Where do we belong? What is the purpose of our life here on earth? Where do we ultimately go after death? These questions have vexed many thinkers since the dawn of mankind. And we have received answers from many sources and people, some credible and others less so. I have chosen to follow the answers and lessons of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). And I try to connect to these lessons on a daily basis through a variety of ways.
The Qur'an says that I was created for one purpose. Namely, to worship God and He alone: "And I only created the spirits and humans for them to serve Me. (51:56)" And when He created the father and mother of us all-- Adam and Eve--God told them, "Dwell in the garden, you and your wife, and eat from it comfortably, when and as you want. ( 2:35)" And when Satan caused them both to slip, they were banished to the earth: "Descend, in mutual antipathy; yet you will have an abode and belongings on earth for a while. ( 2:36)"
So we belong with God, but it is our sin that estranges us from Him. That is what I learned from the creation story. Thus, I have tried my entire life to reconnect with God. And this is an ongoing struggle occurring every minute of every single day. That's why it is so important for me to reconnect spiritually with the Lord every day.
There are many simple ways to pray and reconnect with God, and here are five that work for me. Some of my practices are applicable to just Muslims, and some can be done by everyone.
Five Daily Prayers:
I am most grateful to God for this Islamic tenet--I observe the five daily Muslim prayers. There can be no more powerful spiritual connection than reaching out to the Divine Presence through ritual prayer. It can be very challenging, most especially the struggle to get up for the pre-dawn prayer. And, even more challenging sometimes, is trying to offer your prayers at your place of work, which for me is the hospital.
None of the hospitals I work at have a designated place for Muslim prayer. Thus, I have to improvise in order to offer my prayers on time. Many times I offer my prayer sitting down in the hospital chapel. Other times I pray in my car after I leave one hospital and before I head to another. Many times I combine the noon and afternoon prayers (I am allowed to do that) because I frequently get tied up doing patient care well into the afternoon and night.
It is a daily struggle, but it is a powerful reminder that my Creator watches over me and that my first obligation is to Him. And it allows me to be spiritually connected to God each day. It may seem difficult to get into the habit of doing the five daily prayers, but if you promise yourself and God to do it, you'll be amazed with how it can become like second nature. It barely takes a few minutes for each one, and it can be such a good, grounding experience in a busy day.
Personal Prayers to God
We can also do non-ritual prayer to connect with God, like doing du'a. These are "regular" personal prayers in which you directly ask God for anything you want. It is a great way to really solidify your relationship with God. Every day I talk to God and tell Him what I am feeling (even though He already knows) and ask for what I want. I also do personal prayers to help me get though certain situations at work and home. It really helps me get closer to Him and deepens the friendship I have with Him.
For instance, in the morning, I begin my day by saying: "O God, you are my Lord; there is nothing worthy of worship except You. Upon You I rely, and You are the Lord of the Great Throne. I know that God knows all and is able to do all things. O God, I seek refuge in You from the evil of my own self and from the evil of all creatures over which You have granted power over us. Verily my Lord is on the Straight Path." It was reported that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that nothing will afflict the person who utters this prayer day and night.
Before I begin any medical procedure, I say "Bismillah-arahman-ar-rahim," which means "In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful." I also say: "O Lord, nothing is easy except that which You make easy. And difficulty is made easy by Your will." Before I eat or drink anything, I am also supposed to say "Bismillah-ar-rahman-ar-rahim." But I must admit I frequently forget to say this, especially if I am hungry or thirsty.
Spirituality in the Car
Another way we can all reconnect is by listening to spiritual CDs and tapes when we commute to work. I've decided that I need to begin my drive to work with the Word of God. I have a CD collection of the Qur'an recited by the imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, whose voice is absolutely beautiful. But usually I spend my morning commute listening to Morning Edition on NPR. I'm going to try and listen to the Qur'an more in the mornings. You can choose your own preferred spiritual/religious tape to inspire you when you drive to work.
Praying For and With Our Children
With my children, I frequently pray out loud to God to protect them before they sleep. This has become such a habit that whenever I forget (or am lazy) to do so, my daughters remind me to pray over them. I'll say, "Aouthou billahil wahid min sharri kuli haasid," meaning "I seek refuge in the One from the evil of all those envy." I always pray to God for His protection of my wife and children, because without His protection, we are all truly vulnerable.
It is extremely important to impart spirituality to our children. If God is important to us, as He is to me, then it is only natural that we introduce God to our children. It does not matter how spirituality is introduced: We can read scripture with them, tell them stories of the prophets of old (which I have done on occasion), or simply talk to them about how much God really loves them. It is particularly challenging to include such activities in our already hectic day, but if we don’t do so, then how will our children learn to be spiritual and love God?
Finding Faith Throughout the Day
Throughout my day and night, I try to infuse my thoughts with the consciousness of God. I try to see and remember Him as much as possible, to breathe him--for He has been the source everything good in my life. Beyond prayer, however, there are other ways we can connect spiritually, especially for those who may not have as deep a belief or connection with the Divine Creator.
It all has to do with seeking a heightened awareness: We must learn to appreciate all physical aspects of the day. With each sunrise, we are given a new chance at living life to the fullest. This is our chance to correct whatever wrongs we may have done in the past and to do as much good as possible in that new day. The wind blowing in our face (even if it is the bitter cold wind of Chicago in February) is a reminder that we can still breathe, that we have the precious gift of life that is unjustly denied to so many in this world. As a pulmonary physician, I am acutely aware of how precious it is to be able to breathe.
With every "Hello there!" or "Good morning!" we say to a fellow human being, we can make a connection of peace and mutual good will. Even a smile can make that connection, and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) told us that "A smile in the face of your brother is an act of charity." I extend this to all people, not just Muslims. And when I smile at someone, I mean it from the bottom of my heart. I am doing exactly as the Prophet (pbuh) told me to do: "Spread peace to others ...”
And As the Day Ends …
As the day comes to a close, we should take a moment to reflect over what we have accomplished throughout the day. This allows us to plan out how we can become even better people the next day. It's not easy to do this, as usually we just go straight to bed and fall asleep. I admit that I don't do this as often as I should, but I am taking this column as a potent reminder to myself.
If we start the day with a heightened awareness and end it with reflection, then we are on the path to spiritual connection. There is no end to the many ways we can reconnect spiritually in our daily lives. All we have to do is open our eyes and take in the glory of life and God.