I have been meaning to write a follow up post on this for a while but never got round to it, mostly because I still don’t have any clear idea about what I think of it and how to approach it. The issue is difficult to understand because there are so many different points of view, and because it’s so personal. And what’s more difficult is how to present this issue in a manner that is neither insulting nor condescending to the concerned parties. Basically, how to talk to someone who doesn’t pray about praying, and ‘convince’ them to start praying. I recently went through this experience with a friend, and it was one of the most uncomfortable experiences ever. Along the way I looked for different articles or talks on the matter and came across this, this and this (take your pick).
I wonder, like many people, about why I cared or bothered about this person’s faith. This is a popular question or comeback when someone confronts a non-praying person about their practice. Why do you care? How is this any of your business? How does my not praying affect you or anyone else? This is something between me and God, and no one else has the right to interfere. To be honest, this was the exact same way I thought about this and other personal matters my whole life. I don’t really care what grown adults do or don’t do with their selves as long as it doesn’t affect me or anyone else negatively. It generally doesn’t affect the way I choose to deal with this person, and I just don’t ask or think about it, because a) its none of my business, and b) if this person knows that it’s wrong and still does it, then that is a personal and informed choice and it’s not my place to interfere. This rule is only irrelevant if the concerned person plans on being family; i.e. is a marriage candidate (for myself or another family member). Then, it becomes my business what this person’s faith is like, how they dress, what their family is like, etc. But what if they’re not? What about regular friends or colleagues or acquaintances? What about them?
Technically, it really is none of my business. But apparently, that’s not entirely true. Apparently, it is the duty of every Muslim to ‘advise’ others about their faith and practice. Also, if you have a minimum degree of affection for someone you kind of care if they’re doing something wrong.
But the problem is no one likes being told they’re doing something wrong and that they need to fix it. No girl likes being told she ‘should’ wear hijab. No guy likes being told he ‘shouldn’t’ smoke. No one likes being told they ‘should’ pray or fast or go to Hajj or whatever. Especially if all these people already know that they ‘should’ be doing these things and choose not to. And playing the role of the preacher and advisor is equally uncomfortable and un-cool, especially when you are so full of flaws yourself and the whole situation is just plain hypocritical. And you almost always end up with the popular argument of ‘who says its ‘wrong’ in the first place?’ which is a whole other story. But what can you do? Just ignore the whole thing and act like everything is ok? What if this person is someone you genuinely care for and know is good on the inside, but just needs a gentle push? I personally know several people who grew up in non-practicing or ‘liberal’ families. No one ever told them they should pray, or taught them about it. In fact, in some places this was actually frowned upon. But they were still raised with good manners and open minds, and eventually, they came to it by themselves. They found their faith by themselves. And this was – mostly – done with the help of friends, or an acquaintance, or even just someone on TV who talked to them and touched the right spot in their hearts and opened the way. People who live in non-Muslim countries and are farthest away from any faith somehow find their way to Islam and step over into the light. It’s not impossible; Allah guides whoever he wants.
So, technically, each one of us is potentially someone who could help guide someone else. But then comes the other more difficult problem: how? What do you say? What do you not say? Do you talk about the terrible consequences of not praying and eternal Hell Fire? Of course not, unless you plan on killing whatever chance you had with them in the first place. Do you remind them that actually, prayer is the second pillar of Islam, and without it you’re technically not a Muslim? Possibly, but that still sounds quite threatening. Or do you try and talk to them about God’s mercy and grace, and how praying is not just an order handed down that must be followed or else His wrath will fall upon you, but that it’s a means to connect on a regular basis with Him and to keep an open dialogue that you can access whenever you want? That through it you regularly affirm your position as His subject and servant, and therefore at the most need of His mercy and guidance?
And then comes the most challenging question of all: why don’t you pray? There are a million and one reasons why people don’t pray. First and foremost is just sheer laziness. I didn’t pray when I was growing up, even though I was raised in a very conservative family and most of our prayers at home were jama3a. I prayed on and off as a teenager, but most of the time I just couldn’t bother. There was no conscious thought in my head about why I don’t, or what will happen to me if I continue this way, or anything at all. I just didn’t pray. It wasn’t part of my schedule. I was with a group of friends who didn’t pray either, and were as far away from it as could be. And then, suddenly, I just started. I think it was after our second Umrah when I started to wear hijab, and it just came with the package. Whatever the reason was, I started, and never stopped or dreamed of stopping a single minute of my life. And sometimes I wonder: if I hadn’t started praying back then, would I start now at this point in my life? After reaching this point of relative ‘stability’, routine, maturity and ‘understanding’? Going from not praying at all to praying regularly isn’t as simple as starting healthy eating or exercise, or planning to read a book every week or take on a new challenge every month. Praying is submission. It is a lifestyle. It’s a structure, a manifestation of faith, or thanksgiving and groveling and comfort. It’s not just a series of mindless movements set to a specific timing that one needs to work into their daily routine. And it comes with many other things: attitude, dress, curbing bad habits, modesty, reading Quran, etc. It’s quite a lot of work if one wants to do it the right way. And, like it or not, one needs to do it the right way.
Some people don’t pray simply because they don’t see the need to. I’ve heard many people talk about their ‘spiritual’ faith and belief in God, and how that connection is enough and nothing anyone says, including the Prophet SAWS, can convince them otherwise. One person told me that actually, prayer is a misinterpretation of holy text that has been going on for hundreds of years and that the entire Islamic nation is misinformed. They questioned how a bunch of movements had any link to faith and were actually necessary to be considered Muslim. I don’t know what to think or how to respond to these kinds of people. They confuse me.
And then there are the people who may want to pray, but just can’t. Interestingly, some of them can’t or don’t pray because they are badgered by people (like me) who keep telling them to, and this is a reflexive action. I can totally relate to this idea. Whenever someone orders me to do something, I immediately decide that I won’t do it (even if I actually wanted to), or do the exact opposite of whatever it is I’ve been ordered to do, or even just postpone doing it until it feels like I’m doing it of my own accord and not because they told me to. Some people have just been out of the practice for so long that it’s not something they can relate to anymore. Their faith is like a little patch of colour hidden somewhere deep within them that they cannot access anymore; not because they don’t want to, but just forgot how to. Or maybe they just don’t want to after all. Some people just don’t feel that need, and believe that if Rabana wanted them to, they would.
This whole issue is something that I would like to forget about and live comfortably in indifference to other people’s faith and practice and focus only on myself. But I can’t. Yes, we should try and fix ourselves and become better Muslims rather than looking into other people’s flaws, but we are also obliged to help when we can. I eventually lost my friend due to several intertwining and complicated issues. While the prayer issue wasn’t a leading cause, it still cast a different light on other things and put it in a different context.
But If I could do it all over again, however, I would still do the same thing. And from my own experience, just take it one step at a time, one prayer at a time, and try and surround yourself with people who will help you do it, even if they're not as cool as your regular crowd, and you'll get there in sha' Allah.
}إِنَّكَ لَا تَهْدِي مَنْ أَحْبَبْتَ وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ يَهْدِي مَن يَشَاء} القصص، 56