The word “salah” meaning prayer in Arabic, is derived from another Arabic word, “silah” which means connection. So, prayer is the way in which we connect with God. The way we communicate with Him. The way we converse with Him. Over the past 7 months, I have been having a seriously hard time with prayer, and with faith in general. Not that I didn’t believe, but just that I didn’t have anything more in me towards my religion but the creed. I still believed, but that was it. Now, I’ve never been an incredibly practicing person of faith. Although I prayed, I always messed up the times, and never really got a hang of all 5 prayers in a day. I still prayed though. Aside from the 5 mandatory prayers a day, I had a strong connection with God through a different form of prayer, dua. Dua (not pronounced the same way as Dua Lipa) is just an informal prayer, which is basically just speaking to God aloud. I lost that connection too over the last few months.
This article isn’t about me giving up religion, I haven’t. It also isn’t a preaching article about how religion saved me. It’s just me sharing an experience I went through over the last few months and what I have come to understand and learn from it. This is what I have found prayer to mean to me. I am not here to tell you that this is what it should mean to you. I am not here to tell you to change the way you choose to pray, or to tell you to stop praying if you do, or to tell you to pray if you don’t. Religion is a sensitive topic, and so I felt the need to clarify that this is less to do with religion, and more to do with me and something I have self-discovered about a big part of my life.
When you’re really close to someone, and they fail to pull through for you, it hurts. Broken promises lead to a lot of anger and resentment. Well, that’s exactly what happened between God and I. Last year, I was extremely close to God. I asked for signs for every decision I had to make, and He would give them to me. I would talk to Him daily and I always felt like He was listening. I put all my faith in the fact that God had given me everything I asked for, so there was no way he was ever going to take it away from me. So, when God suddenely took away this one thing that I had been asking for, for the guts of a year – when he let me taste it, just to let me watch it helplessly disappear from my life, I felt betrayed. I felt so angry. I was so blind with upset that I didn’t realise that I was being a stupid little brat. All I could see was the hurt and pain I was in. I couldn’t see that my faith was being tested, and so, I let my faith crumble. On top of it all, so many other aspects in my life began to fall apart, and that only pushed me further away from God. I felt like everything in the world was standing against me, like I couldn’t breathe, because all this stuff was all happening at the same time. I kept thinking to myself “I’m not a bad person, so why is it all these bad things keep happening to me?” I blanked the truth that I had it so much better than a lot of people in the world. That I was paying a very small price in life than what others might be.
Over the past 7 months, I spiralled into a frenzy and began acting out. Everything seemed to overwhelm me and I couldn’t seem to stand a single person in my life. I couldn’t carry for myself, which is a feeling I am not used to. I resented myself and would eat at myself for reaching out to friends or family members, because it made me feel weak, and made me feel like I was incapable. So, I began to keep my family and friends at arms length, and everything in my life became half-hearted in meaning to me. The only thing that remained consistent in my life, was writing, my blog. I began opening myself up to things I didn’t really ever see myself indulging in. I didn’t realise that I was using my new habits to escape rather than what I saw as just “having a bit of fun”. Now, don’t get me wrong, they were fun, they just weren’t me… not decisions I would consciously make in a normal period of time in my life. I tend to make very impulsive decisions when I am feeling lost or dazed, and if I didn’t have select people around me who kept my truth alive by giving it to me straight and being patient with me throughout everything I was feeling, I would have ended up now with a whole lot of regret at mistakes made.
I didn’t just avoid prayer completely, I was very vocal about it. Now, any Muslim/Arab can tell you why that might be an issue in an Arab household. I’ve never been a “problematic” child, I never caused trouble growing up, and I live for obeying rules. So, when my mom would ask me if I had prayed, the response I would give her was enough to scare her and to make her see how seriously far from faith I was. I would blankly tell her “no, I haven’t prayed. I’m not going to. I refuse to stand and recite a couple of prayers I don’t feel. I don’t feel anything when I pray, so I’m not going to do it.” She understood I wasn’t being rebellious for the hell of it, but rather that I was genuinely beginning to question everything around me. Because of how strained our relationship had become, she didn’t do anything about it. Actually, over the last few months, I saw something I never saw in my mom before – a lack of hope, and belief… in me. Not in my talents, or in my work, but in me, as a person. I relapsed to a very dark place, and I was dealing with suicidal thoughts and tendencies that I hadn’t felt this strongly in years.
So, how did I go from that to where I am now? Honestly, I don’t know.
