What should we do to perform prayers in khushu’ (awe)?

Details of the Question

- With what consciousness did the Prophet (pbuh) perform prayers?
- Is it true that a sound like that of a saucepan come from his chest?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

We are ordered to ask help from Allah with patience and prayer in verse 45 of the chapter of al-Baqara; then, it is stated that prayer is hard except to those who bring a lowly spirit:

“Nay, seek (Allah´s) help with patient perseverance and prayer: It is indeed hard, except to those who bring a lowly spirit.”

Some qualities of the believers to attain salvation are listed in the first verses of the chapter of al-Muminun; it is stated that the first one is those who perform prayers in khushu’ (awe):

“The believers must (eventually) win through,- Those who humble themselves in their prayers;.” (al-Muminun, 23/1-2)

The prayer has some fards like qiyam, qira’ah, ruku’ and sajdah that have to be performed by the outer organs; in addition, it has some qualities like khushu’, khudu’ and ikhlas, which are related to the heart. As a matter of fact, the verses above expresses them.

Khushu’ lexically means man not deeming oneself superior, humbleness, modesty, softness and kindness of the heart, fearing Allah all the time and showing respect to Him. Khushu’ in prayer means man adhering to Allah by keeping one’ heart away from love and business of the world, being fully interested in prayer, forgetting everything except the prayer and concentrating on the prayer only with one’s mind and heart. 

Those who perform their prayers in khushu’ enjoy the pleasure of being in the presence of Allah, turning toward Him with all of their beings and get great pleasure from it; they attain peace by being saved from the sorrow and grief of the world and feel great comfort and relief. This comfort, relief and peace they feel in their hearts encompass the body. They think of only Allah while worshipping and performing prayers and get rid of all of the worldly ideas in their minds. Their hearts become attached to their Lord. When man feels bored, he feels relieved and becomes peaceful if he performs prayers. When the Prophet performed a prayer, he felt relaxed, got rid of the sorrow and grief and attained peace. Therefore, whenever he felt bad, he would perform a prayer and take refuge in Allah; he said, “Brightness of my eye is in prayer.” We should also do so. Vehbi, the poet, states the following regarding the issue:

"Wipe your face on that high lodge,
Beg Allah with khushu’."

If the heart is in khushu’, it affects the other organs too; the trace of it is seen on the other organs. As a matter of fact, when the Prophet (pbuh) saw a person playing with his beard in prayer, he said, “If his heart were in khushu’, his organs would be in khushu too.” (Subulus-Salam, I, 147)

Khushu’ makes worship meaningful; khushu is the spirit of the prayer. A prayer without khushu’ is valid but a prayer with khushu’ gains man more thawabs. The Prophet (pbuh) is addressed as follows in the Quran:  

“Recite what is sent of the Book by inspiration to thee, and establish regular Prayer: for Prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of Allah is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt...” (al-Ankabut, 29/45)

The manifestation of the secret of the verse depends on fulfilling things related to the heart like khushu’, khudu’ and ikhlas.

When we say those who perform prayers in khushu’, the Prophet comes to mind first. The Prophet (pbuh) performed his prayers in absolute khushu’ and khudu’; he set a model to his ummah in it as he did in every issue. The Companions who describe his prayers speak as follows: 

“When the Messenger of Allah prayed, and a sound would come from his chest like the rumbling of a mill or boiling of a saucepan.” (Abu Dawud, Salah, 156)

The Prophet (pbuh) who set a model with his deeds encouraged his ummah to perform prayer in khushu’. He stated the following in a hadith: 

“Allah, the Exalted, has made five prayers obligatory. If anyone makes wudu for them properly, offers them at their right time, and observes perfectly their bowing and submissiveness in them, it is the guarantee of Allah that He will pardon him; if a person does not do so, there is no guarantee for him on the part of Allah; He may pardon him if He wills and punish him if He wills.” (Abu Dawud, Salah, 9)

“If a Muslim completes wudu properly when the time for a prayer starts, performs his prayer properly in khushu’, it will be atonement for his previous minor sins if he does not commit major sins. It goes on like that throughout his life.” (Muslim, Taharah, 7)

As it is seen, five daily prayers that are performed properly in khushu becomes atonement for minor sins between prayers. As for major sins, it is necessary to repent for them. 

