Belief & Worship Overcoming Hardships Prayer

Staying Focused by PRAYing Marwa Abdalla

I remember the last time it happened to me. I was driving my daughter to preschool, something I do several times a week. Traffic was heavy and I was preoccupied. Deep in thought, I drove amidst the hundreds of cars on the highway and suddenly, or maybe it was after several minutes, I realized that the exit I was supposed to have taken was miles behind me and I was merging onto another freeway altogether. Panic struck me for a moment as I took the next exit, unfamiliar road signs all around. How had I missed the exit that I was so used to taking? What had distracted me for so long? And now, how long was it going to take me to reroute and ultimately reach my destination?

Distractions on Our Journey

In life, we are all on a journey. We know the ultimate destination we are trying to reach is jannah (Paradise) and Allah subhanahu wa ta`la (exalted is He) has clearly laid out the route we are supposed to take. However, dunya (the worldly life) is distracting. Like me on the road that day, we sometimes miss an important exit or forget to make a crucial turn and get thrown off our spiritual route. In my own life and in working with others, I’ve found that we can usually tell when we’re in unfamiliar territory. But even though we know that Allah (swt) has laid out the guidance in the Qur’an and Sunnah (tradition of the Prophet ﷺ, peace be upon him), we sometimes simply don’t know where to begin. This article lays out an easy to remember acronym, P.R.A.Y., that serves like a series of road signs to not only help us in our day to day journey to Allah, but also get us back on track when we feel the need to re-route ourselves spiritually. I hope it is beneficial insha’Allah (God willing).

P is for Prayer

The P in the acronym PRAY stands, creatively enough, for prayer. The first thing we should check when we feel that our spirituality is not on track (after our belief in the Oneness of God) is our prayer. I ask myself the following questions: How is my prayer? Am I praying on time? How is my focus and concentration (khushu) when I pray? What can I do to improve my concentration? Am I praying the sunnah prayers and other nawafil (extra prayers) like the duha and witr prayers? I try to see where the gaps are and begin filling them one by one. I also try to rekindle the feeling inside of me that in each rakah (unit of prayer), I am connecting with Allah (swt). I realize my shortcomings and ask for help getting back on His path.

R is for Read

The R in the acronym PRAY stands for read. I am a native English speaker. I read almost anything in English and understand it alhamdulilLah (praise be to God). Now even though I’m familiar with all the alphabetical characters that make up the French language, I would likely never pick up a book in French and read it just phonetically in hopes of understanding anything. However, for a long time, I did just that with the Qur’an. I come from an Arabic-speaking family and have studied tajweed and so I always have read the Qur’an in Arabic simply because I could and because I thought this was somehow better. Even though I understood only fragments of what I read, I persisted, looking only to translation if I absolutely had no idea what an ayah (verse) was saying. Recently, however, I read an article called “Ten Tips on Becoming One of Allah’s Special People” on how to better connect with the Qur’an and realized I had to change.  I began reading the Qur’an in English. Not one verse in Arabic and then one in English. I read entire parts (ajza’) in English.  This was such a huge breakthrough for me; I understood so much more without interruption. Lest I be misunderstood, studying Arabic and reading the Qur’an in Arabic is of great importance. However, the Qur’an is meant to be our source of guidance. So in addition to the Arabic, we must also regularly read it in a language that helps us understand that guidance.

A is for Ask Allah first

The A in the acronym PRAY stands for Ask Allah (swt) first. We live in a society that praises the independent individual, the “do-it-yourself-and-pick-yourself-up-from-your-bootstraps-if-you-fall” type who relies on him or herself only. Too often, we as Muslims fall prey to this mentality. We try to do everything on our own, initially relying solely on ourselves and only when in dire need do we ask for the help of other people to help us through any given problem.

But we must examine: how often do we ask Allah (swt) and rely on Him first? All success and provision are from Allah yet many of us only turn to Him (swt) and make du`a’ (supplication) about something after we feel we have exhausted all other resources. This is especially true in times when we are distracted by the dunya and feel disconnected from Allah. How different would our lives be if, like the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him), we began by asking Allah (swt) first before relying on ourselves and others? If before trying to do the job myself, I make du`a’, pray two rak`ahs and really put all my trust and tawwakul (reliance) in Allah (swt) to help me in my endeavor, how much calmer I am! How much easier does the task at hand become! The emphasis is really not just on asking Allah (swt), but beginning with Him, making du`a’, praying, and remembering Him first, before we ask others and before we depend on ourselves.

