Last Updated on 12th April 2021
The Holy Quran, in various places, has emphasised the importance of worship and Salat. The observance of prayer is a fundamental pillar of Islam and is obligatory on all Muslims. God Almighty states:
“Recite that which has been revealed to thee of the Book, and observe Prayer. Surely, Prayer restrains one from indecency and manifest evil, and remembrance of Allah indeed is the greatest [virtue]. And Allah knows what you do.” (Surah al-Ankabut, Ch.29: V.46)
As we enter Ramadan, we must ensure that we increase the standard of our good deeds and acts of worship. This is a month in which the doors of God’s mercy and blessings have been opened for us, hence we must endeavour to harvest and reap its full benefit.
Often, some people find it difficult or struggle to maintain focus and concentration during Salat.
Here are 22 effective methods that can help create the concentration needed to observe Salat in its best form. These were outlined by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IIra and are available in the book, Remembrance of Allah:
“As a part of the Prayer service, the Shariah[Islamic Law] has prescribed some rules for maintaining concentration. Due to their own ignorance, many people derive no benefit from these rules. I will add some techniques, which are generally not known but can be helpful.
“Let me start with a general principle. When someone really believes in a technique that he is using, he receives greater benefit from it.
“Sando was a master body builder in Europe. He said, ‘Exercise is essential for health, but at the same time, you must believe that your arms and muscles are getting stronger and firmer.’The arms get stronger with exercise, but when you add the belief that the body is benefiting, it is naturally influenced. Without such a belief, much of the potential impact is lost and the benefit is reduced.
“Some rules embodied in Islamic Shariahfor maintaining concentration are as follows:”
“Performance of wuzu [ablution] is essential before starting every Prayer. God Almighty has created means of communicating thoughts and feelings. One of them is the nervous system; it acts as a channel to carry one man’s feelings to the other. The Holy Prophetsa recited Ayat-ul-Kursi and he then blew upon his hands and lightly passed them over his body. Do you think that this was a frivolous act? No! The truth is that thoughts are channelled from one person to the other through the nervous system, the voice, and the breath. The Holy Prophetsa brought all channels under control by reciting Ayat-ul-Kursi with his tongue, then by blowing upon his hands, and then by lightly passing his hands over his body […]
“Ablution breaks the string of extraneous thoughts and creates tranquillity and comfort. This, in turn, helps in concentrating. When you make ablution, resolve firmly that with it you are going to banish all stray thoughts. With this attitude you will experience added comfort and your thoughts will not be distracted.”
2. Congregational Salat
“Another means of achieving concentration in Prayers is to offer congregational Prayers at the mosque […]
“The Holy Prophetsa has instructed that Muslims should reserve a place for Prayer in their homes. Praying there will remind them that place is also reserved for worship […]”
3. Turning to the Ka‘bah
“The instruction to face towards the Ka‘bah[the first house of God built in Mecca] also helps in achieving concentration. The city of Mecca has many distinctions. It was here that in obedience to God’s will, a loved one of Allah – Abrahamas – left his wife and child without any provisions and protection. Since he did it for the sake of God, He multiplied his progeny, which is innumerable like the stars in the sky. Many prophets were born in his progeny. Finally, the person destined to reform the whole mankind was also raised from his progeny.
“When someone realises the wisdom of turning his face towards Mecca, he is inspired by the sacrifice of Hazrat Ishmaelas. His mind is drawn to the fact that God, for Whose worship he is now standing, is the Lord of Great Honour and Majesty. This realisation helps eliminate stray thoughts and leads one to the recognition of the Grandeur and Glory of Allah.”
4. Azan – Call to prayer
“Calling of azan [call to Prayer] also helps in concentration. The call of “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar” [Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest] reminds worshippers that God, to Whose presence they are being summoned, is the Greatest. This will promote concentration in their Prayer. The Holy Prophetsa says that the azan is called to put Satan to flight […]”
5. Iqamat – The short call to prayer
“Iqamat [the shorter version of azan recited at the beginning of Salatin congregation] also draws attention to the greatness and glory of God. All the points made concerning azan apply to it too. The Holy Prophetsa says that iqamat, too, puts Satan to flight. He meant that iqamat removes evil inclination and promotes con- centration in worship.”
6. Order in outwardly arrangements
“Order in outwardly arrangements creates order in thoughts and does not let them disperse. When the rows are physically formed for Prayer, deeper thoughts are also lined up. And what an awe-inspiring form the rows represent in Prayers – everybody standing before the King of kings in utter silence!
“The Holy Prophetsa says, ‘Keep your rows straight; lest your hearts become crooked.’ What is the significance of the rows? Simply that the external disorder would adversely affect spiritual harmony.”
