“My Prayers Feel Empty”

A Desperate Email About Faith And Prayer

Not too long ago, I received an email from a young lady with a serious issue. She was a practicing Muslim who really wanted to devote herself to Islam. However, she was still feeling empty. And much of that emptiness revolved around the weakness of her prayers.

Please read her email and my response below. If you have any advice, please add them in the comments section.

prayer-salaah-cropped

Dear Abu Ibrahim Ismail,

I want to take Islam seriously.

I pray five times a day.

I very rarely miss salah…well sometimes I might miss Fajr salah if I don’t wake up in the morning. But then I feel very guilty.

But I feel something isn’t right.

I don’t understand my prayers because I don’t understand Arabic. I have attended a few courses to learn Arabic but it is very hard.

Something is lacking. I want to do a lot more. I keep saying this but years go by and nothing changes because I’m just talking and not taking the effort.

Please help me to follow Islam correctly.

Something is not right. Why do I feel empty when I pray?

Why do I feel the way I do?

My Response

As-Salaamu Alaikum Sister *****,

I understand what you’re going through. It is very common for Muslims to feel as if their prayers are just motions and ritualistic movements.

The best thing to do is to learn what you’re saying. But you don’t have to learn how to speak fluent Arabic in order to understand what you say in prayer. Many of these things, you already know!

For instance, when we get up from Ruku’ (bowing), we say: “Rabbanaa wa laka Hamd.”

“Rabb” means “Lord.” Remember, in Surah Al-Fatiha we say “Alhamdulillahi Rabbil Aalameen.” All Praises to Allah LORD or the worlds.

“Rabbanaa” just means “Our Lord.” That’s it! So remember that if a word ends with “naa” it probably means “us” or “our” or “we.”

“Wa” means “and.” I’m sure you knew that already.

“Laka” means “for you.” “La” means “for” and “ka” means “you.” Remember, in Surah Al-Fatihah, we say: “Iyyaka na’budu.”

“Iyyaka” means “To you.” So keep this in mind that anything ending with “ka” usually means “you” or “yours.”

“Hamd” means praise. Once again, we can refer to Surah Al-Fatihah. We say in the first verse: “Al-HAMD-ulillah” which means “All praises to Allah.”

Now, putting it all together, we get:

“Rabbana wa laka hamd.”

“Our Lord, and for You are All Praises.”

I don’t think you’ll every forget that now, Inshallah.

So, now that you know the meaning, keep it in mind while you’re praying. When you raise up from Ruku’ and you say “Rabbana wa laka hamd,” keep in mind that Allah is watching you and that you’re actually praising Him by saying “Our Lord, and for You are all Praises.”

This part is important. You have to know in your heart that Allah is watching you, that He hears you, and that you’re actually speaking to Him and you’re telling Him exactly how you feel.

And now, you’re praying with Khushoo, or sincere fear and focus.

I hope this helps. If anything was unclear, please let me know.

May Allah give you guidance, knowledge, and strength of faith, Ameen.

Additional Thoughts

I have a confession to make. For many years (too many to count) I also had a hard time taking my prayers seriously. I mean, I did them on a regular basis, but my mind would be all over the place.

It wasn’t until after listening to a Bilal Philps recording that I finally, truly understood how important it was to get my Khushoo together. So for the next several years I began to work on improving my focus and concentration in prayer. But I had to do more than just focus more with my mind.

I had to work on understanding what I was saying and doing.

Much of the information I mentioned in my response are techniques that I’ve developed to improve my prayer. Based on that, I believe (and only Allah truly knows) that my concentration in prayer has increased multifold.

May Allah reward Sheikh Bilal Philps for his wonderful advice. That little advice he said in one lecture that may have been recorded years before I ever heard it has helped to improve my prayers. And now, I’m passing that same benefit on to the sister who wrote the email and anyone else who reads this article.

You can partake in this also. Add some comments or tidbits of your own that you use to increase your faith, improve your Islam, and become a better Muslim.

Let’s work on ‘crowdsourcing’ our barakah (blessings), Inshallah.

Spread the word

16 Responses to “My Prayers Feel Empty”

  1. I understand the problem the sister is facing. Now I would like to give some of my own advice on how we can improve our focus in Salah.

    Firstly, I would like to explain what we mean by Khushu’. The Arabic word Khushu’ is often translated in English as humility and attentiveness. Muslims need to have Khushu’ in every aspect of their life, especially when offering Salah, because Allah says in the Qur’an: “Certainly will the believers have succeeded: they who are during their prayer humbly submissive.” [Qur’an, 23:1-2] In this verse, “humbly submissive” refers to Khushu’.

    According to the Qur’anic verse that I quoted above, a Muslim will be able to attain success both in this life as well as in the life hereafter if he or she is able to have Khushu’ in Salah. It is important to remember that Khushu’ is not like a switch that we can just turn on or off according to our desire. There are actions which we can observe to develop and maintain our Khushu’ in Salah.

