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My first solat (prayer)

As a new Muslim, I often found it mesmerizing to watch my Muslim friends performing their prayers daily.  They seemed to have understood the flow of it that their performance of it was so well-synchronized, as if it had been choreographed by a professional choreographer.

As I declared my faith in Islam, I too understood that it would be my duty now to perform daily prayers to Allah, or as the Muslims say it – to perform solat.

Solat or صلاة   is usually referred to as prayer; although in English du’a  (دعاء ) can also mean prayer. Solat or solah carries the meanings of sending blessings, mercy, forgiveness, praise and veneration.  It usually refers to supplication and worship.

The basic idea of solah according to the Quran is that it refers to praying or blessing; it can also be translated as an act of communicating with God directly — from one servant to the One and Only God – Allah.

As easy and calming as it may seem, to a new Muslim, to actually commit to performing one prayer is difficult enough – let alone to commit to performing 5 times of prayers in a day!  I attended a few classes (religious classes for new Muslims), be it physical or online classes and it was such a relief to be able to gather tips from fellow reverts on how to actually kick-start into performing the 5 times-a-day-prayer.

Always start small

I know born-Muslims make it look super-easy to just pray 5 times a day.  Plus they’re able to recite the verses in Arabic. But bear in mind they have been taught about solat and the Quranic verses since they were little. It took them years to be at their level. So it is only normal for us, the new Muslims to take our time to learn and be able to be at least at their level.

Start with 1 prayer only

Pick a prayer that is rather convenient for you to start and to maintain.  My suggestion would be Isha’. In most countries, Isha (العشاء) or night prayer would start after the red shade is gone from the western sky; and preferably performed before midnight (halfway between sunset and sunrise).

Thus, this would be quite an ideal prayer-starter for the new Muslims.  You can perform it at home, alone in your room especially when you’re still at the level of keeping your new faith secret from your mom and family members.  You also wouldn’t have to explain to your boss or colleagues or lecturers or classmates. Once you’re ready, you can start performing prayer 2 times a day.

For now, maintain praying one time a day for 3-6 months.  NEVER MISS IT during this period (unless of course if you’re a woman having your menses).  Once you’ve completed the duration of not missing the Isha prayer for the whole 6 months, go for Maghrib (sunset) prayers.  Maintain the discipline of not missing to perform 2-times-a- day prayer for another 6 months, and keep upgrading yourself at your own pace.

Recitation in Arabic is hard

That’s okay.  Learning a foreign language IS hard.  But remember, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  You don’t necessarily have to master Arabic language in order to recite some verses during solat.  The fact is, most Muslims in the world are not Arabs, they learn the language and know how to read, write, recite – but not necessarily mastering it.  Arabic is a beautiful language. It is also a complex language. Do not have too much expectations on yourself that you end up frustrated and totally abandoning the whole act of prayer just because you can’t master the Arabic language.

Learn the basic pronunciation of some Arabic words that are compulsory for prayer.  In the meantime, memorize the meaning of those words in your own language and perform the solat  in your own language – as long as you are reciting the compulsory recitations for prayers.

You can also enroll yourself in online tajweed (rules in pronouncing and reading/reciting the Quran) classes.  I shall be sharing with you a list of the online classes in the coming articles.

Write the wording on a big card

Yes!  Just like the signage people would be holding when they’re picking someone up from the airport, write out the words for prayer on a big card, place them in front of you and read them while praying!

Follow someone else

If you happened to live near a mosque or Muslim community, do not feel embarrassed to ask them that you need to follow their lead in prayer.  One thing you should know about praying in jamaah (congregation) is that the reward is 27 times more than praying alone (find hadith).

No muslim community around you? No problem!

Okay, so you’re pretty much the only Muslim in your area and it’s rather impossible to commute daily to other areas to learn how to perform solat.  It’s okay.  If you can read this,  it means you have good internet access.  Search for YouTube videos on how to perform solat.  I wouldn’t want you to suffer the experience of having to learn from the misguided people from YouTube, so here’s a few channels you could follow.  If you’re only able to get internet at certain times, download these videos offline so that you’d be able to watch them when you do not have internet.  I’ll be sharing with you a list of the suggested channels in the coming article.

