When I was seven, my parents decided that it was time for me to learn to pray. Like any other kid, I just wanted to play with my toys or watch cartoons. At first, I threw tantrums at my mom; the mere mention of prayer would reduce me to tears. Whenever the mu’azzin would start the Azan, I would cover myself under the blankets and pretend to sleep. I never told them directly that I hated praying. In fact, I didn’t even dare tell myself about such an obvious fact.
As a child, I would ask stupid questions like: “If God is Powerful, why doesn’t He get me new toys?” “Why should I pray to God if He never listens to me?” These questions would literally make my parents bang their heads on the wall. Their answer would always be: “You’ll go to Hell if you question God’s authority. Now go and pray!” As kids, my sister and I were frustrated with having to pray five times a day. For us, it was reciting Arabic words that we never understood. My sister went as far as once saying that when she grew up, she’d find God and serve Him poisonous food.
My parents would always quieten us by vividly describing the horrors of hell. They would mention having boiling water and cactus for lunch while getting burned by fire hotter than the sun. So we stopped questioning and believed that for all our efforts we would be granted an eternal paradise. I wasn’t even fascinated as a kid about honey lakes and fruits in Heaven. Unless they told me that whatever I wished for would come true. My sister said that she’d wish for a large milk bottle that wouldn’t cause cavities in her teeth and I told her that I’d wish for plentiful toys. And so the years passed by and I prayed reciting the perpetual verses so fixed into my mind, that I would wander off to different thoughts during prayer. I would always forget the raka’ah I was in and had to restart them all over again. All these years, I wasn’t being honest to myself. I would always ignore the fact that I got annoyed when the Azan would start and I always prayed at the last minute just before the next Azan.
I now realize that I prayed because I was selfish. I was expecting a paradise from God and I was scared of having to live forever in hell. As a kid and then a teenager, my fear was shaped by my school teachers, my friends who had heard myths about hell from their parents and then my own parents. When I came to university, I started thinking rationally and realized the damage that was done to my mind. I read self-help books in the library that helped me realize my life goals. I met great professors who motivated me to do my best and I started my own story writing club. I started to learn from my mistakes and thought critically on everything but prayer. I still prayed robotically at the last minute from fear. Then I came across philosophy books where I read about Immanuel Kant and George Hegel. I fell in love with their concepts and started applying them to my life. Until now, I was honest and sincere because I feared hell but these two philosophers made me rethink as to why we should be good human beings.
I was liberated and became fearless of the unseen. I realized that I did not have the freedom to decide if I would go to Hell or Heaven but I did have the freedom to live the way I wanted to. I realized that I was to do good in the world not because of the greed for paradise but merely out of being a responsible human being. The reason for my prayer has changed and now I do not pray out of fear but I pray because I believe that it’s my responsibility to be grateful to my Creator. Once you change the reason for the way you act, your attitude and your performance towards your work changes.
Human beings are unique and their way of prayer is therefore different. God understands our differences and he will not send you to hell for being who you are. We should all leave that to His judgment. Instead of judging each other on the way we pray, we should instead encourage everyone to follow their dreams. Praying is a secret relationship with your Creator and you do not need to prove it to your family or anyone else. We do not need to learn a specific way to pray because prayer is from the heart and God resides in our hearts.
Believe in yourself, have fun and make sure that you are not the reason behind anyone’s tears unless they are tears of happiness 😛 Live your life everyday as if you are here to learn and help others. Do not be double faced; if you don’t pray in secret then don’t show in public that you do. Being a hypocrite is the worst kind of damage that you inflict on your personality. Lastly, in future when you have kids, do not let them know about hell and heaven. Teach them good morals simply because they are responsible humans.
By Sidra Rashid
Electronics Engineering Student at Khalifa University