Y is for Yourself (and your Self)

The Y in the acronym PRAY stands for Yourself. This road sign is to remind us that we must take time by ourselves to reflect on our actions, purify our intentions, and repent for those things that we may have done incorrectly. This isolation is a very useful practice because it allows us to shut out the noise of the dunya and assess our actions and intentions. This road sign can also be read “your Self,” reminding us to engage in a process of disciplining and purifying our nafs (inner self), the source in us of base desires and whims that can often get in the way of our knowledge and correct worship of Allah (swt).

Each of these headings could be expanded at length and we should do all we can to learn more about these areas. However, I hope that in the midst of the busy pace of dunya we can use this relatively simple acronym as a starting place and insha’Allah stay better focused on our real journey to the best of all destinations, jannah.

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  • SubhanAllah!(All praise be to Allah) This is exactly what I needed! I am a university student and I often feel distracted by my school work and trying to balance it all. I realize now that I should start with my relationship with Allah, and insha’Allah (God-willing) everything will fall into place 🙂 Jazakhullah Khair (may ALlah reward you), Marwa! May all who read this article derive benefit from it and implement P.R.A.Y. in their lives insha’Allah. Ameen. 🙂

  • This is the absolute truth for most of us in this world. Thank you for the article.
    Lately I have been thinking about most of the above mentioned issues. Majorly in the paying attention during salaah. I struggle in each prayer to concentrate solely on Allah swt and keep everything else aside, but it is very difficult to do so. It goes like, I will be fine in the first rakat, and then on the 2nd one, random thoughts come into my head from nowhere. Thoughts which I wouldn’t think on a normal basis. I hate that about myself, but I am trying really hard to focus on just my prayer and not let Shaitan influence to have me wander off on a different tangent. May Allah protect me from the evil thoughts.

    • Asalamwalakum Afnan! you should know that everyone has problems with that! Don’t hate yourself for being human. The very fact that you realize you need to improve something about your prayer, is a blessing in and of itself. 🙂 mashallah! I pray that you continue to strive to improve yourself insha’Allah! 🙂

  • Jazak Allah Khair.
    One of my greatest confusions is that and that’s a question which bugs me often is that what does getting distracted by dunya means ?
    My education right now is as such that I dont have the time to properly get connected to an institution,entity etc to learn Arabic for Quran despite my utmost desire.
    Secondly,my parents want me to pursue a career in armed forces which will ENSURE that I dont have any time nor authority to learn Arabic,study the deen,engage in proper dawah etc.
    Now if I obey my parents then am I getting distracted by the dunya ?
    Can any brother or sister answer this for the sake of Allah ?

    • I don’t think that distracted by the dunya means that you don’t pursue your goals and dreams in the dunya. (I’m not a scholar or an imam so I’m just putting what I know out here insha’Allah. Whatever is wrong is my fault and I apologize in advance for that.) I think that distracted by the dunya means that you or I leave behind our Deen and our ultimate goal–pleasing Allah and getting accepted into paradise insha’Alah Ameen– in order to get what we want in this world. Now, I know that sounds similar to what you were saying, but its not. If you do everything with the right intention, then you aren’t just pursuing your goals, but also pleasing Allah (swt). For example: if you are trying to do well in your academic career, and you do it with the intention of: gaining knowledge, becoming someone who gives back to their community and ultimately to please Allah, then all of your effort is turned into worship insha’Allah. 🙂 and you can incorporate what Allah has commanded for us to do in your life as well. Becoming a companion of the Quran doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go to an institution, or put your life on hold. Rather if you worship Allah even in small ways but if you do it consistenly: ready a page of Quran every day, or every week. Listen to tafsir of quran in the car on your way to school or work… There are so many ways you can incorporate the Deen into your dunya. And pleasing your parents is something that Allah (swt) commanded us to do! So its a good thing that you are doing that, but make sure that along the way you don’t forget your ultimate goal insha’Allah: the Akhirah (afterlife) 🙂 I struggle with this problem myself, so I am speaking to myself first when I tell you: if there is something you want to make a reality in your life: regularly reading Quran, giving back to the community, improving my character, knowing more surahs by heart, etc. then you and I can do it! We just have to start with small consistent steps, and build from there insha’Allah. Nothing is impossible. If you do something for the sake of pleasing Allah, even if you weren’t able to get to your goal, your intentions will count to Allah (swt) insha’Allah Ameen! 🙂 here are some awesome articles that Maryam Amir-Ebrahimi wrote and it really helped me to start a relationship with the Quran and with Allah (swt) in my busy life:

      I pray that this response helps you insha’Allah Ameen. and please forgive me for getting something wrong. 🙂 asalamwalakum!

