Faith is indeed a blessing from Allah and should not be taken for granted. Just as it may increase and become fuller and stronger, it may also weaken and become less and less until it is minimal or non-existent.
Hence it becomes very important for a Muslim to take steps not only to preserve his faith but also to increase it.
So how does one enter these iman strengthening doors and thereby step up in levels of faith?
The quality of the faithful is that they perform salah (prayer) with regularity, humility, and khushu` (submissiveness). Allah tells us in the first verses of Surat Al-Mu’minun:
Successful indeed are the believers; those who humble themselves in their prayers. (Al-Mu’minun 23:1, 2)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“There are five prayers which Allah has prescribed for His servants. For those who perform them properly without disrespectful omissions, there is a guarantee that Allah will admit them into paradise, to those who do not observe them (properly), Allah offers no such guarantee. He may punish them or he may admit them to paradise as He wills.” (Abu Dawud, An-Nasa’i and Ibn Majah)
“Two members of my community may perform the prayer in such a way that their bowing and their prostration are as one, yet their prayers may be as far apart as heaven and earth.” (Al-Harith)
“Though a man performs the entire prayer, he may get no credit but for a half of it, or a third of it, or a quarter, a fifth, a sixth, or a tenth. A man gets credit only for that part of his prayer of which he is conscious.” (Ahmad)
If you were to prepare to visit a dignitary, a king or even your supervisor, you prepare yourself for such a meeting with great concern for every detail, being completely absorbed in this encounter. So what of your encounter with Allah during prayer? Shaytan (Satan) will try as hard as he can to distract you. He will take away from you as much as he is able to and as much as you allow him to.
A Muslim should always approach salah with the realization that he is preparing to face his Lord.
The Prophet said: “Verily Allah faces his servant in prayer as long as he does not turn away.” (At-Tirmidhi)
The sharh (explanation) of this hadith tells us that to turn away has two meanings:
1. The turning away of the heart so that your heart is not really present in your prayer.
2. The turning away of the eyes, looking about is distraction while praying.
The renowned scholar Ibn Al-Qayyim has described the different performances of Salah in relation to khushu’ and classified people into four categories:
1. The one who offers prayer but is late in doing so, does not observe the requirements such as a proper ablution, and does not cover the `awrah (parts of the body that must be covered). As for the performance of the prayer itself, the pillars of the prayer are deficient, standing and prostration are not performed properly.
2. This person fulfils the physical conditions for prayer and performs the prayer as required yet is overcome by al-wasawis (the whisperings of Satan). His mind is completely removed from his prayer until the time of Tasleem (Termination of salah with As-Salamu `alaykum).
3. The person also offers the prayer properly and is also afflicted by the whisperings but he fights it and is in constant battle.
4. This very special person is he who finds prayer an oasis. He approaches it having fulfilled the prerequisites perfectly and with humility and performs the prayer with khushu’ (humbling himself before his Lord). He may even be unaware of happenings around him due to his absorption in his private meeting with Allah.
In the first case, this person has made the attempt to fulfill his obligation to pray but is not sincere. He will be punished for the deficiencies in his prayer.
In the second case, we have a person who makes sincere efforts to fulfill the prayer but is weak against Satan and does not fight him. He will be rewarded for only the part of his prayer he did well as described in the previous hadith, one half, one third, etc.
As for the third category, this person is considered a mujahid (striver) against the whisperings of Satan he will be rewarded for his sincere efforts and Allah will direct him to righteousness.
The final category is of those very rare individuals, the one we all wish to be in. They perform the prayer as the Prophets of Allah did, removing their hearts completely from the world. They love prayer most of all. Their eyes are filled with joy and ecstasy when they perform it. There is no question of their reward and their superiority of faith.
Prayer is a very important part of one’s Iman and plays a significant role in life. To achieve its benefits, it must be performed properly. It helps prevent one from committing evil and makes one successful in this life as well as in the Hereafter – but only when it is performed properly, humbly and sincerely. At the time of prayer angels spread about calling man to ‘put out the fire of sin’ that he is burning.
Allah has promised us that prayer removes sin committed between them
The Prophet said: “Verily, When a Muslim performs wudu’ properly, and then observes salah five times a day his sins fall off, just as leaves fall off a tree.” (Ahmad)
He then recited the following verse:
And establish regular prayers at the two ends of the day and at the approaches of night for those things which are good, removes those things which are evil. That is a reminder for the mindful. (Hud 11:114)
It is not possible that a Muslim who observes prayer correctly could stand before his Lord without asking forgiveness for the sins he has committed.
If you develop khushu’ in your prayer, you cannot consist in committing sins, because the effort of your prayer makes you aware and ashamed of your misdeeds.
For Example: If you are backbiting, your prayer will make you conscious of your deed. Your level of consciousness will be elevated and your faith will increase. This will make you less likely to fall into major sin.
When Muslim fasts he does so not only, through abstaining from food and drink, but also shuns bad deeds, false words, etc.
The Prophet said: “Whoever does not give up false words and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink.” (Al-Bukhari)
Fasting also presents many benefits other than simply fulfilling the commandments of Allah, and being rewarded for it. If you are prone to, incline, or fall into sin fasting will lessen your evil inclination.
For Example: A man who is unable to marry is recommended to fast, this will lessen his desires. We also know from the hadith “The devils are chained during Ramadan” that during fasting, man is not as easily influenced by them. This you can see in your own personal change of religious consciousness when you fast during Ramadan.
For the one who fasts properly, gaining the full benefit, it is an exercise and training for the whole year. You gain a kind of power and change which you carry through the whole year. But you should not stop once Ramadan ends. Make fasting a habit, at least occasionally.
The Prophet consistently fasted at least three days a month. By fasting periodically, you retrieve some of the spiritual uplifting that Ramadan brings throughout the year. This is a very strong faith strengthening tool that all can apply.
Here we are referring to the charity you give voluntarily, not the obligatory zakah. It is the voluntary sadaqah that strengthens faith, the more you do, the more you erase your bad deeds. Sadaqah is not only monetary. There are many deeds that are considered sadaqah. If someone wishes to give sadaqah, and you assist in its delivery, for example, you are rewarded for giving sadaqah yourself.
`A’ishah (may God be pleased with her) related that the Prophet (peace be upon him) informed them as to who would follow him in death saying: “The one who has the longest hands amongst you would meet me most immediately.” (Muslim)
She further said:
“The Prophets wives used to measure their hands as to who was the biggest. It was the hand of Zaynab that was the longest amongst them, as she used to work with her hands and spend that income in charity.” (Muslim)
It was Zaynab bint Jahsh whose long hand reached out to the poor so often, not with money but food and other things that she had to give, she was the first of his wives to die after him.
The Prophet said:
“Every Muslim has to give sadaqah.” He was asked ‘If someone has nothing to give, what should he do?’ He said: “He should work with his hands and benefit himself, and also give in charity (from what he earns)”.
The people then asked:
‘If he cannot find even that?’ He replied. “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds and this will be regarded as charitable deeds.” Bukhari and Muslim)
He also said: “None of you women should consider even a sheeps trotter to insignificant a gift to give to her neighbor.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Mu`adh ibn Jabal related from the Prophet: “Sadaqah extinguishes sin as water extinguishes fire.” (Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah)
The Prophet said: “The believers shade on the day of resurrection will be his sadaqah.” (Ahmad)