“This dunya won’t stop chasing you. Look at you, you’re tired. Bruised. Broken. And hurting. Isn’t it time you ran back to Allah? Isn’t it time you embraced His love for you? Tell me, and tell me honestly. Has this world or its people ever been able to comfort you the way one prostration to Allah does?”
—AcceptingQadr (via @acceptingqadr IG)
“Everybody isn’t as strong as you are,” the woman told me angrily. “You need to understand that.”
Her words cut deep and reminded me of so many of the private battles I’d fought for years, and continued to. These were battles that she knew nothing about. This woman, my sister in faith, had no idea that there was a time that I’d nearly left Islam, that there was a dark moment when I nearly took my own life, and that sometimes there were still days when I felt like I was just holding on by a thread.
Part of me wanted to share this with her, but my gut told me to keep quiet. I sensed that it didn’t really matter what I’d struggled with in the past, or what I struggled with still. In her mind, I was a “strong Muslim” and she was “weak Muslim,” and that alone explained why I disagreed with her sentiments about Salaah.
But that’s where she was wrong. I understood her more than I could express. But I knew that if I even attempted to share my own struggles or even my empathy with hers, she’d view my words as condescending, or she’d assume, “You just don’t understand.”
So I said nothing.
Her initial angry words had been in response to me mentioning the importance of holding on to the Salaah—the five daily prayers—no matter what. Because I’d reminded her, as well as my other sisters and brothers in faith, to never abandon the prayer, even in times of deep emotional pain and spiritual confusion, the woman was offended and assumed that, for me, praying all five prayers had always been easy.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
I used to dread when it was time for prayer. Sometimes I felt so overwhelmed by even the idea of praying that my body felt like a deadweight that couldn’t move. So I would crawl to the Salaah—literally. Then I’d pray sitting down, while my heart felt completely empty.
Does My Soul Matter Too?
Throughout my life I’ve faced numerous struggles that till today I don’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone. These are personal battles that I pray Allah keeps covered for me until I meet Him.
Also amongst my trials are personal battles that I’m not sure I can properly put into words, even if I tried. But in this moment as I write this blog, I’m praying that Allah gives me the words for one that is closest to my heart. In sharing this, I beg Allah to allow its lesson to touch the heart of every believing soul who sincerely desires what is best for their own soul and for the soul of every struggling Muslim:
During my most difficult battles with my nafs, what made my struggles all the more overwhelming and painful was hearing the very advice about the Salaah that my sister in faith was insisting I offer others: “It’s okay if you stopped praying. Allah knows your heart. Sometimes life is so overwhelming that all you can do is keep the love of Allah in your heart. And that’s better than nothing.” Or: “If praying all five prayers feels like too much for you, then start with only one. Praying one prayer a day is better than praying no prayers at all.”
But for me, hearing something like that took the last bit of “fight” out of me. I didn’t need to hear words that “gently” excused me from battling my nafs and properly worshipping my Creator. I needed to hear words that “gently” inspired me to keep fighting for my soul—even if it hurt my nafs to hear them. Hence this note I wrote in my personal journal:
Struggling in your emaan? Do you feel dead inside when you pray, make du’aa, or read Qur’an?
Remember this: It’s okay to show up empty. Just be sure to show up.
And your Lord will fill your heart with the spiritual fuel it needs, eventually.
But you have to show up.
Show up to prayer.
Show up to du’aa.
Show up to Qur’an.
Just the act of showing up is a powerful act of faith.
Allah will take care of the rest.
The Salaah Was My Lifeline
Deep in my heart, no matter how much I struggled with my faith, I knew that Salaah was my lifeline—everyone’s lifeline, in fact. So I couldn’t understand how any Muslim felt comfortable telling struggling believers that it was okay to effectively take their own life—spiritually speaking—with the hopes that they’d one day come back from the dead.
Even in my darkest days, this emotional logic was incomprehensible to me. Yet still, it ultimately became a fitnah for me, as my hurting heart began to absorb this “compassionate message” that incited a sense of peace in disconnecting from my Lord.
