Bismillah hir Rahman nir Rahim. These are personal views and experiences of someone who is neither a scholar nor one with any claim to success in this most important goal of our life, who stands in need of much improvement and always in need of your duas.
A time came in my life when I realised how poor my record has been. Among the steps that helped was to start befriending those who believed in practising true Islam in its entirety as opposed to those interested in selective or no Islam. The company we keep plays a major role in our spiritual progress. Am grateful to Allah swt for blessing me to be part of the beautiful shia community of Singapore.
Worship is a lifelong pursuit, not a once off project, nor one that begins at 40 years of age (a myth that used to be popular among children). Improvement comes gradually. Much patience and perseverance is required in the beginning but the rewards are immense. As the Holy Quran says, within difficulty is ease. Some of the most tranquil and inspiring moments of life are hidden within what may appear as the hardship and inconvenience of a worship-laden life.
Building a plan for worship is a vast topic. Each of the points mentioned in this miniscule presentation would require many hours to cover even the basics. After preparing this document, I came across an excellent book that contains many additional points with detailed explanation. This can be found at: https://www.al-islam.org/radiance
One way to develop and sustain focus on worship is through continuous efforts to improve on three fronts: Determination, Education and Implementation.
To generate and retain a strong determination to excel in worship, I must convince myself that it is the right thing to do, ponder on questions such as why I should worship, what priority to allocate to it, what are the consequences of success and failure. The answers are very obvious and compelling. Worship is important because the very purpose of our creation has to do with it! We have been created to worship Allah swt and our success in this world and the next depends on our worship being accepted by Him. Nothing else comes even close to it in terms of deserving my attention and time in careful planning and execution. It has the highest priority!
The second key step is to continuously improve my knowledge. What is worship? Which of our daily activities count as worship? I must not lose sight of the fact that worship is not only about salat and other rituals. As an example, working to earn an honest living for the family is also included in it. Its about having a good character and doing good deeds. Its about total submission to the Will of the Creator, about becoming a true believer and His sincere servant. It encompasses fulfilling obligations towards my Creator, my fellow creatures and my own self.
I should also familiarize myself with very critical success factors such as purity of my intention, my sincerity, knowledge (maarefat) of what I am doing/reading, importance of timing, quantity and especially the quality. Not knowing these can result in wasted efforts. Examples: Praying to please other than Allah swt or giving charity to show off may not constitute worship acceptable to Allah swt. Going deeper, I learn that the best form of worship is not the one done for gaining heaven or for fear of hell but the worship done out of love of Allah swt and to show gratitude for His countless blessings. Going further, I learn that my ultimate goal should be Allah swt…. I should not make Allah swt the means to acquire heaven. Instead, reaching heaven should be looked upon as the means to acquire nearness of Allah swt!
I must become aware of the concept of duas and how they too are in fact a part of the divine system of cause and effect, not a way to escape from making efforts by asking Allah swt to do what I should be doing. E.g. it is said that among the duas that are not accepted is dua for increase in sustenance of a person who does nothing to try to earn it.
I must learn the concept of living within the boundaries of hope and fear. Despair and giving up on worship is never an option. Also, it is totally wrong to say that I have too many sins, no chance of being forgiven, so no point in praying. Rather, we are told that Allah swt not only forgives sins of sincere repenters, He loves a lot those who repent for sins.
I must understand that the need for worship is built into our nature. We search everywhere looking for our missing one in people or wealth or status but are never satisfied till we find the Real Missing One …. see para 7 of this link.
All this shows how important it is to pray with knowledge (maarefat). If we go straight to implementation, the results can be disastrous. The correct sequence is DEI (where D stands for determination, E for education and I for Implementation). If I comes before E , DEI becomes DIE! By the time the terrorist suicide bombers realise this, its too late.
Fortunately, there is no dearth of information available these days from free ebooks to lectures to online classes on all aspects of worship and self improvement. Priceless gems of knowledge, wisdom and inspiration await us for lifelong learning to take us from darkness to light…. from the Glorious Quran and books like Nahjul Balagah and Sahifa Sajjadia to the wise sayings of the Masumeen a.s. and lessons from the lives of these matchless role models.
I am fortunate to be in an enlightening weekly class conducted by a learned scholar, Dr Nasir Zaidi saheb, which goes quite deep into some of these subjects. Coincidentally, the class I attended just before writing this has much relevance for us. Below you will find the video of the lecture for Urdu speakers. Other excellent lectures in this series can be found at this link. The series is based on a famous book, Risalah Al-Wilayah, Vicegerency, by Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba. English translation of the book is available at this link.
