Growth in Prayer:


Reflections and Lessons of a Struggler


Timothy J. Gianotti


             I often reflect that the prayer-related growth we most need within the Muslim community is an excavation of the spiritual depths and riches underlying this religious obligation.  I say “obligation”here because prayer is often presented and taught as a duty, as something we owe God, rather than as a way God – in the infinite mercy and love we believe God extends to us – has opened for us to approach and come close to the One who is the ultimate goal of all our longing and unrest.  So, in my community teaching and in my own self-coaching, I try to engender the sense that prayer is a most welcome and precious opportunity to respond to God’s invitation, sounded in the depths of our being as well as in the explicit teachings of the Qur’ān and the legacy of our beloved Prophet, may God’s blessings be ever upon him and his family.


             Before we forge ahead with this discussion, I must frankly acknowledge that the topic of “Growth in Prayer” presents unusual challenges for the scholar in me; while tempted to approach this theoretically and professionally and with a sense of academic competence, I quickly realize that I cannot embark upon this subject without a full admission that the author writes as one who struggles greatly with prayer and who desperately seeks to grow in prayer.   Of course, this admission betrays the perspective that prayer is something we do rather than something God does within us, a perspective that dominates the way we Muslims are taught to view prayer.  As we will see in this very selective survey of Muslim discussions of prayer, however, filtered as they are through my own experience and understanding, growing in prayer seems to mean, among other things, a letting go of this somewhat materialistic notion that prayer is the product of the worshipper.  That said, there is no question in the sources (as well as within my experience) that personal growth in prayer seems to begin with personal struggle – born of a deep, personal desire for a closer walk with God.  This desire is, of course, itself a gift and so we again are faced at the outset with the ambiguity of prayer being both an act of Creator and an act of creature.