Tag Archives: Prayers

Allahu Akbar. Even in the Grocery Store.

My children are in the habit of saying “Allahu Akbar”.

Yeah, you’ve heard that before right?

“Allahu Akbar!”

Now, imagine being a Muslim woman walking through the busy aisles of a big box store, while your children repeatedly exclaim  “Allahu Akbar!!!”
It makes me mad.

I’m mad that I feel embarrassed and nervous when they gleefully bust out “Allahu Akbar!” In public.

I am upset, because I am aware that this beautiful statement has come to be reminiscent of the brutish, heartless murderers killing with impunity, who stole it.

Who yell these prescious words while committing crimes against the creation and law of the One they are supposed to be venerating with those very words.

Allahu Akbar.

It means “God is the Greatest”.

It means He is Supreme. His power, praiseworthiness are beyond compare.

He is the epitome of Greatness.
We say it throughout our prayers, reminding ourselves that nothing supersedes Him, there is nothing more important, more deserving of our gratitude and praise, and that He is the one to whom everything will ultimately return. The One who we will stand before one day, humbled and powerless.

It helps remove arrogance.

It is a reminder of the fact that we haven’t accomplished anything without His will. Our bodies and sustenance were all His before they were ever ours.

It helps remove despair.

It is a reminder that no matter how difficult a difficulty in life might seem, it is minute in comparison to His Mercy and the comfort of knowing Him. A reminder that obstacles are easy for Him to remove, for He has complete power over all things.

When my children say this, It makes me happy and hopeful.

Happy that the recognition of their Maker has begun to take seat in their little hearts. Hopeful that this thikr – this remembrance will persist throughout their lives. That they will absorb and embody the meaning of this simple, yet powerful statement.

That it will help to guide them to the high road of life’s journey.

I dream of a day where these words will cease to be misused. Where they will no longer arouse suspicion and discomfort in the people around us.

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The Power of Position

“We know that our minds change our bodies, but is it also true that our bodies change our minds?”

– Social psychologist, Amy Cuddy.

When I first heard Amy Cuddy’s TED talk about the way body language shapes us, I immediately related it to my prayer. In Islam, the prayer is both a physical act and a spiritual experience.

Have you ever seen a Muslim pray?

The english word ‘pray’ can refer to almost everything we Muslims do, but the specific prayer I am referring to is the one where we stand, bow, and prostrate. It’s called Salah.

When I lived in Brooklyn, I lived right next to a building inhabited purely by Hasidic Jews. I remember walking home at night and occasionally seeing one of them near a window rocking rhythmically, his curls whipping back and forth. I assumed it was some sort of prayer ritual.

At that time, when I was still up on my pedestal of intellectual superiority over religious adherents, I found it quite ridiculous.

I wonder sometimes, what people think when they see Muslims performing the salah. Does it look like a vacant ritual?

The salah is one of the most crucial aspects of one’s faith and practice of Islam. Abandoning it literally takes a person out of the fold of Islam.

So how could standing, bowing and prostrating be so important?

When we perform the salah, we are indeed communicating with our Maker. How well we are attentive to what we are saying decides how beneficial the prayer will be.

Internally, it is a meditation, but what about the physical movements?

What benefit are they?

According to recent studies, holding particular body positions can impact our psyche and attitude. The positions of the body actually influence the person performing them – subconsciously.

Holding a position of strength and power, such as standing tall with your fists on your hips for about 90 seconds, will actually make you feel more powerful and confident, perhaps capable of achievements you might otherwise shy away from.

The research and explanation which Amy Cuddy presented at TED (find the link to her talk below) really is the best way to explain what Muslims are doing physically, when we perform our prayers, in a way that helps bring the salah into the realm of the familiar – at least at the superficial level.

It makes perfect sense that we would be standing solidly, our feet shoulder width apart, in unity with other Muslims and at times alone; while we affirm that we are devoted to God alone and seek only His help;

It makes sense that we would bow down when we acknowledge God’s absolute greatness and Might (far above our own),

and that we would put the uppermost part of our bodies, the most honored part – our heads – on the ground; as low as possible, when we glorify God and acknowledge His total Supremacy.

Sometimes our minds wander, the positions also help bring our consciousness back to our words.

Fortitude and humility are qualities critical for every Muslim. We have to be firm and grounded, focussed. We have  to be humble, in relation to other people, but especially in regard to our Maker.

One of the greatest pitfalls of life, according to Islam, is arrogance; feeling self sufficient and greater than we really are.

