For many years I was a very good Christian girl. I prayed and read my Bible and Bible commentary every morning before doing anything else. I always had words to pray, so many words. I also prayer journaled, which for those who don’t know is where you write out prayers to God in a notebook. When my massive spiritual crisis began in 2014, I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know what to say to God. I wasn’t angry at Him, just speechless. But I asked God to guide me. I began reading the Quran, and from the first time I read the Fatiha I began to pray it in English in the many moments that I seemingly had nothing to say to God.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say to God. I had so many feelings and thoughts bottled up inside that I wanted to let out in prayer, but when I bowed my head and closed my eyes I couldn’t seem to put those feelings into words. God seemed distant and deaf. I couldn’t help but wonder why He’d bother listening to me – or even if He would at all. Time and again, I turned to the Fatiha. It gave me the words I didn’t have. It summed up everything I wanted to ask of God.
As time passed I realized that I didn’t believe in the Bible and Christianity. I went months without uttering a prayer, pausing only occasionally to utter something for a few seconds. I deliberately avoided it. I was afraid that I was doomed for hell, because I was not praying. This fear in turn made me want to pray even less. All my old fears of God and His judgement made me rather dislike Him, because I was very disconnected from His Mercy and Grace. As time went on I began reading the Quran again, and again began praying the Fatiha. This whole time I didn’t know that Muslims prayed the Fatiha daily. Soon, however, I learned this, because I began to research Islam again, this time thinking of converting.
I also learned about this amazing thing called salaat: a way to pray that God Himself gave us. Five times a day we get to meet God in prayer. And, He listens. I watched videos and listened to lectures about it. I found out how to perform it. I was so in love with the words! Instinctively, I knew that as soon as I prayed it salaat I would fall in love with it and my conversion would be inevitable. I already believed in the basic doctrines of Islam. Finally, one night in my walk-in closet I laid out a towel for a prayer rug, set up my iPad with a prayer tutorial, and followed along. When I finished, I was shaking, drenched in sweat, emotional, and almost euphoric. I felt in the depth of my soul that I had truly connected with the Divine. I spoke to the Creator of the universe – and He listened to me. Subhanallah.
Sure enough, soon thereafter I converted to Islam alhamdulillah. I don’t like to say that I converted – that implies that I chose it. No. God chose Islam for me, and I submitted to His will. Since performing salaat five times a day is a requirement for a practicing Muslim, I began researching the details of it even more enthusiastically. I soon found it difficult. Through the whole process I remained in love with salaat. However, I soon discovered that I had to pray in Arabic, not English, so I had a lot of memorization to do. I had to know when to prostrate, when to raise my hands, when to say what. I worked hard, watching countless YouTube videos about it and taking notes. I Skyped with friends and asked questions of every Muslim I knew – and some I didn’t know! I had found a way to talk to God, and I wanted to do it perfectly. It was the greatest gift I’d ever had. I still feel that way about salaat to this day, alhamdulillah. I mean, how amazing is it that God told us exactly how we can talk to Him?
Many people think of communication with God as a one-way street. We pray, He listens and maybe does what we ask, maybe not. But Islam teaches us that prayer is for our sake. God doesn’t need our prayers. But He has blessed us with the ability to communicate with Him because He knows that without Him we are nothing. And, He communicates in return! Quran 45:3 and many other similar passages tell us that the creation is full of signs from God. All of creation, including our own existence, is a message to us that God is greater, that He loves us, that He is ar Rahman and ar Raheem, that He is the Almighty. God is speaking to us through His creation. Subhanallah!
These days I still have a hard time making my own own duaas. The great thing is, there are many traditional duaas out there that we can use. I have downloaded an app that has duaas in it, and I often look up duaas for appropriate situations. I especially love the tradition of making duaa when it rains. It gives me inspiration to talk to God. When it rains, I do somehow feel more connected making duaa. I do still struggle with feeling unworthy to pray for things I need, so I often end up simply asking for forgiveness for my sins. I am painfully aware that I am very much in need of God’s forgiveness because I am very flawed, as are we all. My salaat, however, has improved greatly. My greatest struggle with salaat is concentration, but I’m working on it. I find great comfort in it and alhamdulillah am typically faithful to pray on time. I can only give thanks for this.
My advice is that if you are struggling with prayer, keep trying. If you are Muslim, you already have two great gifts from God: the Quran and the Sunnah. And these together tell us how to make salaat. So, work on your salaat. Try to pray it well. Study the meaning of the words being recited, especially if you don’t speak Arabic. Become faithful to it. Pray on time, even when it seems inconvenient. Sometimes it is a sacrifice to get out of bed for fajr, but the relationship with God that these sacrifices open up for us is incredible and indescribably worth it!