There’s a few tips for you to start performing solatSolat is a very beautiful way of expressing your love and faith to our One and Only Creator.  Remember, during the final sujood (prostration), ask for as many things as possible.  You have doubts? Express it during the final sujood of every prayer.  You have requests?  Yep, ask from Allah during that sujood too.  Anything.  Anything. Allah loves to hear from you.

(O Muhammad), when My servants ask you about Me, tell them I am near; I hear and answer the call of the caller whenever he calls Me. Let them listen to My call and believe in Me; perhaps they will be guided aright. (Al-Baqarah 2:186)

All the best with your solat!

Disclaimer:  the author is not a revert.  This article is based on experience of other reverts and has been recreated with the intention to assist fellow new Muslims in practising Islam.  Wallahu ‘alam (Allah knows best)
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Reference:   What Is the Meaning of “Prayer” (Salat) in Arabic and in Islam? - Seekersguidance.org

Going to the Masjid (Part 2): A First-Time Guide for Reverts

Yeay! You’re finally going to the Masjid (mosque) for the first time. There are things you need to know about how visitors are expected to conduct themselves upon entering and while being in the mosque: 

1. You have to take off your shoes

Please note that you have to take off your shoes before entering the mosque. There have been  many cases where new Muslims, or interested non-Muslims, accidentally entered the mosque without taking off their shoes. This is especially true of visitors from non-Asian countries where taking off shoes and leaving them outside the door is not part of their culture.

The reason for requiring visitors to take off shoes before entering the mosque is hygiene, an aspect which is much emphasised in Islam, especially for a holy place such as the mosque. This is how the floor of the mosque is kept clean, especially for prayers, such that you can even sit and sleep on it.

2. There are separate areas for men and women 

Don’t go to the wrong entrance! There are separate areas for men and women in the mosque. Muslims pray shoulder to shoulder in line but within the same gender group, not intermixed. They either have an entirely separate area between the sexes, or in the case of a very big prayer hall, a shared but divided space to prevent free mixing of males and females. Please beware of which area you’re going to. 

3. Attire inside the mosque

If you’re a non-Muslim, or a newly reverted Muslim, please note that you must dress properly while in the mosque. The mosque is a holy place for Muslims to perform their sacred rituals. Females must cover their heads and wear full length, all body-covering, and non-body hugging attire. Likewise, guys ought to dress decently. 

Going to the Masjid (Part 1): Knowing the Masjid

You’re a new Muslim and you’re going to a Masjid? Yeay! It’s going to be fun. You’re going to meet new friends, you’re going to learn more on Islam, and maybe there’s even free food there. LOL. But wait a minute. Before you go, please take note of several things. Now, let’s go to the Masjid!    

As a new Muslim revert, there are so many things you will learn and do for the first time. And these first-time things in your new beautiful religion will always stick in your memories. 

You’ll always remember how your heart raced the moment you said Shahadah (your declaration of belief in the oneness of God and on Muhammad as his final Prophet) for the first time. 

You’ll always remember the moment you raised your hands and said the Takbiratul Ihram in your solat (prayer) for the first time. 

You’ll always remember the satisfaction of  withstanding the hunger and hardship in completing your Ramadhan fast for the first time, or how hard it was to memorise the al-Fatihah verses for the first time.

But how about your experience of going to the mosque for the first time? 

It may be easy to visualise in your mind about the mosque if you are a born Muslim. You may have been there since the time you learned to walk.  But as reverts, non-Muslims and those who have never been inside a mosque, have you ever imagined what the mosque is like?

Reverts going to the mosque for the first time have varied experiences. Some are fun and exciting experiences, some enlightening,  and some even awkward. Before any untoward experience happens to you, it is advisable that you get to know some basic things about the mosque. 

What is a mosque?

If you have been in a typical  Muslim country, you must have heard a loud calling for prayers five times a day. The sound comes from the mosque (masjid), as a sign that the praying time has come.

The Arabic term masjid simply means “place of prostration”. A mosque is a building in which Muslims worship Allah by performing the congregational (jama’ah) prayers . It is also a local  community centre for Muslims. 

The role of the mosque has frequently been misconceived as a place for spedific worship rituals only. Ideally, a mosque should also be a centre of Muslim development, knowledge and welfare. 

