Assalam alaikum & Peace to all
Hey, i have a question for you to ponder! In general, i am curious to hear about how you, as a westerner, learned to pray in Islam, both the language and the ritual of it all is SO intimidating to me. I understand and respect why it is so important in the faith, but i feel like i could never learn to do it right. does that make sense? Maybe you can do me a favor and post a blog entry about it, i am sure other people might also be wondering?
I got this question posed to me by another blogger/On-line friend and I thought it would be a great post to write about! So that is exactly what I am going to do, Inshallah.
Learning to pray for me was a very big step and it was the single most important thing after saying the Shahada. I had looked up how to pray and what it all meant and felt confident that I would be able to do it, one day. So for the first time I wore a headscarf, making sure my clothing was proper (nothing open and well covered) I had printed out a copy of the prayer 'wording', I had re-copied it so that I would be able to pronounce it as it sounded. (found many places online that had a 'recitor' so at least I could hear how it should be sounding.) So, that was it, I was ready to pray or at least try to. I was filled with a sense of fulfilment, I would finally be able to offer prayer!
Ok, so I made the intention in my heart ( 4 rakats of Isha prayer) with my handy paper I was ready! Ah...yeah hold on, how was I supposed to do the movements and recite the words at the same time? Hmm, well this was not going to work now was it? No... it did not. A moment ago I was overcome with fulfilment and now I was in despair. How was I to do the prayers if I cannot recite the words? How was I to do the movements without reciting? Frustration, yes that is what I felt the first time I tried to pray. Sorry it was not the magic moment that I thought it would be. I actually do remember taping the paper to the wall and looking at it and doing the movements, this became awkward and I realized that I would have to memorize the whole thing!! Gak... but it was long and it was in Arabic? How was I supposed to do that?
Well, as with all things, patience was required. I decided to start at the beginning and learn the most important things first - this being Al-Fathia (the first chapter of the Quran and the first verse you must recite in each prayer) Let me tell you that it took a long time to memorize it all.
To make matters worse, I (just because I am who I am... inquisitive and all!) wanted to make sure that I knew what I was reciting, so that meant I had to memorize this in English as well!
Yes, I know, why not just recite the thing and don't worry about the meaning.
That is very easy to say and do...but I did not want to follow this religion blindly! I had grown up with that... 'just believe, have faith, don't question things...etc' Well I needed to know what I was saying! The first words that were revealed to Prophet Mohammed was 'read!
96:1 Read: In the name of thy Lord who createth,
96:2 Createth man from a clot.
96:3 Read: And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous,
96:4 Who teacheth by the pen,
96:5 Teacheth man that which be knew not.
I always loved this about Islam, we must not be ignorant and follow blindly, we must go out and search for knowledge! So, that is what I did. I slowly began memorizing the first verse. I did it line by line. After knowing that first line I would move on to the next one. Each night I would practice it, saying it in Arabic then in English, hoping that I would remember everything. So little by little I did learn it. I started the prayers with the parts that I knew... and to be honest the main parts of the prayer performance the words are quite short. Like when you go down to bow its called Ruku, you say 'Subhana rabbi al-azeem' Glory be to God, the Great - three times. Then for when you kneel down (sujud) you say 'Subhana rabbi al-a laa' Glory be to God, the most High - three times. As well when you start the prayer you say, 'Allahu Akbar' Allah is the Greatest. So as you can see many of the words are quite simple to remember!
I really can't say when I memorized the whole thing... it's just a process and it will take everyone their own time. I am still learning verses, as you need to recited different verses in each prayer, well ideally you should. As a convert you are allowed some leniency, you are not expected to learn everything right away, God knows this and therefore you should take time and enjoy the experience of learning. I can't say it was easy, as it really was not! But now I have a great sense of accomplishment, that I have been able to memorize it all and really understand what it is I am saying. Yes, honestly I do forget a bit about the English meaning occasionally, but I always like to look back and see what it means exactly and it is never far from my mind.
So that is how I started out... would love to hear all your stories, either on my comments or in a blog of your own!!