  • I think it is a really good thing to highlight priority focus, for when you’ve gone off track. This article made me think of a recent trip I had with my parents to a wedding feast, where somehow we took a wrong turn and got lost. Mild arguments ensued as to how we should get back on track. If you know Malaysian wedding map sketches, it just shows the correct route(s) schematically, and blanks out parts that are not relevant. But, once you’re off the route shown on the wedding map directions, that map is not very useful anymore for the purpose of figuring out how to get back on the route. For example just because the route used landmarks like a tyre shop etc. doesn’t mean all tyre shops you encounter can be considered to potentially be the one marked on the route. You can’t fixate on irrelevant information from the map that is intended to make sense only from the correct location. If you use the map at all, you really need to prioritise the really big landmarks that stand on their own, without needing the context of surrounding roads and other landmarks. Or ask someone for directions.

    Likewise, analogically, when someone’s lost spiritually, I suppose you can say that it’s pointless to ask them to do all kinds of things useful for the progress of someone who isn’t lost. You have to prioritise things that get them “unlost” first, then you can talk about those other things. So it’s good to have only a few key points to hang on to like this for route correction purposes.

    Also this part I relate to: “try to do everything on our own, initially relying solely on ourselves and only when in dire need do we ask for the help of other people to help us through any given problem.” this is a culture of the age, that was really hard for me to break away from. I used to feel that I shouldn’t ask Allah too much, because it meant I wasn’t pulling my weight in using what He already gave, or that He wouldn’t really be interested in hearing my ‘whining’. Because, obviously, people around you would respond like this. It took me a long while to realise just how different Allah is from people. Sure it’s kind of silly to think of it now, but I really didn’t get it then.

  • Beautiful, Masha Allah.
    This article is slightly similar to an article I read last year on
    The PRESENT principle book for which the article is based is available for free on the author’s blog.
    Both articles are good. I like your article for it is so simple and help increase my connection with Allah.
    JazakAllah khayr.

  • Masha’Allah, so many beneficial comments. Just a point of clarification: I had never heard of the “Present Principle” that Br. Said mentioned. Despite any similarities there may be, this article was not based on any other. I actually wrote much of this article to help myself not get distracted after Ramadan ended and thought it might be of benefit to others.

    Also, Kirana, jazakiAllahukhierun for your example. It can be very difficult to get “unlost,” and it can sometimes feel very lonely when you don’t understand the “map” you are given by other people. Your example makes that so tangible. Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah) that Allah swt gives us very clear guidance but sometimes, at least for me, we are too distracted or just don’t have enough knowledge to see it.

    I am always encouraged by the hadith where Aisha (ra) asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) what deeds were most beloved to God, he (peace be upon him) said:

    “The deeds that are done on a regular and constant basis, even if little.” Then he said: “Do what you are capable of.” (Al Bukhari & Muslim)

    May Allah swt help us increase the actions that please Him and help us get closer to Him, despite all the distractions on our way!

    • Jazakhullah khair, Marwa. For sharing with us this little reminder you wrote for yourself. 🙂 it was indeed very helpful! 😀 inshAllah we will all take these steps to get closer to Allah (swt) :)Ameen! 🙂

  • Is there an article on this website, about how to get more tranquility and benefit from salat? And how to change the relationship you have to making salat? A lot of days I feel I am forcing myself, and feel like salat is this heavy thing to do. I am a convert so I don’t have my whole life of practice, and discipline in general is a hard one for me. Then there are times I miss prayers and I just start to feel guilty all the time. I don’t want to just feel bad, guilty and heavy all the time towards salat. I want to be gentle with myself to develop this practice consistently and gradually but not too gentle that I don’t do it all 🙂 How does one strike the balance?

  • Wa’ista’īnoo bis-sabri was-salati wa innaha lakabeeratun illa ‘āla al-khāshi’īn

    And seek help through as-Sabr [patience] and as-Salah [prayer], and truly it is extremely heavy and hard except for al-Khāshi’īn [the true believers in Allah — those who obey Allah with full submission, fear much of His punishment, and believe in His promise (Paradise) and in His warnings (Hell).]

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