You snatch yourself out of a meeting, rush to make wudu, find an empty conference room, then hurriedly start performing dhuhr (noon) prayer. By the time you say “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is Greater), all sorts of distractions flood your mind ironically: the email you must send, the phone call you need to make, the report due today…
After a brief lapse, you internally scream to yourself “STOP! I am supposed to be praying here!”
If this happens to you, then know that you’re not alone. The focus in prayer is becoming one of the challenges many Muslims face in today’s overly consuming world. I have had my share of distracted prayers for decades, so I do not intend to preach about khushu’ (humility and focus in prayer). I also don’t believe that with a secret recipe, a shortcut, and a “Khushu’ 101 Guide”, things will change in your life. So, instead, I’ll share two simple but powerful tips that benefited me greatly in bridging the gap between my work and spirituality daily.
Consulting The All-Knowing Regularly for Every Work Decision
So, this all started when I realized that one can make the precious istikhara (prayer of consulting Allah and seeking guidance) after each sunnah prayer. In other words, every optional nafil (voluntary) prayer done before or after the obligatory prayer can become an istikhara.
This is incredibly helpful because, at work, we’re constantly making decisions and choices. It can get overwhelming, this is why we may be distracted. So instead of being distracted from Allah , consult Him in whatever thing that is on your mind. Who better than the Knower of the past, present, and future to consult in all life matters?
Jabir reported, the Messenger of Allah used to teach us the istikharah in all matters as he would teach us a Surah of the Qur’an. He used to say:
“If any one of you is concerned about a decision he has to make, then let him pray two rak’ahs of non-obligatory prayer, then say: (O Allaah, I seek Your guidance [in making a choice] by virtue of Your knowledge, and I seek ability by virtue of Your power, and I ask You of Your great bounty. You have power, I have none. And You know, I know not. You are the Knower of hidden things. O Allah, if in Your knowledge, this matter (then it should be mentioned by name) is good for me both in this world and in the Hereafter (or: in my religion, my livelihood and my affairs), then ordain it for me, make it easy for me, and bless it for me. And if in Your knowledge it is bad for me and for my religion, my livelihood and my affairs (or: for me both in this world and the next), then turn me away from it, [and turn it away from me], and ordain for me the good wherever it may be and make me pleased with it.” [Bukhari]
Such powerful supplication, and truly helpful.
Our scholars mention that istikhara is not only about grandiose and crossroad-type decisions in life (i,.e. marriage, changing jobs, starting a new business, etc…). It also extends to all “small” and “minor” things, as simple as buying clothes or groceries. Knowing all of this, we should benefit from this great deal, and utilize the sunnah prayers (2-12 rak’ahs a day) to “delegate” daily decisions to the “istikhara department”.
We’re always thinking something along lines:
- Should I take an alternative freeway to avoid construction works, or will this make my commute much longer?
- Is it better to discuss this issue in our weekly review meeting or by email?
- Should I spend more time on technical details in my design review? Or is it better to keep it at a high level and defer the discussion to another peer-review?
- Is it better to take this training before I work on the project, or should I get some hands-on experience first?
So, basically, what istikhara is providing us is a framework to put the same questions that were distracting your prayer and interrupting your khushu into an actual opportunity of worship and spirituality as Allah loves for us and instructs us to ask Him and consult Him. This is making our prayer more connected to our daily lives, the RIGHT WAY! It is using a “divide-and-conquer” approach to the clutter in your mind and use your prayer as a springboard to get back to our cubes stronger and with clarity, focus, and renewed commitment to get that job done!
[Before Salah] Start the habit of asking yourself or writing down: what am I praying istikhara for today?
[During work] what are the questions that I need to delegate for the upcoming dhuhur or asr sunnah prayers?
If It’s Not Consultation, then Ask for Help in EVERY Need
The main obligatory Surah (chapter of the Qur’an) we recite in every prayer is Surat al-Fatiha (The Opening). In this Surah that we repeat at least 17 times a day throughout the prayers, we tell Allah :
“It is You we worship and You we ask for help.” [Qur’an, Chapter 1: Verse 5]
This needs to come practically to life. It is actually a form of worship to ask Allah regularly for help. We become deprived of a major part of our daily spirituality if we don’t. The Prophet says:
“Verily supplication is worship.” [Related by the four Imams]
We always carry these boulders of unfinished tasks around, and they keep on bothering us during our work, daily commute, lunch, and unfortunately during the few minutes of communication with our Master.
But those same thoughts should inspire us to “upload” our concerns and present them to our Creator . The One who hears us and sees our life and fully knows our situation and has answers to all questions.
Remember this powerful verse about Allah :
“And with Him are the keys of the unseen; none knows them except Him. And He knows what is on the land and in the sea. Not a leaf falls but that He knows it. And no grain is there within the darknesses of the earth and no moist or dry [thing] but that it is [written] in a clear record.” [Qur’an, Chapter 6: Verse 59]
Imagine asking Him for every need. This is the essence of prayer, to show our neediness to Him directly and establish a strong ongoing direct relationship.
The Prophet says:
“Let one of you ask his Lord for his every need, even until he asks Him for the strap of his sandal when it breaks.” [Jami` at-Tirmidhi]
We need to have a deeper understanding of the value and role of prayer in our lives. We can use prayer as a platform to change our world, as a source of inspiration, means to increase in creativity, proper planning, and hard work to follow each prayer.
Things that usually inspire and motivate me are the fact that Allah is The One who:
“created man! And taught him eloquence in speech” [Qur’an, Chapter 55: Verses 3-4]
“taught by the pen! Taught man that which he did not know” [Qur’an, Chapter 96: Verses 4-5]
Always remember that in articulating your dua and being motivated to ask Allah for everything. Get into the habit of rephrasing and reframing the key questions at hand into dua statements. Here are some initial thoughts I have and always add to my dua’ list:
- O Allah, empower my speech so I can deliver my presentations eloquently within the allotted time.
- My Master, open the hearts of my peers to identify all the failure modes in this system
- O Allah, help our team negotiate this better deal and open our hearts to what’s best for our company, regardless of people’s inclinations and politics.