Islam and the Quran

Being in Awe in Prayer

Question: I perform my daily prayers but sometimes when I pray I feel like the people in Surah Ma’un, who are being woed by God because they are heedless of their prayers. At other times I feel that the reproach about the hypocrites in the Qur’an that says “…And when they stand for prayer, they stand lazily…” is about me. The Qur’an states: “…and indeed, prayer is difficult except for those who venerate God.”, and as a way of alleviating this “difficulty”, “being in awe - khushoo” is often suggested. What is “being in awe- khushoo”? How can I reach such a spiritual mood?

The complete verse mentioned in the question is:

Ask for help through patience and keeping the prayer up. Indeed, this is found difficult, except by those who venerate God.” (Al-Baqarah/The Bull; 2:45)

“Being in awe” is basically being respectful; it’s not about reaching a spiritual or a mental state. The feeling of “awe” is present in people who see themselves inferior to God, and see God as “exalted”, that is, superior to themselves. This mindset is the motive that makes the human bow down and prostrate before God. If this mindset weren’t present, no one would perform their prayers consistently.

Prayers are not performed out of pure pleasure, they are performed because God commands it. Sometimes, we don’t feel like lifting a finger to perform ablution or prayer. However, the faith and the willpower to follow God’s commands make us perform our prayers, which makes us true servants. In other words, being a “true servant” means doing the things we must do because God wishes us to do it, and not just because we were in the mood or the conditions compelled us to do it, such as drifting along with parental or societal pressure, etc. After all, no other thing could give us the same amount of pleasure than the pleasure of being a true servant of God.

The following verses are mentioned in the Surah Al-Ma’un (The Assistance):

“So woe to those who pray, [but] who are heedless of their prayer –  those who show off, and withhold [a simplest] assistance.” (Al-Ma’un/The Assistance; 107: 4-7)

A Muslim does not perform the prayers to be seen or praised by others, but to fulfill God’s command.

A hypocrite is a person who does not have sincere faith but poses as a believer. He performs the prayers to be approved by the community and not to be ostracized from the society. His prayers cannot even be compared to the prayers of a sincere Muslim. [1]

It is natural that some thoughts roam through our minds during prayers. There is a narration about Omar ibn Al-Khattāb in the Bukhari that goes: “When I pray, I prepare munition for my army, distribute it, and then organize them all in my head.” (Bukhari, al-Amal fi al-Salat, 18)

According to another narration in the Bukhari, various thoughts also crossed our Prophet Muhammad’s mind during prayers. The narration is as follows:

“Ukba ibn Haris (may God be pleased with him) stated: “ I was performing the asr prayer with Prophet Muhammad. When he had finished performing the prayer, he immediately stood up, walked quickly towards one of his wives. When he finally came back he saw the bewilderment in the community that is caused by his sudden actions and he told them:

‘While I was praying I remembered that I had a little gold in my possession, and I didn’t want that gold to be left out till the evening or stay the night with us, so I wanted my wife to split the gold and distribute it.’ ”” (Bukhari, al-Amal fi al-Salat, 18.)

When Iblees was granted respite till the Day of Judgment he said:

“…[Devil] said, “Because You have put me in error, I will surely sit in wait for them on Your straight path. Then I will come to them from before them and from behind them and on their right and on their left, and You will not find most of them grateful [to You].” (Al-A’raf/The Elevated Place; 7:16-17)

No one, including the messengers of God could avoid Devil’s whispers/aspersions completely because Devil was given a blank check by God when he was given respite: Devil could do everything in his power to lead people astray, UNTIL the Day of Judgment. God SWT decrees:

“And We did not send before you any messenger or prophet, without having the Devil interfere with his wishes. God overrides what the devil has cast; then God makes precise His verses. God knows all and judges correctly.” (Al-Hajj/The Pilgrimage; 22:52)

As it is understood from these verses, it is absolutely normal for people who are engaged in important duties, such as performing prayers to hear the whispers of Devil and have their minds more or less occupied with disorienting thoughts. The important thing is not to give in to these temptations and disorienting thoughts so that it makes you abandon your religious duties.

We also recommend learning the meanings of verses that are most commonly recited during prayers, and reflecting on their meanings during recitation. That may also help avoiding distraction during prayers.

SOURCE: Yahya Şenol-Enes Alimoğlu, İnsanlık Tarihi Boyunca O Namaz, Süleymaniye Vakfı Yayınları, İstanbul, 2016, p. 143-145.

[1] This answer is quoted from Abdulaziz Bayındır’s interview that was published in Altınoluk Dergisi (Altınoluk Magazine is a monthly magazine that mostly deals with religion). Year: 2001, issue: 182. See also for the interview in its original printed publication:

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