I was once told that everything happens for a reason. I can’t understand why everything had to happen the way it did, I don’t have the answer for it all, but what I do know, is that I did need to lose myself to find myself again. And as pathetic as it is, but hearing the one person I still cared for tell me that I shouldn’t be angry at God or life, was the only thing that seemed to break the wall around my heart that had been blocking faith out for so long. It’s crazy where you can find trust. If you believe in someone, you believe in what they tell you. Trust and belief in someone is what makes them a safety to you. And for some fucked up reason, I seem to find my safety in the least trustworthy of places. I tend to believe in the wrong people. It says a lot about a person, the way they use the trust you give them. It doesn’t matter if they misuse it a hundred times, it matters that when you need it most, you find that your trust in that person was in place. That they pull through. The moment when I needed it most, it was. They did. But I realised that I needed to put my trust in places it would last, like my faith in God, rather than to try make a home out of people who can’t stay, no matter how safe they might feel to me.
It didn’t happen right away. I still had a few angry days left in me. Even now, I still feel bursts of anger, and real fire rage within me. I still hurt. But for the first time in so long, the light in my life seems to be overpowering the dark. It was a Thursday, when I came home after a really long day, and I just got an inkling to pray Isha before bed. Not even a full intention to pray. I didn’t make wudu or anything. I still don’t even know why I decided to pray. All I knew was that it was the first time in 7 months I had even considered it, and I felt like I should follow through on that tiny little feeling within me. Because it was coming from me. It wasn’t coming from my mom telling me to pray, not a friend, but from within my own soul.
So I prayed, and by my second rak3a I could feel the tears well up in my eyes. This intense feeling was building up inside me. I felt nervous, and shaky. And the next thing I knew I was on the floor, my head in my hands, my knees up to my chest. I was shaking, rocking back and forth, and my face was flooded with tears. I was trying to talk, but no words were coming out. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed of myself, that I couldn’t even lift my head. I couldn’t face God – literally. I knew God could hear the thoughts in my head, “I’m so sorry” was repeatedly wracking my brain. All these thoughts were flooding my head, and not a single word exiting my lips. I can’t really explain the emotion that washed over me while I was praying. I remember talking to my best-friend Seif, and trying to explain like I just felt like there was a weight on my chest, getting in the way of my relationship with faith. Like it was something sitting heavy on my chest, blocking out God. When I was praying, it’s like I could feel my chest burning. Like the weight on my chest was literally being burned away.
I spent the guts of an hour on my prayer mat. I just talked to God, openly and with complete honesty. I told him about the things I couldn’t tell others. I tried to describe the absolute pain my heart has been feeling. I asked for guidance, and for the want to forget, the want to let go and to actually want better for myself. I picked up my Quran, which had no joke accumulated a whole load of dust because of how long I hadn’t read from it. I don’t think it matters much what I did or said as much as it mattered that for the first time in a long time, I meant it. I took the time in bed to really think about what prayer and God mean to me. I was afraid that it would be a once off, that I would wake up and not pray the next day. But, I did. I prayed all 5 prayers. And the next day. And the day after that.
There’s a hadith, one of my favourites ever, where God says: “Take one step towards me, and I will take ten steps towards you. Walk towards me, and I will run towards you.” I feel like that’s exactly what happened with me. I was excited and happy to go pray, it became the 5 times a day I got a time out from everything around me. I tried to really think about the prayers I was reciting, picking my favourite ones from my childhood. After morning prayer, I ask God for a productive day and I read one prayer from the Quran. After my last prayer of the day, I thank God for everything in my day, ask for an even better one tomorrow, and make some dua and talk to God for a while about whatever is on my mind. It’s become like therapy to me.
What changed is that for the first time in my life, I took prayer into my own hands. I asked myself what it meant to me, rather than what religion or my family or peers said it had to mean. I looked to the aspects of my faith that I love most, and I reminded myself of the views I have always personally held of my religion and of God. That it is more important to love God and faith than to fear them, and that worship that is driven out of a fear is never going to amount to your own will and want to be close to God – because you love Him, because you believe and love your faith, not fear it.
I now come and go from prayer, miss one or two, here and there. But I am the most on track with it than I have ever been in all my life. Despite that, it is the most humbling feeling to know that every time I pray, I am doing it out of my own will and want, that I recognise that I need God, because truly, He does not need us. Above all, recognising through my prayer and conversations with God, just how much it is that I love God and my faith, and that He is the true meaning of unconditional love, mercy and compassion.