ مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ وَرَحْمَةٌ ۖ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُهْتَدُونَ
And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient,Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.” Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided. (Qur’an 2: 155-157)
Notice how we’re currently experiencing every form of the above trials in this global pandemic:
- fear- check.
- hunger – check.
- loss of wealth, lives, and fruits (which include the fruit of our productivity) check, check, check.
But here Allah gives us glad tidings to those who “when disaster strikes” they turn to their Allah – not just in words, but also in Salah as the beginning of these verses reminds us.
And notice in the verse above, the beautiful reciprocity from Allah ; because we turn to Him with Patience and Salah, He turns to us with “Salawat” blessings and Mercy.
What more can a person want in a moment of difficulty like these than Divine Blessings and Mercy?
Salah Helps You Push Forward with Purpose and Guaranteed Success
Imagine you just joined a new company, and on the first day at work, the CEO of the company invites you to their office and shares this news with you: “I want you to be the next CEO of this company. You’ve all what it takes and I’m sure that you’ll be in my seat one day”. What would your reaction be? How hard will you work for the company?
Allah tells us in the Quran:
قَدْ أَفْلَحَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ
الَّذِينَ هُمْ فِي صَلَاتِهِمْ خَاشِعُونَ
Successful indeed are the believers:
those who humble themselves in prayer; (Qur’an 23: 1-2)
Believers have succeeded. It’s guaranteed. Done.
You are successful despite the global pandemic. You are successful despite your job loss. You are successful despite your health challenges. You are successful. Think about the impact of believing you’re a success despite the circumstances.
But there are conditions for that success – the first one is to establish focused Salah in your life.
Salah is your key to success. Haven’t you heard the Adhan (call to prayer) call you “Come to Prayer, Come to Success”? This is Salah.
For so long, we’ve disconnected between “come to prayer” and “come to success”. We think that prayer is something that has nothing to do with success in life but as the verses above remind us, Salah is the prerequisite of success.
And it’s not any success, but true abundant immeasurable “Falah” in this life and the next. Yes, you might have setbacks in your life, but if you maintain your Salah, along with other qualities, you’ll achieve Falah.
And here’s the subtle but beautiful meaning in the choice of the word “Falah” for success. It’s very close to the name given for a farmer in Arabic “Fallah”.This reminds us to adopt the Gardener Mindset, have sincere intentions, work hard in the field of life, connect to the Divine through Salah, perfect our character, and insha’Allah we’ll experience Falah beyond our wildest imagination.
Practical Resources to Deepen Your Salah
We hope that this article renewed your love and passion for the beautiful ritual of Salah. If you want to go deeper into the meaning of Salah and how to increase your focus, and understanding of each aspect of Salah, consider joining one of the following programs below. If you know of additional programs, please share them in the comments below:
- Meaningful Prayer: A course on the vocabulary & linguistic beauty of Salah by Qalam Institute
- An Introduction to the Meanings of Prayer: An introduction to the various aspects and mysteries of the ritual prayer (salat) and how they relate to contemporary life by Cambridge Muslim College
Share your story! How is Salah helping you define your new normal?
As part of our ongoing research on the power of Salah in our personal and professional lives, I would love to hear some stories from you on how Salah is helping you find a ‘new normal’ in these tough times. Please share them below in the comments and let us inspire each other to be of those who are constantly in Prayer.