Ikhlas (sincerity) and khushu’ (awe) are qualities related to the heart; they are important in prayer and other deeds of worship. A person who is away from ikhlas and khushu’ in prayer will not be careful about the other requirements of the prayer and will do them incompletely. As a matter of fact, when the Prophet (pbuh) mentioned bad deeds and theft once, he said to his Companions.

“The worst thief is the one that steals from his prayers.” Thereupon, they said,

“O Messenger of Allah! How does a person steal from his prayers?” the Prophet (pbuh) said,

“He does not complete ruku’s and sajdahs; that is, he does not perform the prayer in accordance with its rules.” (Muwatta, Qasrus-Salat, 72)

The great personalities of Islam gave great importance to khushu’ in prayer; they prayed in khushu’ and set an example to the ones who lived after them. “Once, one of them was hit by arrows three times in prayer but he did not stop his prayer. The pleasure he took from reading the Quran surpassed the pain caused by the arrows.”(1)

Some Islamic scholars think that khushu’ is a spiritual state (peculiar to the heart) like fear while some scholars think it is a state peculiar to the body and organs like being tranquil and solemn; others think it is a state related to both the heart and the body. (Fakhruddin ar-Razi, XXVIII, 77)

In fact, khushu’ includes both; its root is in the heart and signs are on the body.

It aspect related to the heart is the slave’s acting very decently with a feeling of respect in the face of Allah’s majesty; its aspect related to the body is the slave’s displaying a posture expressing tranquility and solemnity with the reflection of the feeling of respect and decency on the organs. For instance, the khushu’ a person feels in his heart in prayer becomes manifest in the form of the eyes looking on the place of prostration only, not looking at the right or the left. (Elmalılı, V, 3428).

In fact, any act that expresses respect in appearance does not have any religious value and hence cannot be described as khushu’ unless it originates from the feeling of respect and fear in the heart.

As a matter of fact, Hasan al-Basri states that khushu’ is a constant fear that is necessary for the heart and that does not leave it (Maturidi, I, p. 20); Junayd Baghdadi states that khushu’ means the heart surrendering to Allah due to excessive respect and love (Qushayri, p. 116).

The Prophet (pbuh) attracted attention to khushu’ in prayer as he did in other deeds of worship on various occasions, warned those who prayed in a way that will harm khushu’ and set a model to the ummah himself in prayer, which he regarded as the apple of his eye, by keeping both his mind and body away from heedlessness and heedless acts.

It is possible to find information related to the form and spirit of this worship in hadith and fiqh books under the headings like sunnahs of prayer, manners of prayer, makruhs of prayer and things that invalidate prayer.

Some fiqh scholars regard khushu’ among the fards of prayer but the great majority regards it among the sunnahs acting upon the fact that khushu’ has aspects that are outside one’s will, that it necessitates a certain process of training and hence it is not possible for every Muslim to preserve the peace of heart throughout a prayer.

Therefore, a person is advised to turn to Allah with his heart fully, to try to keep away from all kinds of worldly thoughts, to think of the meaning of the verses he reads, to look at the place of prostration and not to do any unnecessary acts.

The Prophet (pbuh)  
- wanted us not to turn our faces to the right and left if we wanted to attain divine consent and mercy, that is, to avoid the deeds that will harm khushu’ (Musnad, VI, 130, 443; Abu Dawud, Salat, 165),
- wanted us not to start a prayer when the meal was ready (Bukhari, Adhan, 42; Muslim, Masajid, 64),
- wanted us not to pray when we felt the need to go to the toilet though there was enough time for the prayer (Muslim, Masajid, 67)
since deeds like that will preoccupy our minds in prayer.

