Answered by Sayyidi Habib Umar bin Hafiz (may Allah protect him and benefit us by him)
How can we increase in presence of heart in our prayer?
You do this by having strong resolve and determination to attain presence and by consistently striving to attain it. Consistently trying and striving is a means of attaining Allah’s mercy, gifts, and compassion. So carry on struggling and do not despair and do not give up.
Attempt to perfect your transaction with Allah first of all by being focused when you purify yourself before prayer (when making wudu or ghusl). Try to empty your heart of anything other than Allah and remove from your place of prayer anything that might distract you. Before entering the prayer you should seek refuge from the Devil by reciting Surat al-Nas and the following Prophetic supplication:
أَعُوذُ بِاللهِ العَظِيمِ وبِوَجْهِهِ الكَريمِ وبِسُلْطَانِهِ القَديمِ مِن الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ
A`udhu billahi-l`Azim wa biwajhihi-l’karim wa bi sultnihi-l-qadim min ashaytan-irrajim
‘I seek refuge in Allah the Almighty, in His noble countenance and in His eternal power from the accursed Devil.’
You should focus upon the action you are performing and the words that you are saying while you are doing so. Whenever your mind wanders, force it back to focus on those words and actions. Be conscious of the fact that you are following the Prophet ﷺ in everything you are doing. Seek to increase your realisation of Allah’s greatness and His awareness of you. If you are persistent in this and you strive to attain presence, Allah will bless you with it.
Translator’s Note – Habib Ahmad bin Zayn al-Habashi said that if someone is unable to find presence in their prayer, they should witness their weakness and inability to do so while in the prayer. He said: “Perhaps witnessing this weakness is more beneficial than actually being present, and witnessing this weakness is in fact being present with Allah.”
The Prophet ﷺ said: “This religion is firm so enter into it gently.” How does this apply to seeking to attain presence in the prayer?
What is meant is that we should not take on actions which we are not able to perform. However, we must expend all our efforts in attaining presence in our prayer and we must be consistent in doing so. It is normal at the beginning of the path for presence to come and go, and we cannot attain presence without exerting effort. To attain this presence we need to make ourselves aware of Allah’s greatness and understand the meaning of what we are reciting in the prayer.