    In my comment here, I will just explain a few factors we can observe prior to offering Salah, which will help us to have Khushu’ in the Salah. Some of these factors are as follows:

    1. Refraining from sins – We cannot expect to have Khushu’ the very moment we start offering Salah. The way we lead our life outside of Salah will affect the quality of our Salah itself. Thus if we want to have more Khushu’ in our Salah, we need to lead a better life. This can be done by abstaining from sinful deeds which displease Allah.

    2. Learning about the virtues of Salah – When we learn about the rewards and benefits of offering Salah, we automatically get motivated to offer our Salah in the best possible manner. For this reason, we Muslims should try to learn the virtues and rewards of the performance of Salah.

    3. Removing attractive decorations – A Sahabi by the name of Anas ibn Malik (R.A.) said, “A’ishah had a decorated, colorful curtain which she used to cover the side of her house. The prophet (S.A.W.) told her, ‘Take it away from me because its decorations keep distracting me when I pray.’ ” [Bukhari]

    Colorful and attractive decorations can take away our focus from Salah. This is why it is important to remove any such distracting element before we start offering Salah. Many Muslims today offer their Salah in a prayer mat due to hygienic purposes. Most prayer mats which are made today often have many decorative pictures on them. We Muslims should try to invest on a plain prayer mat instead of one that has a lot of attractive patterns, because it can distract us during Salah.

    4. Wearing our best clothes – Before we start offering Salah, we should make every effort to look presentable. During Salah, we are standing before Allah and directly ‘speaking’ with Him. When we wear our best garments, there is an effect on our psyche. People often wear their best clothes when attending an important meeting or when going for a job interview. Allah is our Lord and Creator, and He is the one who is the most deserving of our best appearances. This is why we should strive to offer our Salah in our best clothes.

    These are some things which we can do before we even start making Salah. I would like to end with one more factor that can help us to attain Khushu’ in Salah, and that is the remembrance of death.

    Death is inevitable and every human being will have to die one day. We Muslims should perform every Salah as if it is going to be our very last Salah that we will be making. No one, except Allah, knows when death will approach us.

    If we were told that the Salah we are to about to offer is going to be our very last, we would surely try our best to perform that Salah in the best possible way. This is one of the most effective ways in which we can attain Khushu’ in Salah. The prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) once said, “Remember death in your prayer, for the man who remembers death during his prayer is bound to pray properly. And pray the prayer of a man who does not think that he will pray any other prayer.” [Silsilah Ahadith as-Sahihah]

    May Allah enable all of us to successfully attain Khushu’ in our Salah and give us success in this life and in the life hereafter. Amin.

    • MashaAllah, what an indepth beautiful explanation. Jazakumulaahu Kheyran to both you and Abu Ibrahim for these helpful tips and may Allah give that sister more khushoo’ and iman, and may He reward her for trying to perfect her Salah, not many people care so much about salah or even pray for that matter these days, unfortunately.

  2. Also, would like to recommend this book: 33 Ways of Developing Al-Khushoo’ by Muhammad Salih Al-Munajjid. It’s a fantastic book on this subject and it’s helped me a lot!

  3. I am an American woman that converted to Islam exactly one year ago this month….and you would not believe the problems I had with prayer….then again, maybe you would. If I cannot ‘connect’ to what I am saying while I pray, then the words are indeed empty and hold no meaning for me. I MUST understand what I am saying….so I recite the prayer in Arabic first (to help me learn it) and then I say it in English so that I KNOW what I am saying and so that I can truly CONNECT to my worship of Allah. Sometimes my focus does wander, but when you have to say them in Arabic too, and since the sounds make no sense and I still have to read most of them, it brings my focus right back to where it should be, and that’s on my worship and praying to Allah. Yes, it takes me twice as long to say the prayers, but I feel it is time well spent for many reasons. Already I am beginning to connect some of the Arabic words with their English meanings and saying a little bit less of the English than one year ago. In Sha’Allah, one day, I will be able to pray completely in Arabic only, and know exactly what I am saying.

  4. BARAKULLAH U FEEK. First, I gradulate you for your honesty. I went through same thing. Dhikring ALLAHs attributes in salaat and after salaat along with begging ALLAH in your dua helped me a whole lot. You must think of it as a personal relationship with ALLAH. Beg ALLAH in your own words..

  5. May Allah reward you for the good work you are doing .
    Truely, I have exactly the same problem like you’ve mentioned above.
    I just hope that Allah would guide me and many people like me to observe Khushoo in our prayers.
    Ameen.

  6. I believe in, as a matter of fact, am certain Islam is the Truth. Historically my certainty flucted from belief to disbelief. I know Islam to be the TRUTH because of reading the NOBLE QUR’AN and learning much of ISLAM and seeing etc the truth/validity etc in it. Praying is a joy and welcomed presently. I know how to pray and the Arabic to say aswell as some of the English translation. I am mastering Islam and will ALLAH willing. O:) 🙂

  7. Firstly I am a Christian, so any words I say have no intent of disrespect for Islam. That feeling of just saying the words is probably very common; I struggle with the feeling constantly, and I am using my mother tongue, English. Is it not possible for a Western Moslem to pray in his/her mother tongue? Would it not aid in that person becoming more devout?

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