Worship – rituals and feelings

November 25, 2009 at 2:20 pm (Islam, religious experiences, religious practices)

From Chapter 2 of “Struggling to Surrender” by Jeffrey Lang:

“After the first euphoria of conversion, there comes a stage where the rituals become routine and burdensome. As I said earlier, new believers will report that they find them to be a powerful test and strengthener of will. Later, they will say, the rituals become less of a discipline and more of an experience of peace, and this becomes their primary motivator in praying, fasting, and observing other aspects. At a further stage, and this is in conjunction with their persistent daily striving to better themselves, they will say that the rituals, especially the prayers, have become a very powerful emotional and spritual encounter – a time during which they are acutely alert to God’s presence, wherein the ritual is more an act of love, a divine embrace, and it is that love that comes to dominate their lives. For Muslims, the rituals are a door to a breath of life, a life more real and meaningful than anything here on earth, and eventually this thirst for divine life and love conquers them.”

I don’t often see people discussing their experience of worship. It is much more common to focus on discussing external matters such as rules and morals.

So I thought I’d open up that door with this encouraging quote. Do you agree with it? Have you ever struggled with the feelings side of worship, and with motivation? How do you deal?

Personally it took me a little while to take on the salaah ritual and really use it as a medium to express myself. It was a bit of a “culture shock” at first. Then I started to get into it. Having had a different tradition in the past, it’s interesting to compare. I miss singing as part of worship, in a way. But then I see nothing wrong with singing to God as the Sufis do, so I think I could do that as a Muslim if I wanted. Also I could learn proper tajweed (recitation) which is quite melodic. Something that is new for me is the movements – bowing and prostrating. And I love that. I really didn’t realise physical movements and postures could be so powerful.

I like the refreshing feeling of wudu (ablution) but honestly it can be annoying when the weather is cold and I’m all bundled up in winter clothes. I can never do it without getting part of my clothing wet. I think as well that there is a deeper spiritual significance to it that I haven’t grasped emotionally. I just do it without being very mindful of what I’m doing or why.

It was when I had started to pray with so much force and khushoo that it all went down the tube for me and I was in a panic of doubt all of a sudden. Some would say this was shaytan, and I don’t know what to think. Questions came thick and fast and I felt unsure of religion, and hence, unsure of God. Praying has been more of a struggle since then.

I think convictions are important and when we have them, we should hold onto them, because feelings are fickle things that are just inclined to make us unstable. I am still forming my convictions, looking for them in amongst the mess of history and tradition. That takes as long as it takes. But I feel so vulnerable, and I am trying to hold onto God. I just pray God holds onto me.

So we force ourselves to be sensible and rational, and not get sidetracked by petty issues just because they make us feel anxious. Over time and with worship rituals we train our emotions to support what we believe. We reinforce our beliefs and we challenge our hearts, nudging them five times a day towards consciousness of God. That’s what I think it is about.

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15 Comments

  1. LK said,

    What a lovely post. I was just thinking of these things myself, as I am just starting to learn to pray. Wudu is refreshing, I find that it wakes me up and helps me to focus. Even though I do not do proper salah, I do have a routine and I enjoy it. Right now, Salaah is a little intimidating. The book I have has so much of “if you do this it is VOID, if you do that it is VOID”. Makes one very nervous, even if you will not be held accountable for the mistake.

    BTW do you recommend “The Struggle to Surender”? I ran into this book while picking up my latest batch and thought it looked interesting.

    • Sarah said,

      I always bristle at that “void” or “invalid” thing. The thing is, I haven’t seen that anywhere in the Quran. That made me feel a lot better. I can’t honestly see God standing in front of us with a checklist, ticking boxes to evaluate whether our prayer was acceptable or not. Maybe that’s just me.
      The only way I personally can tolerate such stark rules is by finding the meaning in them and thereby following it voluntarily.

      I enjoyed that book very much. He has a couple of other books which I hope to read, too.

      • f said,

        my fav is ”losing my religion : a call for help”

    • Sarah said,

      Oh, and in the book, Jeffrey Lang recommends that converts don’t take on any practices unless they are convinced of their necessity. I think that’s good advice.

      • LK said,

        Yeah I really don’t think God sits up there going “Oh you did your first rukoo when you should have waited till after you said so and so ” etc. I believe the rules are for consistency. I hope I learn more about it in my class…there are actually levels of what is wajib and levels of wajib as well. I’ll do a post on it soon when I better understand my notes LOL.

        What I have been told by Sister A and My Love is this: If your intentions are good and you are trying, God will accept your prayer. As long you you don’t make a mistake on purpose you are fine. If you make one on purpose then its like you are trying to disrespect God.

        Adding the book to my list. I agree, we shouldn’t do anything we aren’t convinced of, then you run the risk of following something blindly.

        • Sarah said,

          “As long you you don’t make a mistake on purpose you are fine. If you make one on purpose then its like you are trying to disrespect God.”

          yeah, exactly – it’s all about intention, they say.

  2. Candice said,

    I feel so much the same way… So I don’t even have anything to add!