7. Niyyat – Intention
“The seventh means of achieving concentration in Prayers is niyyat [intention] because when you command your mind to do something, it attends to it. Niyyat does not mean that you have to verbalise the name of the imam, the numbers of the rak‘aat and facing the Ka‘bah. The intention of offering Salatshould be made in the heart. […]
“In truth, the intention is related to the heart. When you stand for Prayers, think actively about the Prayers. Remind yourselves what you are about to do. As soon as you understand this, you will begin to develop humbleness and will begin to concentrate.”
8. Deliberate repetition of certain words in Salat
“In congregational Prayers, the imam repeats words which create the fear of Allah. Anybody who becomes distracted is nudged and reminded. When ‘Allahu Akbar’ is called, he is warned: ‘Stand with full attention because the One in Whose presence you are standing is the Greatest.’
“Then, after a while, when thoughts are distracted, the imam again makes the same reminder. Again, after a while, he is told, ‘Sami-Allahu li-man hamidah’[God listens to him who praises Him] – reminding him that in order to benefit from the Prayer, he must spend the time in praising Allah; otherwise, he is wasting his time […]”
9. Different postures
“Islam has not adopted a single posture for Prayers but different positions. If someone gets absorbed in other thoughts, his going in ruku [bowing] and sajdah [prostration] reminds him. Even if someone moves to these postures as a habit, the simple act of making the movements makes the mind alert. Worship in other religions does not posses this characteristic; it is unique to Islam.”
10. Sunnah prayers
“Performing sunnah Prayersbefore and after obligatory Prayers also helps achieve concentration […]”
11. Recite words slowly
“If you are unable to concentrate, recite the words slowly. The human brain instantly recalls things which it has observed often, but it has difficulty in recalling things which it has rarely observed.
“If you see Tom every day, you will visualise him immediately when you think of him, but if you see him occasionally, his image will appear only after a little while – and that, too, not very clearly.
“Similarly, if you learn a language in childhood, images are formed immediately when words are uttered. When the words for water and bread are spoken, they quickly bring to mind real things which they represent. This is not the case with foreign languages. The mind visualises the image after some time. When children learn English, and speak a word (like cat), it will seem to be no more than a word to them. But when the corresponding word is spoken in their own vernacular, their mind immediately forms the picture (of a cat) […]”
12. Keep eyes focused on the area of prostration
“The twelfth method has been enjoined by the Holy Prophetsa. He has instructed that the eyes must be focused on the place of prostration during Prayers.
“Many people ignore this instruction. They close their eyes during Prayers, thinking that they would thereby achieve concentration. Not so. Concentration can only be achieved by keeping the eyes open.
“That is why the Holy Prophetsa has advised us to keep our eyes open. In his book, Awariful Ma‘arif, Hazrat Shahabuddin Suherwardi says that during ruku,the eyes should be focused upon the space between the two feet.
“I agree with this suggestion; it is beneficial for the eyes and creates humility […]”
13. A resolve before each prayer
“As I mentioned earlier, niyyat [intention] is required at the beginning of Prayer. It will also be helpful if, at the beginning of the Prayer, you resolve not to let any stray thoughts distract your mind. Everybody knows that such thoughts are undesirable. But people are prone to forget and a reminder at the beginning of each Prayer would surely help.”
14. Method applied by the Holy Prophetsa and his Companionsra
“When following an imam, the recitations made by the imam will keep you awake and alert. The imam thus protects his followers. This, incidentally, shows how important it is to offer Prayer behind an imam.
“When offering Prayer alone, you should follow an excellent method applied by the Holy Prophetsa, his Companions and many pious Muslims. Some verses of the Holy Quran are particularly conducive of humbleness; repeat them often. For instance, when reciting Surah al-Fatihah, repeat the following verse often:
اِيَّاكَ نَعۡبُدُ وَ اِيَّاكَ نَسۡتَعِيۡنُ
“‘Thee alone do we worship and Thee alone we implore for help.’ (Surah al-Fatihah, Ch.1: V.5)
“This would put the soul to remorse. If it is lost in random thoughts, the soul will return to the act of worship feeling that since it is claiming to worship God alone, it should not wander around.”
15. Concentrate on one posture at a time
“The next method is to help those who cannot hold their concentration for long. Like infants unable to bear hunger for long periods or to digest large amounts of food, they need frequent support.
“A useful technique for them is to concentrate on one posture at a time. When they stand for qiyam,they should resolve not to let any thoughts disturb them up to the end of the ruku. Going in to ruku,they should make the same resolution for the time up to the end of ruku. They should do the same at every change of posture. This will give them great strength to overpower any distracting thoughts.”
16. Fight distractions by confronting them
“If you succumb to other worldly thoughts, they will chase you. But if you confront your thoughts and resolve not to let them disturb you, they will stop. Offer a stiff resistance, therefore, to all such thoughts; stop them immediately. For example, if during the Prayer, you think of your sick child, stop thinking of it by telling yourself that the child is not going to get better by thinking about him nor is he going to get worse if you do not think of him. Resolve, therefore, not to think of him. Continue this practice about every thought until you get a masterly command over them.”
