June 9, 2019

We are all very familiar with chapter the Opening. I remember once, on a plane, there was quite some heavy – according to my standards – turbulence. I asked someone sitting next to me – a pilot actually – whether this was normal? He asked what? When the plane shook I said: “This!” He still didn’t get it. I said: “Is it normal for the plane to shake like this?!” He then smiled and said: “I got so used to it that I don’t notice these weak turbulences!”

Even though I fel relieved that it were nothing more but ‘insignificant turbulences’ I also understood what habit and familiarity mean and entail. I mean, we might have fallen for the beauty of the husband or wife we are married to, yet we don’t see or notice their beauty any longer, the force of habit and familiarization.

This is actually what we experience in prayer. We are desperately looking for a magic formula to connect to God Almighty, yet we have been given this formula and recite it at least 17 times a day … Chapter al_Fatiha, the first Chapter of the Holy Quran. The force of habit caused us not to see how special and transformative the meanings of this chapter really are.

In order for us to understand the strength of this beautiful chapter we need to defamiliarise ourselves by adding a new dimension to it: reciting it in the light of our actual situation and life. It is all about personalizing it.

Asking or telling ourselves why we praise Allah today, and why we are in need of His mercy and from which sins we need to repent. It is keeping the very reason why we worship Him and to know why we are begging Him to help us. There is no wisdom behind asking Him to guide you to the straight path while we might not be able to recognize this path.

On the other hand we have to create a habit. The habit of praying on time, the habit of looking forward to praying. But these are conscious healthy unforced habits. Mohammed – peace and prayers be upon him – said:

Be happy! Your Lord has opened a door in the sky and tells His angels: Look at my servants! They have prayed a prayer and they are looking forward to the next one.

Mohammed, peace be upon him

About the author 

Imam Van Ael is the founder of the Ark of knowledge and the former chaplain of London School of Economics, Imperial College, and SOAS, and Professor at University for Applied Sciences Rotterdam. His main interest is connecting people to God Almighty through the Book and the Sunna, through traditional knowledge within a contemporary framework.

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