If you struggle with praying 5 times a day, you’re not alone.
Salah is the second pillar of Islam and the first thing we will be asked about in the grave. However, according to a study by Pew Research Center, only 42% of Muslims pray all 5 prayers daily, with 57% percent of Muslims praying some to no prayers at all.
So it’s no surprise that one of the most common “resolutions” Muslims have during Ramadan is to develop a solid prayer habit. But as we know, Ramadan should be the catalyst to long-term change. How can we keep up the momentum and solidify our 5 daily prayers?
A few years ago, I decided that would be the Ramadan where I finally became a person who prays 5 times a day. I picked up several "hacks" along the way that helped me build and maintain the habit for nearly a year afterwards. While there have been periods since then where I became less consistent, these tips always help me get back on track.
Whether you’re trying to keep up the momentum or are completely starting from scratch, here are a few tips to help you build and sustain a prayer habit.
1. Understand the importance of prayer
From a very young age, we’re taught that Salah is a cornerstone of Islam. But what’s much less discussed is why prayer is required in the first place. There is an article by Sh. Mohammad Elshinawy from Yaqeen Institute called, “Why Does God Ask Us to Worship Him?” that really helped me understand why worship (including Salah) was prescribed to us. Realizing the wisdom behind the mandatory act gives purpose to it, beyond just “I have to do this because God said so.”
2. Use prayer times as pillars of your daily schedule
Our lives are extremely busy and fast-paced. When you have a million things to do, leaving it all to pray can seem like a disturbance to our productivity. On the contrary, it has been scientifically proven that regular prayer or meditation actually increases focus, which leads to an increase in productivity.
When scheduling anything - brunch, meetings, errands - do it around the prayer times. The same way we use the blocks of morning, noon, afternoon, and evening, use the 5 prayers to create windows in your day. By breaking up your schedule into these 5 windows, you make prayer a central part of your day.
3. Make wudu before you leave the house
One of the biggest things that hindered me from keeping up with prayers in the past was wudu. It only takes 1–2 minutes to complete, but the thought of doing it in public is a little daunting, not to mention uncomfortable. Making wudu in the comfort of your own home right before leaving is a good way to skip the “get-stared-at-while-putting-your-foot-in-the-sink” thing and it’s Sunnah! Of course, there will be times when you won’t be able to keep your wudu until the next prayer, but when you can it’s a lifesaver.
4. Be prepared to pray wherever, whenever
In addition to having wudu at all times, keep whatever you need to pray (hijab, abaya, prayer rug, etc) on hand and ready so that you can do so at any moment. Also, invest in pieces that you truly love to make salah even more enjoyable.
If you’re intimidated by the thought of praying in public, try to muster up the courage to do it at least once. I grew up watching and admiring my dad as he prayed in parking lots, corners of restaurants, and sidewalks on busy streets. The first time I ever prayed openly in public was just a couple of years ago, and I’ll admit I was nervous the entire time. But I felt so empowered afterwards that I felt I could pray anywhere. Facing that fear is the only way to overcome it.
5. Don’t procrastinate
This is one that I’m still struggling with, but it really makes all the difference. Don’t wait until the last minute to pray. Download a prayer app or set an alarm and try to make a habit of praying it as soon as the window for it opens. We have so many distractions in our lives that it's easy to lose track of time. Being prompt will help you avoid missing prayers.
6. Limit media consumption
I didn’t really intend to cut out music, TV, or social media while I was building the habit, but I found that I naturally pulled away from it quite a bit. Just limiting my consumption of it for a few weeks made me sensitive to things I had become desensitized to before. I’m not 100% sure if I can attribute building a prayer habit to limited media consumption but the detox kept me focused.
7. Keep your heart soft
Ramadan rituals like Taraweeh and Qiyam help us develop a certain tenderness of the heart, and closeness to Allah. Of course, Ramadan is a very unique time of year when there is an abundance of spiritually fulfilling content and programming. Outside of Ramadan, attending a weekly class, Friday prayer, volunteer work, reading Quran, listening to lectures, etc. should help nurture that softness inshaAllah.
8. Don’t give up on yourself or Allah
I once heard in a khutbah that Allah doesn’t lose hope in you until you lose hope in Him. That really hit home for me. No matter how many prayers you miss, no matter how late in life you start trying to work harder on your relationship with Him, no matter how many times you fall off track and then return back to Him, He will never turn His back on us so long as we don’t turn our backs on Him.
If God Himself doesn’t give up on us, then how can we give up on ourselves? Miss a prayer? Don’t throw in the towel. Make it up and then pray the next one. Even if you fell short of your Ramadan goals, every day He gives us is an opportunity for a new beginning.
9. Savor the sweetness of it
Prayer used to be a chore for me and I didn’t actually enjoy it the way I saw others did. It was a reminder of all my failed attempts to get it right. But that’s because I was thinking about it the wrong way, which brings us back to tip #1 — understanding why we pray. After I kept up with it for a few weeks, I started to look forward to prayer. It’s my opportunity to drop everything and reconnect with Him, refocus, and realign my priorities.
As Sh. Elshinawy says, “A Muslim is blessed to understand that God loves to be worshipped and obeyed by His creation, not because of a need for validation or servitude, but because He loves to see the benefit we achieve from it. And all praise is due to Allah, the compassionate Lord of all the worlds.”