17. Say the words aloud when alone
“When you offer nawafil at home, recite the words loud enough to hear them. Since the ears are not plugged; they continue to be partly functional. When you hear the words, your mind will be more inclined towards remembrance of God. This method should generally be practiced during the night. If you put the ears to use in Prayers during the day, they will be distracted by all kinds of noise.”
18. New movements give rise to fresh thoughts
“Fresh thoughts arise from new movements. The movements made during Prayer are a part of the worship and, therefore, they do not give rise to extraneous thoughts. But if other movements are made, they will distract you from the Prayer.
“The Holy Prophetsa has instructed that no unnecessary movement should be made during Prayer […]”
19. Perform actions with alertness
“Perform qiyam, ruku and sajdah with alertness. When standing for qiyam do not put all of the weight on one leg leaving the other leg hanging loose. When you are slack yourself, the enemy can overpower you. Physical slackness leads to spiritual slackness.”
20. An excessive method adopted by Shibli
“The next method has been used to excess by some sufis. I do not like to carry things to excess. Nonetheless I will mention it. Used in moderation, it can be beneficial.
“Hazrat Junaid of Baghdad was a holy man of great standing. One of his followers was Shibli, a sincere and righteous man. Shibli used to be the governor of a province. Once, when he was present in the court of the king, a tribal chief received a royal mantle in recognition of his services. The chief was suffering from cold. It so happened that right at the time when he was standing before the king, his nose started flowing. The chief had no handkerchief. When he thought the king was not looking, the chief wiped his nose with the royal robe. The king noticed it and was very angry; he felt that the royal dress had been disgraced. Shibli – who had fear of God in his heart – was so shocked by this incident that he fell unconscious. When he regained consciousness, he resigned from governorship. When asked, Shibli told the king, ‘You gave a dress to a chief, and become so furious when he disgraced it. I have been granted so many blessings by God. How great will be His punishment if I do not thank Him.’
“Then he went to Hazrat Junaid and asked him to be admitted as a pupil. He said, ‘I cannot accept you as a student; you have been a governor and in that capacity you have been cruel to so many people.’ Shibli pleaded, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ Junaid advised him to go to every house in his area to apologize and offer compensation for the wrongs he had committed. He did accordingly.
“The accounts of Shibli’s life record that whenever he noticed any slackness or distracting thoughts while offering nawafil he used to beat himself with a stick, till the stick would break. Then he would start again. In the beginning he used to keep a bundle of sticks with him. What he did was excessive and I believe that Islam does not permit carrying things to such extremes. However, since the matter is related entirely to his own self I cannot hold him to criticism.
“There is a way of disciplining the self, which is not excessive. Whenever your thoughts are distracted, identify the portion which you were reciting when the thoughts started floating away. Then continue reciting that portion. The self will then realise that you are determined in your worship of God. This realisation will eliminate further confusion in thoughts and you will achieve peace and concentration.”
21. Stop entertaining vain and frivolous thoughts in general
“There is another great and useful technique. A characteristic of true believers is that:
عَنِ اللَّغۡوِ مُعۡرِضُوۡنَ
“‘They shun all that is vain.’ (Surah al-Mominun, Ch.23: V.4)
“Those who are in the habit of entertaining vain and frivolous thoughts will be subjected to similar thoughts during Prayer. If they train themselves not to think of such thoughts at all, they will be saved from the distraction of thoughts during Prayer too […]”
22. Imagine being in the presence of God
“The next technique is very useful; it takes spirituality to its zenith. The Holy Prophetsa was once asked, ‘What is ihsan [goodness]?’ He responded, ‘Pray to Allah as if you are seeing Him; but as a minimum, be aware that He is seeing you.’
“When you stand for Prayer, imagine that you are standing in the presence of God and you can see Him – not in His physical form but in His glory and greatness. This creates a fear of greatness and power of God in the mind. The mind becomes careful not to do anything untoward at that time.
“If you cannot visualise God, believe, as a minimum, that He is watching you. He is fully aware of everything you are doing. Think hard. When you say ‘alhamdulillah’[All praise belongs to Allah] does the condition of your heart affirm that spirit? Or is it engaged in some other thoughts altogether? If the mind is engaged in different directions, warn yourself and make your heart join what is being uttered by the tongue […]
“Make every effort to safeguard your Prayers. Put up a strong resistance to Satan for he is trying to keep you away from God. Remember that even if your entire Prayer is spent in a constant struggle and you do not yield to Satan, Allah will consider you present in His audience. But if you yield, He will let you go. Continue your struggle; you will succeed in the end.”
(For a detailed study of these points and the topics surrounding them, please refer to Remembrance of Allah by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra: www.alislam.org/library/books/Remembrance-of-Allah.pdf)