Specifics of activities and time spent in worship will differ for each of us depending on our circumstances as well as during different stages of our life. In general, I have found the following to be very helpful:
Setting down firm policies e.g. performance standard of “zero defects” especially for compulsory items like daily salat. And applying maximum will power, allowing no excuse for missing it. And reproaching myself, analysing reasons for non conformance and taking corrective actions in cases of non compliance,
Measurement of non compliances e.g. in the case of daily salat, to transition from irregular to regular, keeping a diary to record missed prayers can help a lot. Initially the record will serve as reminder to perform kaza and eventually we will tend to stop missing them due to the focus it creates as well as the visual horror of seeing accumulation of kaza.
Fixing specific times and duration for the various optional activities depending on one’s inclinations and availability. Imam Ali a.s. advises: “Hearts (minds) have the tendencies of likes and dislikes, and are liable to be energetic and lethargic, therefore, make them work when they are energetic and on subjects which they like”. I prefer to do many of these straight after fajr salat. Its a beautiful time of the day with sweet singing of birds filling the air amidst gentle breeze and first rays of sunlight, all declaring the glory of Allah swt.
Connecting with the Creator and His Chosen Ones: Just imagine …. a lowly servant like me being invited by the Creator of the entire Universe to pray salat and communicate with Him. Fajr salat is followed by speaking to Him in my own words to thank Him, seek forgiveness and blessings for myself and others and ask for assistance with issues on my mind. Having finished speaking to Allah swt, I now listen to Him as I look at the Quran verse that comes up on opening the Dose of Islam page in the website followed by reading with meaning the 10 verses allocated to me in the Quran family group. Many a time, verses come up that can leave us speechless, containing answers or guidance relevant to what is happening in our lives. e.g. once I was wondering if this is just a coincidence or does Quran really speak to us. Later that day I opened a book to read that someone had sent and, if I remember correctly, within minutes of browsing it, a page opened with a chapter titled something like Quran Speaks To You.
I then connect with my Imam atfs by reciting tasbeeh praying for his reappearance and recite 3 short Quran surahs and salawat as hadiya for him. Similarly, connect with each of the Masumeen a.s. on days associated with them with hadiya and dua and ziarat.
From the many duas recommended for days of the week, I normally select the duas gifted to us by Syeda Fatima sa and Imam Zainul Abedin a,s. For quick access to dua videos as well as the Daily dose of Quran verse and hadith, I use the bookmarked page at this link
The highest priority for all of us is of course to do the compulsory salat in time. And to do so with concentration (requires much practice). Also of high priority is to catch up on any salat missed in days of heedlessness. There are many cases of youth whose islamic foundation is not strong, who leave home to study in non muslim countries, live among people with very little interest in religion and return with years of kaza salat.
Other optional prayers comprise tasbeehs 3 times a day including normal zikr, Istighfar, Shukr, salawat, daily fateha for parents and other marhumeen, weekly dua kumayl etc programs of AECC, maghfirat salat for parents on thursdays.
Allocating some vacation days: I found it very rewarding to allocate some days from annual vacations to important days like say 7th to 10th Muharram and shabe qadr in the month of Ramadan. These are excellent days for recharging our spiritual batteries with passionate participation in worship and injecting ourselves with vaccines against the viruses of vanities and corruption.
Reserving a place in my home for worship. This is a tremendous help. Quran and books like Nahjul Balagha, Sahifa Sajjadia, Islamic Laws are kept within easy reach. On the wall and shelves on my right are islamic pictures featuring the Kaaba, shrines, Alams, perfume, jossticks, the eAhlulbayt alarm clock that recites azan as well as zikr every 15 minutes. I call it my Sanctuary. Its a place of immense peace and tranquility. Alhamdulillah!
Sharing is Caring: My strong urge to share with others the valuable gems I learn does put me in trouble with some when it comes in the way of their busy lives. But then, the objective is never to please others. We seek only His pleasure.
Passion for Learning: Life becomes exciting when we are able to develop passion for new knowledge of the spiritual and the Unseen and for sharing it with others. It provides many benefits to muslims especially in the lonelier days of old age. Instead of worrying about loss of friends or good looks or cosmetic surgery etc, they are enjoying life in their little sanctuaries, in company of their beloved Lord, Prophets and Ahlulbayt a.s., reading and listening about them from their favourite authors and reciters, joining live Quran tafseer class, messaging with friends on whatsapp groups etc sharing self-improvement ideas, as the journey of life moves on happily towards their Lord.
Last and the most important point: In my humble view, continuous self-assessment, self-improvement and striving against the nafs to the extent that one becomes deserving of guidance of Allah swt are absolutely critical to success in worship. With guidance from the Almighty, nothing is impossible. Without it, no progress is possible. May Allah swt forgive me for my mistakes and grant us all the guidance to reach our ultimate goal – eternal life of nearness to Allah swt. Aameen.