And while I understood that praying one prayer a day was definitely better than praying none at all, I also understood that neglecting any obligatory Salaah was not like other sins. If I were struggling with removing my hijab, for example, or with drinking alcohol or falling into zina (fornication or adultery), I would at least still be within the fold of Islam. But that wasn’t the case with Salaah, for after the shahaadah (declaration of faith) itself, Salaah was the most foundational manifestation of Tawheed (sincere belief in the Oneness of Allah) in a Muslim’s life.
While “Laa ilaaha illaa Allah” was the Tawheed of the heart and tongue, Salaah was the Tawheed of the limbs. And just as there was no safe “middle ground” with neglecting Tawheed in our hearts or on our tongues, there was no safe “middle ground” with neglecting Tawheed with our limbs.
For this reason, the “compassionate message” that told struggling Muslims that praying one prayer was better than praying none was more a philosophical point than an Islamic one. In the merciful deen of Islam, if prayer were ever to be looked at through the lens of praying only “one Salaah” a day as an acceptable bare minimum, then we’d have to look at the word “Salaah” as a five-part singular.
In other words, if we understand “one Salaah” from the lens of true spiritual health, then we’d have to view this “one Salaah” as having five principal parts: Fajr, Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib, and ‘Ishaa. There was no “one Salaah” without these five components—hence the five-part singular.
But I realize that this weighty point can only be understood by hearts that define spiritual minimums according to our faith instead of their emotional wounds.
Salaah Is a Weighty Matter
In the Qur’an, Allah says what has been translated to mean, “Say to My servants who have believed, that they should establish the Salaah… before the coming of a Day on which there will be neither mutual bargaining nor befriending” (Ibrahim, 14:31).
When I reflect on the weightiness that Allah places on the Salaah and how it is the second pillar of our faith itself—and the most crucial manifestation of Tawheed of the limbs—I wonder what we imagine will happen to us if we die while abandoning the Salaah, or while praying only one prayer a day.
“But Allah knows our hearts!” we say. “He judges us by our intentions!”
SubhaanAllah. Whenever I hear proclamations like these, I shudder and think to myself, “You know Allah knows your heart and intentions, yet that doesn’t scare you?”
It was with the knowledge of our hearts that Allah exhorted us over and over in the Qur’an to establish the Salaah, no matter what. It was with the knowledge of our intentions that Allah removed the option of neglecting the prayer, ever.
Or do we imagine that we know our hearts and intentions better than our Creator? Or perhaps we intend to inform our All-Wise Creator of how His deen—spiritual way of life—should manifest itself in our lives? Yet Allah says what has been translated to mean, “Say, ‘Will you inform Allah about your religion? While Allah knows all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth, and Allah is All-Aware of everything’” (Al-Hujuraat, 49:16).
Regarding “good intentions” in particular, in my blog “I’m Muslim and Don’t Pray, What Should I Do?” I share this clarification surrounding the myth that we can “build up” to praying our five prayers, so long as we intend to pray all our prayers “one day”: “Myth: Actions are by intention, so if I intend to pray one day then Allah will record that for me. Truth: Actions are by intention, so if you know you are supposed to pray and you intentionally don’t pray, then Allah has recorded that for you.”
In the Qur’an, Allah makes it undeniably clear that neglecting the Salaah isn’t ever connected to good intentions; rather it is connected to pursuing our desires—no matter how “compassionately” we frame this soul-harm to ourselves or others. He says what has been translated to mean, “But there came after them a posterity who neglected the Salaah and pursued desires, so they are going to face destruction. Except those who repent, believe, and do righteousness; for those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged at all” (Maryam, 19:59-60).
In seeking to impress upon the believing soul the tremendous magnitude of this issue, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Between us [the believers] and them [the disbelievers] is the prayer, and whoever leaves it falls into kufr (disbelief)” (Al-Tirmidhi, saheeh). He also said, “What is between a person and committing shirk (associating partners with Allah) and kufr (disbelief) is abandoning the prayer” (Sahih Muslim).
How then could it ever be okay to delve into kufr or shirk, no matter how deep our emotional pain? And how could it ever be okay to toy with kufr and shirk, even if only for part of the day? And how could any believing soul know that neglecting the Salaah is equated with kufr and shirk, yet they offer it—even if only partially—as an option for others to reconnect with Allah?