Islam has many levels, from the superficial to the very deep, from the physical, to the spiritual. Some parts are followed by others. Some aspects are like foundations, upon which the rest is built, without which, the structure is weak.

Others are there, almost like reinforcements and safety nets. The physical aspect of the salah ensures that the worshipper walks away with at least a little bit of humility, even if only induced by deliberately physically humbling themselves.

So do the positions of salah influence our state of mind?

The answer is yes.

muslimprayers

Watch Amy Cuddy’s talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en

Why me?

I had always felt that the path that led me to Islam was somehow paved by me.

I thought it was my actions, my choices that prepared me and that it was I who discovered it.

I vetted it out. I did countless hours of research. I couldn’t deny it’s truth.

I.

me.

I would marvel at all the events and decisions that lined up so incredibly perfectly.

And I thought it was amazing how I did that.

Not long ago however, I began realizing fully, how truly blessed and indebted I really am.

I’ve always been grateful, but I had gained a deeper consciousness of what Islam really means to me and how empty life would have been without it – And I started to really wonder-

Why me?

Why did God bless me with His guidance? I wasn’t any great person before, just regular: not especially kind or righteous in any way, not inclined to religion at all

And then one day it hit me. I know why now.

I remember the moment.

I was the kind of person who loved going to the beach at night. I remember running along the shore, as fast as I could under the stars.

The stars.

I remember the exhilaration of looking out into the unfathomable night sky, enamored.

I remember laying in my bed on saturday mornings as a teenager and wishing I could know everything about the world. What happened before me, what would happen after me. I would imagine that I would be given a view of the Earth and I’d be able to just watch history unfold.

I asked a lot of questions. I found it exciting.

Especially when the answers seemed unknowable.

So, after all that wondering and all the marveling I did at leaves and insects and stones; after looking at the astonishingly beautiful stars so many times and trying to comprehend how little me, a speck of intricately formed insignificance, could be living on a spinning rock flying around a burning orb suspended in a gorgeous galaxy – merely a blip amongst the others.

How? Why?

I think subconsciously I knew the world; humanity, beauty, pain- They couldn’t have just popped out of nothing.

So one night…

I was a freshman – I was sitting in my dorm room window: a big, square window.

I was looking out at the sky.

And I said something.

I said to myself, there must be some force out there. There must be.

Then I spoke to that force, but not with my lips. Only in my heart, quietly. I asked to know.

I wanted knowledge. I wanted the truth.

Then I forgot about it. I went about my life after that, for four years.

But that force I had beseeched, had heard me. And gently, I was guided to get ready. To get ready for Islam.

I did the weirdest things.

I used to listen to music a lot. Somehow I completely stopped listening to music with words and switched to classical.

I won’t tell you what kinds of music I liked before, but let’s just say that was an unpredictable move. I did it as if it was perfectly normal. Natural.

Then after a while, I ditched classical and switched to ambient: you know, the music that’s not really music? It’s just some sounds, almost like an environment more than music.

At 18, I gave up TV. I forbid my roommates from having a TV in our common areas.
That was odd. I lost some roommates like that.

But what I had effectively done, or had been guided to do, was remove external influences. No one was chattering into my ear anymore, telling me what to think.

My mind was mine again! Or, you know what? That might’ve been the first time it was really my own.

I started pondering about holidays and birthdays and about saying “God bless you” when someone sneezed.

I stopped saying “bless you” when people sneezed.

I stopped, because I didn’t know what that meant.

It didn’t make any sense to me, so I’d say instead, “you okay?” or something equally awkward.

I stopped celebrating holidays. Nobody Liked that very much…

But I just didn’t understand who Jesus was and why I needed to celebrate his birthday with a tree and Santa. I didn’t get why I had to eat chocolate bunnies or what was so significant about turning one more day older.

I stopped doing things I didn’t understand.

Oh, except for the time I just had to travel to a war zone as an international observer so I could walk in front of tanks and M16’s. That was all gut.

That was also how I met the first Muslims I had ever seen, and how I heard the recitation of the Quran, for the first time.

The Quran that I had been reading a translation of for the previous year, because I was going to prove to the world that religions were all flawed and thus man made.

So the point is, I asked for this. I asked for guidance. I wanted answers and God, in His infinite Mercy, granted my wish, answered my request; answered all my questions.

Because in that moment, in that window, I believed in Him.

Even though I didn’t know anything about God at the time and I never would have used that word. Still, I was a believer in that moment. I realized my smallness, and His Greatness.

That was how it all began.