Do you want to live a better a life in 2019? This 8 part series will share tips explaining how to live a better life this year, categorised by our spiritual, physical, psychological and material needs. These tips have been broken down into 8 articles which give motivation to make the year ahead better the last and challenge you with actionable tasks to complete.
Life is an opportunity to always strive for improvement, in whatever form that takes. Becoming 'better' isn't easy and it's rarely something that happens overnight. Nonetheless, to some extent we all know we should be better; at our work or hobbies; as parents, partners and friends; to have better relationships with money and food, and to not only fulfil our religious, spiritual obligations, but to excel in them.
May Allah make this easy for us to achieve, Aameen
This is the first part in the series, you can subscribe below and receive future articles straight to your inbox when they're published.
In order to live better lives, we first need to ask: what is the purpose of life? As Muslims we know the answer. Allah has told us that our purpose is to worship Him, subhanahu wa ta'ala. In surah Adh-Dhariyat, ayah 56 He says:
I created jinn and mankind only to worship Me
Part 1 aims to help us start to centre our lives around its purpose in order to become better Muslims and to live better lives. Many things we think aren't associated with worship actually are. With that in mind, some of the things that will be talked about in this series may also constitute a form of worship, but we're going to start with exploring salah. Don't skip over the challenge at the bottom!
1. Be more present in your salah
This includes praying on time, every time, and striving to ensure it doesn't become a only a physical routine. Our obligations as Muslims should always come before anything else, and prayer is the centre of this. We know from hadith that our salah will be the first thing we are asked about on the Day of Resurrection, yet it can become so shockingly easy for us to become heedless with our prayer.
What if I miss a prayer? If we have salah that's owed (one's we've missed) then we should make them up. If this is months or years of countless missed salah, a generous estimate should be made and then a routine of making them up should be implemented. Read more about making up missed prayers here.
How can we be more present in salah? The first step in being present in our salah is to know what prevents us from being present in the first place. Imam Ghazali tells us in Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship (affiliate link) that:
Our base desires are numerous and human beings are seldom free of them. They all share a common root, namely love of this world. That is the origin of every fault, the basis of every shortcoming, the source of all corruption. Filled with the love of this world, a person becomes so attached to it that he fails to make provision for the Hereafter. He then has no hope of experiencing the pure bliss of communion in Prayer.
Attachment to things in this world keeps us from remembering our true purpose: to worship Allah. We forget that everything in this life is a test. When we learn to let go of our attachments it will help us to focus in our salah and on what we are saying and doing inside and outside of prayer. Read more about detachment and lessons from Yasmin Mogahed in this post.
Knowing what keeps us from being present in salah is only part of the remedy for ensuring we remain present. We must also understand the error in reducing this obligation to a mere physical movement. Imam Ghazali says that this negates the very purpose of the prayer:
...as his tongue moves purely from force of habit. How remote this is from the purpose of ritual Prayer, which was prescribed for the refinement of the heart, the renewal of Divine remembrance, & to secure the knot of faith.
And even goes as far as to invoke questioning as to whether the salah even counts in this state:
God, Great and Glorious is He, says: '...until you know what you are saying.' 4:43 This explains the reason for debarring those who are intoxicated, but the term 'intoxicated' applies by extension to those who are wholly preoccupied with temptations & worldly thoughts.
Whatever the fiqh position around validity of a person's salah when they are not truly present, the bare minimum we must worry about is making sure we pray them, no matter what. Our Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, said, narrated by Malik (mursal):
What distinguishes us from the Hypocrites is our attendance at late night and early morning Prayers, both of which they miss.
You can find advice for making sure you don't miss salah in this post.
2. Pray more
Maybe we are already in the habit of praying salah on time and we don't have any salah to make up. Our obligations may be fulfilled, but we'd be doing ourselves an injustice to think that is satisfactory. Shouldn't we strive to do more?
If the five daily prayers are the bare minimum that are fardh for us, we can resolve that they will only bring us the bare minimum in rewards. We can incorporate more sunnah and nafl prayers into our routine including praying tahajjud at night. Imam Ghazali says in the book mentioned above:
He allows his servants to converse with Him intimately in their Prayers, under all circumstances, be they in Congregation or in isolation. Not merely allowing, indeed, He gently urges and invites.
Salah is more than an obligation, it's a tool to literally converse with our Creator. In it we show gratitude and praise and ask for continuing guidance. It's our key to the hereafter, how can we take it for granted? The Messenger, may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him said, narrated by Ibn Abi Iyas (mursal):
Two cycles of prayer performed in the middle of the night are better for a man than the world and all it contains. But for the hardship it would have caused my community, I would have made it compulsory.
Another reason to pray more is because of how how it influences the rest of our life in this world. Just as our attachments and behaviour outside of salah impacts our performance within the prayer, our commitment to salah also influences our behaviour outside of it. Prayer has a purpose beyond what we can truly understand. Every time we miss an opportunity to pray in this life, we are missing an opportunity of reward.
It should be known that humility is the product of faith and the result of conviction, brought about by the majestic power of God, Great and Glorious is He. Those blessed with it are humble not only in their prayers, but at other times also, even when they are on their own or when they need to use the toilet. For humility is caused by the awareness that we are always in the sight of God, by awareness of His majesty and by awareness of our human failings. It is by consciousness of these things that humility is engendered, so it is not confined to ritual prayers.
Now for some accountability! Here is your (and my) challenge to implement what we've discussed:
Pray tahajjud once a week, for a month, or use the time to make up missed prayers if you have any
Let me know what you think in the comments and tell us how you get on with the challenge on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and read Part 2 here: Recognising the benefits of fasting and charity