Don’t Confuse a Mercy with an Uswah
So often in our lives, we go through dark periods, and Allah in His infinite Mercy brings us out of that darkness. Then in our sincere desire to help others come out of their own darkness, we share our personal experiences as a means of giving them both hope and an example to follow in reconnecting with Allah. However, we need to be careful with this. If we are not framing our spiritual “success stories” from the vantage point of Allah’s Mercy more than an uswah (example or pattern to be followed), then we are making a grave mistake.
Our experience is not an uswah for other believers, and our experience alone should never be the foundation of any naseehah (sincere spiritual advice) we offer others. Yes, our experience can certainly be a powerful and beneficial part of our naseehah, but it should not be the essence of the naseehah itself, especially if our advice contradicts the guidelines of Islam. This is a spiritual reminder that cannot be overemphasized, as misunderstanding this can be disastrous to our souls.
If we continuously use our experiences as an uswah to others, we run the risk of changing the deen of Allah, despite our good intentions and despite our sincere effort to help others have a “spiritual success” story too.
In this, we must realize that at the very core of our “successful” personal experience, it wasn’t our own efforts or our “step-by-step” strategies that allowed us to reconnect with Allah and re-establish the Salaah. It was the Mercy of Allah, and the Mercy of Allah alone. This is especially the case if our personal story—at any time—included neglecting the obligatory Salaah in part or whole, even if we imagine our step-by-step strategy “worked” for us.
In the Qur’an, Allah says what has been translated to mean, “There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent uswah (example or pattern to followed) for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often” (Al-Ahzaab, 33:21).
In this ayah, Allah is letting us know that there is only one divinely approved uswah for all believers, and that is the example of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Naturally, this doesn’t mean that we cannot share our own stories as an inspiration and lesson to others. It only means that any sharing of our stories must be rooted in reconnecting the believers to the uswah of the Prophet, not the uswah of our personal experiences—no matter how helpful, inspirational, or powerful our success stories feel to us or others.
Understand, Your Story Isn’t Their Story
In the hopes of reminding the believing heart to stay focused on the guidance of Allah instead of the guidance of our own experiences, I recently shared this note from my personal journal on social media:
If there was a time in your life that you stopped praying, yet Allah brought you through this and you came back to the Salaah, then praise Allah for this immense blessing. But please, for the sake of your soul and for the souls of your struggling sisters and brothers in faith—even those who appear “strong” to you—never tell a believer that it’s okay that they stopped praying.
Don’t assume that your story will be their story, and don’t assume that your darkness will be their path to light.
When Allah brings you out of an abyss, don’t advertise the abyss—advertise the Light.
Tomorrow is not promised to any of us, so never give advice to someone such that if they followed it and died right after listening to you, they would meet Allah without emaan (faith).
And there is no emaan without the prayer.
Just because you found your way back to Allah after spiritual darkness doesn’t mean that the dark parts of your journey should become the blueprint for other struggling souls. There are some darknesses that we should never remain in—even for a split second—no matter how deep our trauma or pain. Our Salaah is like the oxygen in our lungs and the water in our veins. There is no life without it, and there is no goodness without it—even if, due to His immeasurable mercy, Allah granted you life and goodness after you deprived yourself of your source of life.
Telling someone it’s okay to abandon prayer due to their trauma or personal struggles is like telling someone it’s okay to worship idols today because you used to do shirk (paganism) and Allah guided you to Islam.
Or it’s like telling someone it’s okay to attempt suicide because Allah blessed you to survive a suicide attempt.
Just like it’s never okay to support someone ending their physical life even when they don’t feel like living another day, it’s never okay to support someone ending their spiritual life even when they don’t feel like praying another day.
When people are feeling so depressed that they feel tempted to end their physical life, we urge them to call a suicide hotline.
And when we’re feeling so broken inside that we feel inclined to end our spiritual life, Salaah is our “suicide hotline” for the soul.
Call it—and there will always be a Compassionate listener on the other line.
Then you can deal with your emotional trauma and pain after you hang up from the only connection that will actually save your life.
Whose Emotions Matter Most?
Even if we were to believe that emotional pain ever carries the most weight in giving spiritual advice—as my sister in faith was trying to convince me of—we should sincerely ask ourselves why the emotional pain of those who abandon the prayer should matter more than the emotional pain of those holding on to Salaah by a thread. These are people holding on to the five daily prayers, even if only barely, only because they genuinely believe that letting them go is not an option for their soul.
