What Should I Do about My Severe Doubts during Prayer?
Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch
I fear that I move too much every time I pray and doubt that my movement invalidates the prayer, so I stop and re-do the prayer. What should I do about this? When I want to start the prayer, saying the takbir is, for some reason, very difficult for me. It takes me 5-15 mins to say the takbir because I fear making the wrong movements with my hands behind my ears.
I sometimes forget which rakat I am during prayer; when I am at my second, I doubt whether I did the first one; when I’m on my third, I doubt whether I’m on my second or fourth, etc. I also doubt whether hair is sticking out of my hijab and spend a long time in front of the mirror before starting prayer checking for hair that might be sticking out.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate
I am sorry to hear that you are struggling with your prayer. Know that the struggle you are going through is not due to the religion or the prayer itself. Because of that, the cure is not unreachable.
Knowledge: The Cure for Doubts
The main cure to these doubts is knowledge. To this point, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “One person of deep religious knowledge (faqih) is harder on Shaytan than 1,000 worshippers (without deep knowledge).” [Tirmidhi]
From this narration, we see that many people, including yourself, in your current state, are affected by the plots and whispers of Shaytan. These whispers cause them to fall into doubts and misgivings in worship. These doubts, in turn, cause them great difficulty in their religious practice and can lead them to despair and give up.
Great Difficulty in the Religion
This difficulty experienced is caused by a lack of knowledge that makes one vulnerable to these Satanic plots. And Shaytan will make the person think that it is Allah Most High or the religion of Islam that is causing the difficulty, whereas Allah Most High says:
“…And He has not put upon you any hardship in the religion.” [Quran, 22:78]
Before getting into the legal rulings related to your direct question, if it is understood that these misgivings are from Shaytan, the obvious course of action in these situations is to do the opposite of the doubt/misgiving in disobedience to Shaytan.
“As for the one who is often afflicted with misgivings, it is necessary for them to sever the cause of the misgivings and not to give it any consideration. This is because it is the doing of Shaytan, and we have been commanded to oppose him.” [Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]
The only movements that break the prayer are those that are so big and so numerous that had someone looked at them during such an action, they would not consider that person praying. [Tahawi/Shurunbulali, Hashiyat Maraqi al-Falah]
An example is someone reading a message on their phone during the prayer.
Small actions foreign to the prayer, not in the interest of the prayer, and repetitive are prohibitively disliked but do not invalidate the prayer in itself. For example, someone is constantly scratching their nose in the prayer (without need) or playing with their beard during the prayer. The prayer is valid but disliked. [Ibid.]
General movements of the body and limbs are of no consequence. You slightly moving your hand in the Takbir does not affect the prayer at all. Human beings are not accustomed to remaining as still as a statue, and some movement is inescapable in the prayer. The movements you described are of this category and should be ignored completely. [Ibid.]
The Number of Units
If you have doubts regarding the number of units, you must train yourself to be decisive. If you are unsure whether you prayed two units or three units, choose. Choose (A) or (B). One of the issues related to misgivings is the inability to choose between two things; you must push yourself to be decisive to overcome this. [Ibid.]
The next time you fall into doubt between two things, immediately choose between them and act accordingly, and you are not required to make the prostration of forgetfulness in such a case.
A Hair Showing
A woman’s hair is considered from the legal nakedness (‘awra) and is obligatory to cover. However, if exposed unintentionally or due to difficulty in keeping it covered, there is a certain amount that is excused and does not affect the validity of the prayer. The excused amount is 1/4th of the exposed limbs. If a few hairs come exposed, the prayer is intact; as long as 1/4th of the entire head does not become exposed, the prayer is valid. [Ibid.]
Advice and Resources
It is my sincere advice that you find and attend lessons on Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). By this, you can discern what is actually from the religion and what is not. I would also advise that you ignore any doubts and only act when you are reasonably sure or certain of something. Lastly, pray to Allah Most High to remove these misgivings from you and increase your understanding of the religion.
Please see: A Reader on OCD and Waswasa (Baseless Misgivings)
Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.