According to the most correct view, khushu is obligatory. Allah tells us:
“And seek help in patience and prayer and truly it is extremely heavy and hard except for al-khashi’un.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:45)
Shaikh al-Islam ibn Taymiyah, may Allah have mercy on him, said that this implies condemnation of those who are not khashi’un.
Condemnation only applies when something obligatory is not done, or when something forbidden is done. If those who do not have khushu are to be condemned, this indicates that khushu is obigatory.
The fact that khushu is obligatory is also indicated by the ayat:
“Successful indeed are the believers, those who offer their prayers with all solemnity and full submissiveness.” (Surah al-Muminun 23:1-2)
“These are indeed the inheritors, who shall inherit the Paradise. They shall dwell therein forever.” (Surah al-Muminun 23:10-11)
Allah, may he be glorified and exalted, tells us that these are the ones who will inherit Firdaws, the highest part of Paradise, which implies that no-one else will do so.
Khushu is obligatory in prayer, and this includes calmness and khushu. Whoever pecks like a crow in sujud (prostration) does not have khushu, and whoever does not raise their head fully from ruku (bowing) and pause for a while before going down into sujud is not calm, because calmness implies doing this at a measured pace, so the person who does not do things at a measured pace is not calm.
Another indication that khushu in prayer is obligatory is the fact that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, warned those who do not have khushu such as the one who lifts their gaze up to the sky (in prayer), because this movement and raising of the gaze goes against the idea of khushu.
Concerning the virtues of khushu and as a warning to the one who neglects it, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said:
“Five prayers which Allah had made obligatory. Whoever performs wudu properly for them, prays them on time, performs ruku properly and has perfect khushu, it is a promise from Allah that he will be forgiven, but whoever does not do this, has no such promise – if Allah wishes, He will forgive him, and if He wishes, He will punish him.” (Recorded in Abu Dawud)
Concerning the virtues of khushu, the Prophet, peace be upon him, also said:
“Whoever performs wudu and does it well, then prays two rakahs focusing on them completely, will be forgiven all his previous sins” and in another naration, “…will be guaranteed Paradise.” (Recorded in al-Bukhari)
When we look at the things that help us to have khushu in prayer, we find that they may be divided into two types: things that help you to have and to strengthen khushu, and warding off the things that reduce and weaken khushu.
Shaikh al-Islam ibn Taymiyah, may Allah have mercy on him, explained that the things that help us to have khushu are a strong desire to do what is obligatory, and a weakness of distractions. With regard to the first, the strong desire to do what is obligatory means that a person strives hard to focus on what they are saying or doing, pondering on the meanings of the Qur’an recitation, dhikr and dua’s, and keeping in mind the fact that one is speaking to Allah as if one sees Him, for when one is standing in prayer, they are talking to their Lord.
Ihsaan means ‘that you worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you cannot see Him, surely he can see you.’ The more the slave tastes the sweetness of salah, the more attracted they will be to it, and this has to do with the strength of imaan. This is why the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, used to say:
“Made beloved to me from your world are women and perfume, and the coolness of my eyes is in the prayer.” (Recorded in Ahmad)
Prayer was something beloved to the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, not something that had to be done and gotten over with.
With regard to the second category, weakness of distractions, we find that this entails striving to push away all distractions that make you think of something other than the prayer itself. This means warding off thoughts that keep your mind off the purpose of prayer. This is something which differs from one person to another, because the extent of waswas has to do with the extent of one’s doubts and desires and the heart’s focus and dependence on what it loves, and its efforts to avoid what it dislikes.
On the basis of this division, the following posts will discuss some of the means of developing khushu, inshaAllah.