  3. Ayan said,

    “Do you agree with it? Have you ever struggled with the feelings side of worship, and with motivation? How do you deal?”

    I agree with Lang’s statement. Even though I have been a Muslim all my life, I too have experience such feelings before. I believe anyone who tries to get closer to God will always experience such feelings. As long as one struggles and tries their best to be consistent … we can only do our best and hope in God’s mercy inshAllah.

    In terms of motivation, I try to remind myself of God’s mercy to those who struggle to connect to Him. Other times I remind myself on how people of the past (as mentioned in throughout the Quran) would hold on to the truth while they would be abused or ridiculed. Most importantly, the existence of paradise and the ability to see God in the hereafter is something I hope to be apart of inshAllah.

    Whenever I perform wudu I feel a sense of peace and spiritual/physical cleanliness. Prayer often brings me a sense of peace in this hectic world … especially, fajr prayers.

    Khushoo, is something I still struggle with. There are days when I have khushoo (and feel at peace), while other days khushoo is something I’m worrying about when I’m still praying (which I should not be doing). InshAllah in time this is something I will accomplish.

    • Sarah said,

      Ayan, thanks for sharing your experiences. Your ways of motivating yourself are quite interesting. Remembering how fortunate we are to be able to freely practice our faith is something I hadn’t thought of. I think knowledge of God (His mercy and so on) is also really important so we know who we are worshipping and feel sure about why we are doing it.

    • LK said,

      What is “khushoo”? This is a new word to me 🙂

      • Sarah said,

        It’s one of those cool slangs we Arab muslims like to use!!! =D

        Nah, is it actually the Arabic word meaning: humility and devotion in prayer (salat).

        The Prophet (pbuh) used to say this du’a (praise and supplication):

        “O God! I seek refuge with You from a heart that has no khushoo’…”.

        The Qur’an (2:45) states: “And seek help in patience and salat and truly it is truely hard except for the al-khashi’een ( those who are humble, focused and devoted in their salat).

  4. Sara (cairo, lusaka, amsterdam) said,

    It depends. When I’ve had a long day and am exhausted, it can be difficult to look forward to praying.

    Wudu during summer is great, but like you said, it is no fun during winter.

    I think it’s natural for things you do every day to become routine unless you consciously focus on them and make an effort to benefit from them every single time. I sometimes find my mind drifting during prayer, and then I start saying the words loud so I can re-focus.

  5. Sarah said,

    (So I thought I’d open up that door with this encouraging quote. Do you agree with it?)

    Pfff, how can I not? it’s pretty much the story of my life so far.

    The khushoo part is the thing I still struggle with. Sometimes trying to stay focus during prayer can get so frustrating, espacilly when you have an annoying Pokemon song stuck inside your head! xD

    The thing that makes me feel very much at peace with it, though, is that we’re NOT meant to be perfect. Not only because it’s humanly impossible, but because it’s not what God intended us to be.

    Faith wasn’t meant to be a steady state, because let’s face it.. we are not angels, and we are never meant to be as such.

    My new favorite verse of the Quran that deals with this is: “God desires to be merciful to you, to make light your burdens, for man is created weak” (Quran 4:27-30).

    There is also a Hadith that says that the level of one’s emaan (faith) goes up and down from time to time, and sometimes – in more severe cases – it wears out like an old peace of clothing would.

    A believer is asked to stay on guard against any unwanted spiritual decline and slipping into a downward slop. The idea is that if we take a step backwards, we should try to countre it immediately by taking several steps forwards as to not lose progress.

    It only requires a certain amount of care and sincer effort.

    I’ve been having these little Imman (spiritually high) moments several times during prayer lately… kind of like an anchor of happiness or contentment that fills every part of me and keeps my spirit high through the rest of the day.

    Sometimes I imagine what it would be like if I can feel those excat same momments everytime during worship… and the thought kinda scared me!

    Cuz can we really appricait something if we can have it every singel day and whenever we fee like it??

    I know that I was only able to experience the true sweetness of worship after a dark period of my life.

    It’s sorta like a ying yang thing, huh?

  6. Sarah said,

    Sara and Sarah (lol), thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    I guess concentrating is another discipline. But I try to just think, it’s only a short period to have to focus for, it’s not like I have to sit for an hour in meditation or something… so I should be able to sustain concentration. My mind does wander though, a lot!

    About spiritual progress – I was taught about this in church too. They said you can “move backwards” just by doing nothing. Any progress is a struggle and is a struggle to keep it. I wonder how you know you’re making progress? Some religious people do not seem to be better people than some non-religious people. I think it must be a subtle thing, and takes time, and maturity, and wisdom…

    “Sometimes I imagine what it would be like if I can feel those excat same momments everytime during worship… and the thought kinda scared me!

    Cuz can we really appricait something if we can have it every singel day and whenever we fee like it??”

    Good point… I guess God gives us just what is good for us, not necessarily what we think we want!

  7. Achelois said,

    After my father died I really enjoyed salah. I love sujood like you and enjoy that the most.

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