It is a symbol of unity and strength of the Muslim community. Muslims praying in neat rows (saff), shoulder to shoulder, regardless of rich or poor, old or young, black or white, signify  that everyone is equal before Allah.

What do mosques look like?

Mosques come in all shapes and sizes, based on the density of the Muslim population in a certain area. A distinct feature common to most mosques is the minaret, a slim tower  normally used to make the daily call (adhan) to prayers. Some mosques have more than one minaret.

Other features common to mosques are a dome, a mihrab (an indention in the wall for the imam who leads the prayer, and marks the direction of qiblah (the Holy Mosque in Mecca),  and a mimbar (a raised platform on which the khutbah or speeches are delivered).

What does the interior of the mosque look like?

The most significant area inside a mosque is of course the praying hall. This is where the Muslims pray. Depending on the size of the mosque, and the number of people in the local Muslim community, some mosques do have a big and vast praying hall, while some others have a smaller one. At the front side of the praying hall is where the mihrab is, which indicates the direction of qiblah

A qiblah refers to the direction faced by Muslims performing prayers. Muslims are instructed to face in the direction of the Kaabah in Mecca while praying. One important aspect to be understood here is that  Muslims do not worship the Kaabah. Rather, the Muslims direct their worship only to Allah. The Kaabah is merely a symbolic unifying focal point for the entire Muslim world:    

To Allah belongs the East and the West. Wherever you turn, there is the presence of Allah. For Allah is all-Pervading, all-Knowing” (Quran 2:115)

So, basically no matter where the mosque is, it will always face toward the qiblah, as a symbol of universal unity among Muslims in worshiping one God. Thus, a qiblah in London will face to the south east and a qiblah in Kuala Lumpur will face to the west. 

Another thing you’ll see inside the mosque is the ablution area. Muslims are commanded to make ablution (wudhu’) as a part of preparation to pray. In some mosques , a separate space for ablution is set in a restroom or washroom. In others, the place for ablution is a fountain-like structure along a wall or in a courtyard.

Looking beyond the Smiles: Understanding the emotional needs of the Muslim reverts

Upon saying the shahadah, many of their born Muslim brethren would ritually come to them to give their sweetest smiles, their biggest hugs and kisses while saying “MasyaAllah, you have chosen Islam. You are now our brother (or sister)!”. They will even give their contact numbers and invite the new reverts to their homes, offering help, advice, counseling etc.

That seems like a very memorable and nice moment for the revert, right?

But most of the time, it will just end there!

The reverts will most likely end up walking to their new life practically alone, to a new world, a new way of seeing things and a new journey of self discovery. Not knowing what to do and who to trust, they are just like a child wandering around in a big city, alone.

They probably will never go to the homes of other fellow Muslim, and will never get any calls from them.

For all the many people who claimed  to be their brothers and sisters, they probably end up  celebrating their eids and breaking their fast alone. Some people in the Muslim community might even consider them strangers, leaving them with  the pain of rejection. 

They have made a big decision to become a Muslim, yet many of us are unaware of their  predicament. You may sense this when you look beyond their smiles, what can you see? Think about it!

What is Ibadah? It’s ‘slavery’, but that’s the best part of Islam.

What is Ibadah? It’s ‘slavery’, but that’s the best part of Islam.

Because this ‘slavery’ grants you liberty: wait, am I reading this right?

This might be life’s eternal question: what is the purpose of our being here, alive in this world? What are we, and why we?

Being here in this world are we meant to be  growing up, chasing our dream, leaving behind some legacies, and returning to earth ? That’s it?

Or are there a more ultimate purpose ? We need to be enlightened on this curious purpose?

Allah, the Almighty Lord and the Creator of us, sent down His Word to satisfy this eternal curiosity of mankind. And you know what? To your surprise, we are but  ‘slaves’ in this world!

“And I (Allah) did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” (al-Quran 51:56)

Ibadah: a Total Submission

In Arabic, the word ‘Ibadah’ means submission and surrender. The same derived word ‘Ya’buduni’ (translated as worshipping Me) is used in the said Quranic verse, grammatically to indicate current, common and ever-happening states, as well as the future.

Let us rephrase it for you: it’s total, absolute and eternal submission to Allah. In Islam, life is but a full-time ‘slavery’ to Him solely.

