New converts to Islam have to ask themselves “How can I learn how to pray if I don’t even know Arabic?” “How do I know if I’m praying salah the correct way?” This post will share some insight into how some converts will experience learning to pray, and what to do if you’re new to Islam and want and need to learn salah.
When I accepted Islam, most of the Muslims around me rightly or wrongly didn’t actively encourage (or discourage) outward practice in regards to prayer or hijab or fasting etc. I’d actually fasted Ramadhan before I said shahada and people were shocked almost to the extent of questioning why I had done it.
Why are we surprised that a new Muslim is completing an obligatory act? What would’ve been better is to reinforce the knowledge that Allah has not made the religion difficult and we must do what Allah has obliged us to do.
Where I would’ve most welcomed more input and conversation is around salah. I’d learnt to pray from the internet and clarified a few things through messages to and from a friend, and then properly from a book that another friend gave me.
The lack of emphasis on the importance of learning to pray and the reiteration of “take things slowly, do what you feel comfortable with” meant that I didn’t pray immediately. I thought that was OK because I didn’t know how to and thought it would take a while to learn.
But it’s not OK for a Muslim not to pray, and learning the fardh aspects of salah even with Arabic doesn’t take more than an afternoon.
Another book which my friend gave me (that I couldn’t find online to link here) was a guide to salah from the Hanafi school. At the time, I wasn’t really aware of what that meant.
For new Muslims reading this, there are four schools or ‘madhabs’ in Islam (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali), each containing the jurisprudence or ‘fiqh’ established by four different Imams and their students.
What is fiqh? Fiqh is the how-to’s of Islam, it’s how we practice based on Islamic teachings. It’s derived from what is in the Quran, found in the sunnah of the Prophet, may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him, and the consensus and reasoning of those qualified to make such an educated analysis and decision. Some schools use additional principles to determine fiqh.
The fiqh of salah means how we pray, from timings to our physical movements and what we say. It includes rulings around what nullifies wudhu (the state of purification required to complete salah), what breaks the prayer, the necessary parts of the prayer for it to be valid and the recommended actions, etc.
Hanafi is the most widespread madhab where I live, meaning most Muslims I know follow that madhab and pray in the way considered correct according to Hanafi fiqh. What I didn’t know when I first came to Islam is that there are variations between the madhabs, meaning Shafi’is pray slightly different to Hanafis and what is considered to nullify wudhu according to Shafi’is wouldn’t nullify wudhu according to Hanafis, and vice versa!
This is a beauty of Islam– there are variations of what is considered correct in regards to issues of jurisprudence, and despite the variations, ALL of them are considered correct. Even Muslims who follow a different madahib will acknowledge the validity of a contrary position, whilst still following their own schools’ ruling.
This is because they’ve been determined through accepted principles. Following a madhab is important, especially as a new Muslim, because a ‘regular’ Muslim does not have the breadth of knowledge required to make their own personal decisions about issues of fiqh. It could lead to decisions and actions that fall outside of all the established madahib. For example, it could mean your salah is not considered valid according to Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i or Hanbali fiqh. Audhubillah.
So- the Hanafi way of praying is valid and correct- but women pray slightly differently to men according to Hanafi fiqh. So imagine my confusion when I see a post online, or a message forwarded on Whatsapp, or a video on Youtube telling me I’m praying incorrectly?
At the time I didn’t know there are different valid ways of performing salah. The information I was sent or came across did not attempt to explain the variations in fiqh and instead mostly just said ‘x and x is wrong and this is the right way’.
It would have been really helpful if any of the Muslim friends, colleagues and associates around me had explained things thoroughly from the start to better prepare me for when I came across different opinions and views. I would have been better equipped to navigate all of the ‘this is wrong and this is right’ information which can be very confusing and at worst, misleading.
If we tell a new Muslim that it’s OK that they don’t pray their salah 5 times a day and make no effort to teach them, or that they don’t need to observe hijab until they feel confident, or that if they don’t stop consuming haram things straight away it’s not a big deal- are we not blatantly complicit in their disobedience to Allah?
Telling new Muslims “it’s OK” not to do things they are obliged to do as Muslims is never the right thing to do. Allah guided us and has not made anything in the religion difficult, and that’s what we should be reminding each other of.
Allah gave you guidance and part of accepting that guidance is to fulfil what is obligatory for you to fulfil. Allah will make it easy for you.
He has chosen you and placed no hardship in your religion – Quran 22:78
To new Muslims still learning how to pray, here are 5 things to remember:
1. It is obligatory for you to pray. Now. 5 times a day, at the proper times. If you miss any for whatever reason, you should make them up later- all of them. Keep a record of any you owe.
2. Learning to pray does not take long, even learning with Arabic- have someone with knowledge and tajweed (proper pronunciation) teach you the fardh aspects of salah and then build on that to include the wajib and sunnah actions. This book will help.
3. There are variations in aspects of salah between the schools of thought, and they are all valid and correct. If someone says that it’s incorrect to follow something which is considered correct within one madhab, get another, educated opinion.
4. Most importantly, not knowing how to pray is not an excuse to not pray! Learn!
5. Finally, say Alhamdulillah that Allah has guided you and remember all of your sins before you became Muslim will not be taken into account on the Day of Judgement, so do your best not to acquire many (including missing salah) now that you’re Muslim, in sha Allah.
Finding the time to pray 5 times throughout the day can seem daunting, especially if you’re not at home or if fajr is really early and isha really late. Make it easier by trying to keep wudhu when you’re out, making sure you bring everything you need to pray and planning ahead if you know where you’re going to be during salah times. Take naps and plan your sleep around salah if necessary. I promise it’s not as difficult as it seems at first.
Allah makes things easy for those who are mindful of Him – Quran 65:4
Assalamu alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh