After 35 prayers, I can feel the humility coursing through my veins. I would say I’m pretty high up in the ranks for the “most humble” competition.
I don’t feel particularly different. My first week of prayers actually reminds me of my first week of ice baths for Stoicism. The effects are subtle.
Here is what I’ve observed so far:
It’s a pain in the butt
Five times a day is quite a lot of time for prayer. Even though each prayer session takes at most 15 minutes, it interrupts whatever it is you’re doing.
For the morning prayer during the weekday, this isn’t a big deal. I get up early enough to perform Fajr anyway, so it doesn’t disrupt my morning routine.
But the evening prayers are tough. Usually at that point of the day I’m tired and I just want to zone out in front of the TV. But at 8:00 and 9:30 I need to perform Wudu, or ritual ablution in preparation for prayer.
Apparently, you break Wudu by going to the bathroom or even farting (which can hilariously be called “breaking Wudu”), so effectively you to have perform Wudu before every prayer.
After Wudu, you pray.
It’s annoying to get off the couch, but, I think that’s the point of Salat. Whatever you are doing at the moment is not as important as talking to God for a few minutes.
You think about it a lot
Because Salat is a new practice for me, I’m very aware (and a bit anxious) about doing them. During the day I worry about the logistics, I wonder if I’ll have time to do it, and I worry if I’m doing the ritual correctly.
I still haven’t done one at work yet. I managed to get home for the afternoon prayer, Dhuhr, every day except one, but I think this week I’ll have to do one at work. We’ll see what happens. I’m very nervous about someone walking in on me and being like “What are you doing in here? I had this conference room booked! Also, why are you on the ground?”
Yes, that would be awkward, and I spend a good chunk of my day thinking about it.
All this stressful thinking about prayer though, does have the side benefit of forcing you to think about God and prayer, which gets me to my next point:
You are more mindful of your behavior and attitude
When you think about prayer, either after you’ve done it or are about to it, you become more conscious of your negative attitudes and behavior. Because I’m trying to become more humble via prayer, I am constantly on guard for condescending thoughts towards others.
Not surprisingly, I have many condescending or negative thoughts. Some are about work (ugh, not another PowerPoint), some are directed to certain New York Times op-ed writers (damn you Krugman), some are about annoying things tourists do (standing on the left side of the escalator).
I’ve become better at catching these thoughts, which gives me an opportunity to remind myself that a humble person would not be bothered by such things, as it presumes you are above or better than these people or circumstances.
Prayer hasn’t helped prevent these thoughts from occurring, but I am definitely more aware of them when they do occur.
You become a “believer”
Doing Salat has made me much more interested in why Salat is so important to Muslims. As a result, I’ve been taking the time to learn about Islam as a whole, not just what the ritual means.
The religion is quite fascinating. There are tons of meaningful stories and parables and theological explanations for why the world is as it is.
Though some stories seem a bit silly for modern sensibilities, they make more sense if you adopt some of the behavior of Islam, like Salat.
For example, there are very intricate details in the Qu’ran of what heaven and hell is like. They make heaven seem super awesome, and hell incredibly terrifying.
Even though I don’t “believe” in heaven or hell, I found myself wanting to do good in order to earn the rewards of heaven (and avoid the pain of hell). It doesn’t seem so crazy to me to try to do and be good in order to secure a pleasant afterlife.
This may be a result of the commitment principle, which says that once people commit to something small, they will follow through and commit to even greater actions or behavior in order to maintain a consistent self-image.
By committing to Salat for the month, I am more likely to accept other parts of Islam, even if that was not my original intention.
This would explain why believing in heaven and hell doesn’t seem so crazy to me, even though it would have seemed absurd 6 months ago.
Overall, Salat has been a worthwhile practice so far. I’m certainly not as humble as I’d like to be, but I did see some signs of progress (awareness of negative thoughts).
Hopefully the benefits will accelerate as I continue to do perform Salat and study Islam.