From that precept come the decreed acts of worship: the specific tasks we have to perform in our life as His ‘slave’ and worshipper. Among the well-known are the five daily prayers and fasting throughout the  month of Ramadhan.

There are also the obligations to adhere to the ordained practices. Some of these pertain to   character building (the akhlak) which encompasses enacting divine injunctions of  ethics, principles, morals, and much more.

It is expected of  a full-time ‘slave’ of a comprehensive religion to accept that Islam guides on every aspect of life as Allah decrees. These constitute principles that relate to the economy, politics, education, parenting, community, hygiene, research and the like.

Does it sound restricting? No, it’s liberating, in fact!

How can restricting be liberating? You might be interested in this infamous story in Islamic history during the battle of Qadisiyah. The Persian general, Rustum, requested from Rabi’ bin Amir, a companion of Prophet Muhammad, to shed light on their intention regarding the battle.

Rabi’ delivered to him a brief, inspirational declaration on liberating people through the ‘slavery’ of Islam:

“Allah has sent us to deliver whomsoever He wishes of mankind from subjugation to the creation to the servitude and worship of Allah; from the narrowness of the dunya (the world) to the vastness of the akhirah (the Hereafter), and from the injustices of (fabricated) religions and ideologies to the justice of Islam.”

Being a Muslim is to be liberated from being  enslaved by other people. All people are the creation of Allah, hence worshipping the creations is a grave degradation to the nobility of mankind.

Allah is the only One deserving of servitude, not the aristocrats or the corrupt leaders who exercise control beyond what is determined by Him.

Being a Muslim is to be liberated from being a slave to the worldly life. The world is but a sowing land to be reaped in the hereafter. We should give our best in this life, but only for the purpose of gaining Allah’s pleasure and securing the best rewards in the hereafter.

In the end, the righteous deeds resulting from our worldly performance are what really matters, not those accomplishments themselves.

Being a Muslim is is to be liberated  from being lost, wandering in this world without a purpose. Allah sent down the comprehensive guidance through the Quran and the Prophetic traditions. With  these super guides other ideologies about life should be redundant.

Some consider liberation as an absolute right and sanction for them to do anything they think is good. It does not occur to them that they might end up trapped by their limited and fallible thought. By contrast,  Allah offers an all embracing guide of life as befits the encompassing perspective and wisdom of a Supreme Creator, Designer and Arbiter.

“(Mention, O Muhammad), when the wife of ‘Imran said, “My Lord, indeed I have pledged to You what is in my womb as muharraran, so accept this from me. Indeed, You are the Hearing, the Knowing.” (al-Quran 3:35)

Commenting on the above verse, an Islamic scholar, Syed Qutb explained that the term ‘muharraran’ used here is derived from the root word of “freedom” or “liberation” — al-Hurr.

This term  signifies that no one is truly free unless and until he devotes himself totally to God, and liberating himself from servitude to anyone, anything, or any value.

Thus the submission to Allah alone indicates total freedom. Any other situation is a form of slavery however it disguises under the name of freedom or liberty.

It’s a ‘slavery’ built on faith and love

Being a worshipper — a ‘slave’ — of Allah is to experience  a  relationship of pure love. We will discover a vast expression of Allah’s love for us: how concerned is He with every bit of our life affairs, how delighted is He to forgive us when we return to Him, how caring is He about our wellbeing that He persistently reminds us to avoid harm.

Allah sent down trainers — the prophets — to introduce us to Him. Sometimes He grants us with some trials and challenges so we would rely greater on Him and become stronger in our faith.

Allah never stints from giving us mercy and bounties, despite all the mistakes we have committed before Him.

Being His beloved slave, we portray our love to Him by worshipping Him and live according to what He has assigned us. We do everything in our life to please Him and try our best not to incur His wrath.

We bear strong faith in the destiny that He has written for us. At the same time, we give our best effort to make a great ending.

By virtue of our sincere devotion to Him, we hope that He will be pleased with us and prepare the best rewards for us in the Hereafter.

Ibadah in Islam — in all its established forms  through all the deeds which we perform to please Allah — is the best manifestation of life. It provides us with the very purpose of life itself.

And one thing for sure, it is the best part that makes Islam worth accepting and embracing: the virtuous, direct relationship with Allah , the real Most Supreme Lord of the Universe that we won’t find anywhere else.

