Bismi’Llāhi ir-Ramān ir-Raīm

In the Name of God, the Universally Merciful, the Singularly Compassionate


Concentration is an essential skill for spiritual practice. Concentration is all about being here, now. First, you must focus your attention so that your presence converges in your body (as opposed to being scattered and out of your body). Once that happens, you will arrive in the present moment, where your body exists. Your body does not live in the past or the future. However, your mind can wander out of the present moment, into the past or the future.

In order to concentrate, however, you must be motivated. You must be sufficiently moved to even want to concentrate. What is often perceived as a deficit of attention, often to the point of being labeled as a disorder (“Attention Deficit Disorder” or ADD) is often a problem not with the person labeled, but with the setting where s/he is symptomatic. If the subject matter or its delivery is not compelling, why would anyone want to pay attention? And if you are forced to sit in a room for hours and pay attention, how could you possibly sustain your attention? And since being forced to do so can be quite uncomfortable, you might expect some push back. In school, this usually means being reprimanded by the teacher; if the behavior persists, you then become the “problem child.” At the same time, we don’t want to disregard the other possible reasons for struggling with concentration, including information-overload, fatigue, illness, trauma, and the adverse effects of medication.

Concentration is a challenge for us all. Allāh ﷻ created us this way. If you were created to function perfectly, you wouldn’t have anything to learn. In order to concentrate in the performance of acts of devotion, there must again be some motivating factor. If your heart is not engaged, then you can’t expect much success in any attempt to cultivate mindfulness of Allāh ﷻ.

In no relationship in life—whether with people or pets—would a lack of attentiveness and listening pass for very long without criticism or comment. And yet, Allāh ﷻ, in His Infinite Mercy ﷻ, gives us incredible latitude to be oblivious, careless, or ungrateful in our relationship with Him ﷻ, though only He ﷻ is the most deserving of our attention. How many, however, do anything more than go through the motions of the sacred rituals? How many turn their hearts toward their Lord ﷻ in love, and not merely when they want something, even paradise? Allāh ﷻ says in the Holy Qur’ān, “Woe unto those who pray and are unmindful of their prayers.” At the end of the day, we are the ones missing out.

There is much that we can do to remedy the situation, though it all boils down to opening one’s heart to Allāh ﷻ. In any case, I offer some practical tips for your consideration.

First, don’t expect too much of yourself if you are exhausted or emotionally unsettled. Rest, good nutrition, effective stress-management, and fine-tuning the body with exercise all go a long way in creating the right conditions for a rich spiritual practice. Minimize distractions—turn off or leave behind your technology; do your practice in a quiet and pleasant room; and close doors, as needed. Next, perform your ablution (wuḍūʾ); this is a very powerful way to focus your presence in the here and now. Set a clear intention to leave your life in the world behind to return home to be with your Friend ﷻ. Make a commitment to bring all of your presence and attention into your devotions.

When you begin your devotions, use smooth, rhythmic breathing to relax and harmonize your body. Allow your body to be still so that fidgeting is minimized. As you recite (prayers, supplications, etc.), allow the meanings of what you are saying to register consciously. If you are reciting in Arabic and do not know the language well enough to know everything that is being said, listen for the few words you do know and allow the essence of what you are reciting to penetrate your being. Find a balance between attention to the details and conscious inattention, so that you are aware but relaxed. Cultivate the habit of being fully present to what you are doing. Notice when your mind wanders, and gently return your attention to the present without reproaching yourself—you are human, after all. Finally and most importantly, when you are sitting quietly (and not reciting or doing anything else), feel the Divine Presence ﷻ and listen attentively with your entire being, so that He ﷻ is ultimately the object of your attention. And Allāh ﷻ knows best.


© Ḥakīm Ilyās Kāshānī