Hz. Ali’s Prayer

According to narrations, when the time for a prayer came, Hz. Ali would turn pale and start to shiver.  When he was asked,

“O leader of the believers! What is the matter with you?”, he would say,

“It is time to fulfill the Trust that the earth, skies and mountains did not accept when it was offered to them by Allah. I fear that I will not be able to fulfill this Trust thing properly.” (2)

This statement of Hz. Ali refers to verse 72 of the chapter of al-Azhab. The meaning of the verse is as follows:

“We did indeed offer the Trust to the Heavens and the Earth and the Mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof: but man undertook it;- He was indeed unjust and foolish.”

Trust has several meanings. What is relevant here is worshipping and similar responsibilities that “gain man thawabs when he does and incurs penalty on him when he abandons”. Responsibility is a quality peculiar to man; it is not in question for other creatures.

Abu Hanifa’s Prayer

Like other great Islamic personalities, Abu Hanifa worshipped and prayed in khushu’. Once, somebody came to him and said, 

"O Imam! I cannot pray in khushu’. When I am in prayer, I graze my camels and look after them. However, you are richer than me. How do you attain pleasure and perform prayers in khushu?”

Abu Hanifa answered him as follows:

“I tie my camels to the barn, not to my heart.”

How can we attain khushu’ in prayer?

Bahauddin Naqshband (d. 791/1389) states that there are four conditions to obtain khushu’ in prayer:

1. To eat halal food.
2. To make wudu clearly with the consciousness that one will enter into the presence of Allah.
3. To feel that one is in the presence of Allah when he utters takbir of iftitah.
4. To try to act as if one is in prayer when he is outside prayer.

Khushu’ in other deeds of worship

A person whose heart is not in khushu’ will not take pleasure from worshipping. Khusu’ increases the value of worshipping and makes man take pleasure from worshipping. Therefore, khushu’ is not peculiar to prayer only; it is in question in other deeds of worship too. The Prophet was in the state of issue in all of his acts; he took refuge in Allah from a heart that is deprived of khushu’ when he said prayers, he would pray as follows:  

“O Allah! I take refuge in You from the heart that has no khushu’, the supplication that is not accepted, the soul that is not satisfied and knowledge that is useless.”(3)

To worship with khushu’ and ikhlas means to rise to the level of ihsan mentioned in a hadith. When the Prophet was asked about what ihsan was, he answered as follows: “Ihsan means to worship Allah as if you see Him for even if you cannot see Him, He sees you.”

Thus, ihsan means to worship Allah as if you see Him by leaving worldly feelings. There are signs about it in the Quran. Allah Almighty states the following:

“And put thy trust on the Exalted in Might, the Merciful,- Who seeth thee standing forth (in prayer).”(ash-Shuara, 26/217-218)

“In whatever business thou mayest be, and whatever portion thou mayest be reciting from the Qur´an,- and whatever deed ye (mankind) may be doing.”(Yunus, 10/61)

Khushu’ is generally something related to the heart like ikhlas. As a matter of fact, the following is stated in the Quran:

“Has not the Time arrived for the Believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in the remembrance of Allah and of the Truth which has been revealed (to them)…” (al-Hadid, 57/16)

Hz. Ali said, “Al-khushu’u fil-qalb: Khushu’ is in the heart.” (4)

Hudhayfa, one of the Companions, said the first thing we would lose in our religion would be khushu’; Sahl b. Abdullah said Satan could not approach a person who had khushu’. (5)


1) Mawlana Shibli, Asr-ı Saadet (translated by Ömer Rıza Doğrul), I, 476. 
2) H. Kamil Yılmaz, Tasavvuf ve Tarikatlar, Ist. 2000, p.94; Mawardi, Adabud-Dunya wad-Din, 71.
3) Tirmidhi, Daawat, 69; Nasai, Istiadha, 2.
4) See Subulus-Salam, I, 147.
5) See Osmanlı Tarih Deyimleri ve Terimleri Sözlüğü, I, 859.

(See Dr. Durak Pusmaz, Altınoluk, 2004 - December, Issue: 226, Page: 011; TDV İslam Ansiklopedisi, Huşu item)

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