How to improve prayers and spirituality
I took my Shahada four years ago and now I feel lost. I may add that when I converted I knew little about Islam. I've been praying but I am not satisfied with the way I pray. I learned that there are conditions for prayers. I feel like I went to 'z' without starting at 'a'. On top of all this I suffer from depression. Please advise me on where to begin. Also I need advice about my depression. I am seeing a counselor but I am not comfortable talking with her about certain issues. Where can I get islamic counseling?
The best way to inner contentment is by trying to build a relationship with the Creator. But after you take the initative, it will take sometime however to realize the fruits of your efforts. In order to get started, we recommend a series of steps that you can embrace over time and monitor your satisfaction level:
1. Allocate fixed time after regular intervals for religion. In life, we, as humans, do that for everything: to succeed in academics, we allocate time for studies; to succeed in sports, we set time for exercise and practice; to develop relationships with our parents and friends, we set time and make an effort to visit them and cooperate with them. It is exactly the same with the Creator. In order to develop a relationship, you must set regular time, preferably daily, for Him and try your best to not miss that 'meeting' with Him. Some of these times have already been prescribed in form of prayers, rituals and worship, but if you do not know Arabic then it is often natural to have that feeling of emptiness even after spending time on worship.
In the beginning, study Quran in translation during the time you have allocated. Get a translation in your language, and if you have allocated significant time, then you can combine this with a commentary of Quran as well. When you study the Quran, bear in mind that it is actually the Word of God in translation, and it is more of our Creator talking to us. It is our primary source of developing a relationship with Him, and He discusses what He likes, what He does not like, how He sees people and His creation, and how Creation ought to see Him. In fact, when you start studying Quran, you will see that the first chapter of Quran, Al-Fatihah or ‘The Preface’, is a supplication from man to God, and the rest of the Quran is His response. Thus, the Quran begins with ‘This is the Book – without a doubt – a guidance for the God-fearing.’
2. Learn as many areas of worships and/or supplications as possible (and allowed in Islam) in your own language. For instance, you should continue to offer prayers in Arabic, but there are everyday supplications, like Bismillah, that you can find a translation of. Once you find the translation, you can either recite the translation instead, or when you recite that supplication, try to bring the actual meaning of the verse in your head. What actually works for you depends on you, both approaches are worth trying, at least in the beginning. At later stages, you can move to the latter approach once you are comfortable and remember the supplications. For prayers, you can already try to do this. Try to learn the meaning of the verses that you recite in prayers and bring that meaning to mind. In prayers, once again keep in mind that we recite Al-Fatihah followed by a few verses from Quran – the supplication to God and His response. Then we bow to show our symbolic servitude to Him and to thank Him for His favors.
3. At third step, you can start some reading on Quran, like commentaries. This will help you get a deeper meaning of the Quran, but our recommendation is that you first go through the translation as much as you can before resorting to commentaries so you get the breadth before you get into depth – an approach used widely in almost all other disciplines too.
4. Measure your level of satisfaction. It is indeed difficult to do, but internally you can often find out whether it is becoming better or worse. Sometimes, articulating a few elements that really form the basis of your contentment and measuring them helps. For instance, for some, these questions could be around whether they know the purpose of their life, what God wants from them, whether Muhammad (pbuh) really was the true prophet of God, are they intellectually convinced or is it something that they blindly believe in, etc. One should keep his/her struggle until he/she finds these answers and is actually satisfied. These questions, of course, are different for everybody but it is often possible to verbalize them.
In our opinion, you should take the approach 1-4 in the order in which it is specified. If it takes time for you to implement the first point, take your time and you do not have to move to the second point right away. Once you are comfortable with that, only then try the next one. Going in an order will make things easier for you, and insha’Allah will not burden you.
As for the counseling part, unfortunately, there is no easy way for us to help you out. The best way to find some Muslim is to actually get in contact with the Muslim community in your area and ask them for help. Many mosques have an online email service and you can send them an email in confidence, asking them to locate a professional in your area. Nonetheless, we recommend that you keep asking God for help and ask Him to make things easier for you. We also pray for your betterment.
Do let us know if you have any follow ups or need more help.
(This question was answered jointly by Muhammad Omer Iqbal and Dr. Khalid Zaheer.)