Why then doesn’t it matter to “compassionate advisors” how their “gentle” words could cause other people’s spiritual threads to snap? Why can’t they see that by reassuring those who abandoned the Salaah that this is okay, they are also encouraging many struggling Muslims to let go of Salaah too?
I wish we felt more compassion for those who appear “strong” in their emaan, I said to myself one day before writing this heartfelt reflection in my journal:
When you appear strong, no one cares about the trauma you’re battling or how their words meant to comfort others unravel and wound you. It’s okay if their words set you back spiritually and force you to clamor for your faith. So long as the “weak person” feels validated, it’s completely okay to invalidate you. Your soul is collateral damage in the compassion we owe to those who are ostensibly struggling with theirs.
Come Back To Allah, Dear Soul
So often we convince ourselves that our emotional battles are so difficult that we are excused from nourishing our souls. This is undoubtedly the result of living in a time where the chief idol and ilah (object of worship) are the emotions of our hearts—the foundation of the deen of emotionalism. However, in the Qur’an, Allah exhorts us to flee from these sources of idolatry and spiritual self-harm, no matter how appealing they are to our hearts; as He instructs the Prophet to proclaim what has been translated to mean: “So flee to Allah, verily I am a plain warner to you from Him” (Adh-Dhaariyaat, 51:50).
In the merciful deen of spirituality that Allah has gifted us with, when we are facing difficult emotional and spiritual battles, we are instructed to seek help by persevering in nourishing our souls, even when it hurts, and by continuously establishing the Salaah, even when it’s difficult. Thus, any advice that is truly “compassionate” will remind the struggling Muslim to seek help with their faith through their faith, and to seek help in their Salaah through their Salaah.
Allah says what has been translated to mean, “And seek help in Sabr (patiently persevering upon what nourishes the soul) and the Salaah, and truly it is extremely heavy and hard except for Al-Khaashi’oon (the humbly submissive)” (Al-Baqarah, 2:45).
In this ayah, our Merciful, Compassionate Creator is letting us know that He knows full well how difficult this path of soul-nourishment can be to our hurting hurts. And He is letting us know that He knows full well how overwhelming and difficult it is to pray during times of emotional and spiritual pain. However, still, He is telling us to persevere on this path, as it is our very lifeline. And then He offers us a step-by-step goal to strive toward: becoming amongst the khaashi’oon, a goal that can only be achieved through maintaining Sabr in soul nourishment and the Salaah.
In another ayah, our Merciful Creator further reassures us that this path will protect us from harm, no matter how much we are suffering currently, as He says what has been translated to mean, “Verily, the Salaah keeps one from the great sins and evil deeds…” (Al-Ankaboot, 29:45).
In reminding us to stay focused on what’s most important in life, our Prophet of Mercy (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The first matter that the servant [of Allah] will be brought to account for on the Day of Judgment is the prayer. If it is sound, then the rest of his deeds will be sound. And if it is bad, then the rest of his deeds will be bad” (Al-Tabarani; saheeh, Sahih al-Jami).
So dear soul, ask yourself sincerely: What concern in this world could ever be so weighty that it makes neglecting the Salaah (in part or whole) beneficial or helpful for you?
Come back to Salaah, dear soul, without delay—even when it feels burdensome or impossible. This is how you come back to Allah.
Because, understand this, dear soul: There is no one in this world, no matter how inspirational their spiritual life or success story, who knows what you need—right now and forever—better than He does.
My Heartfelt Prayer
O Allah, protect us from being of those who abandon the Salaah, no matter how much trauma and emotional pain we endure in this world! And O Allah, for those of us who have stopped praying, restore us to spiritual life!
And O Allah, Al-Haadee! Guide us to always seek help through connecting to You—our spiritual lifeline—no matter how much pain and difficulty we face in our personal lives! And we beg You, Al-Kareem, to take our souls in the highest state of emaan!
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Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. In 2019, she launched UZ Soul Gear, a passion project fueled by her love of both art and inspirational reflections. UZSoulGear.com offers apparel, wall décor, and more, aimed at supporting and inspiring the soul-centered lifestyle.
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