“Why does it seem like Allah doesn’t accept my du’a?” He reached to me, I almost couldn’t hold my tears.

“Why does it seem like Allah doesn’t accept my du’a?” He reached to me, I almost couldn’t hold my tears.

Or are we asking too much from Him?

I have just finished my Zuhr prayer when a friend of mine came by. One look at his haggard face and I knew  he was not the usual, happy guy I used to spend time together with.

I could see worry, despair and disappointment written all over his face. He sat by my side, looked down and struck my heart with some heavy questionings.

“I’m so tired of asking from Allah. Why the deafening silence? Am I asking too much? Is my constant asking displeasing Him ? Why  should my turning to Him displease Him? Why am I being rebuked after I gave all of my heart and soul submitting to Him?”

My heart trembled, my eyes welled with tears   from listening to his cracking voice. He was just being honest about his feelings. Certainly, this was not the cheerful, happy-go-lucky guy  as people used to know him. This is his inner self crying from the depth of his being, breaking, despairing and gasping for some air of hope from anywhere he could get .

As I tried to bring myself together, I wrapped my arm around his shoulders and said:

“You know, brother. Allah is so close to our being that He knows us better than anyone else. Allah is fond of our repeated appeals to Him because He made us so inclined. It is our fitrah to unwaveringly seek for His constant support. So how could He be displeased with our persistent dua – our cry for His rescue?”

As a lifelong friend, I had come to know him rather intimately — the ups and downs he had gone through, the heavy  trials and tribulations he had faced, and how all this had made him  a rugged survivor.

But now he is beset with nagging doubts as to whether Allah is really listening to him and granting what he had persistently asked for.

“Brother,” I patted his back. “There are three ways in which  Allah responds to our supplications”:

1. Allah decides to grant us precisely what we asked for.

Sometimes, Allah does accept our request as it is. For instance, when we fell sick and prayed for Him to cure us. At the appointed time, praise be to Allah, we found ourselves in the pink of health again.

We might be in a financial crisis, and we knew that money  never rain from the sky. And we have nowhere to avail ourselves of a quick fortune. So, We asked from Him. Suddenly someone appeared on the scene and voluntarily paid our dues.

We asked for the ease of heart after offering shahada and embracing this religion of Islam as our heart fluttered upon making that life-changing decision. Gradually, Allah granted us that ease.

2. Allah decides not to grant our requests so as to save us from a worse outcome.

We have been asking for a raise in our salary for some time already, but still, we returned home with a gloomy face on our payday. We began to wonder that since a pay raise is not a sinful thing to desire for, why isn’t Allah granting it to us then?

The truth is Allah knows us better than we do about ourselves. For all we know, had we been granted that ‘privilege’ of a pay raise we have been asking,  we could be under severe pressure later — due to the heavier workload or responsibility that came with that salary raise — such that we would not be able to bear it.

Perhaps, we might also become conceited and forget altogether that Allah is the sole reason for all the blessings. For our own ultimate benefit Allah desires that our faith in Him to be preserved intact by not being traded with the fleeting worldly trappings. For indeed Allah is the All-Knowing beyond the boundary of time?

So, our supplication is virtually answered by His relieving us of what is a worse outcome and for which we ought, indeed, to be grateful.

3. Allah decides to defer our  earthly reward for the ultimate recompense of Jannah in the Hereafter.

It feels like we have been asking forever. In the end, all we get is but the eternal  prison of  hope. The hardship remains until the end of our earthly time.

In such a predicament the right and wise thing for us to do is to stick with Him  no matter how dark the tunnel of our life is.

Let our conscience be illuminated that by this tribulation Allah is answering our supplication with even a better gift – the ultimate, the eternal reward of jannah in the Hereafter. What could be a better victory for us than  Divine forgiveness and Jannah as our homes? To think that after all the suffering that we had to endure going through this earthly life, it is unbelievable that we are finally  reaching the best finishing line of our journey.

So instead of despairing, what we ought to say  is “O Allah, forgive us for having bad thoughts of You. O Allah, grant us our Duas with what You know is the best for us. Amin.

May Allah grant us the strength and the wisdom to keep being steadfast. May Allah strengthen the heart and spirit of my friend, and the heart and spirit of ours too.