Training Yourself to Wake Up in the Early Morning & Fajr Prayer

Last June, Muslim Matters asked the following poll question: Did you pray fajr this morning? More than 600 people responded, with more than one-third saying they did not.

Truly from the blessings of Allah is that before I became Muslim, several experiences in my childhood served as such beautiful and potent early morning wakeup training. Unbeknowst to me at the time, these habits cultivated early in life would later be utilized for waking up for fajr prayer. Thus, within Islam, I’ve not found much difficulty waking up for the early morning prayer,masha’Allah tabarak’Allah.

Hot chocolate in my pink bunny rabbit bottle

Among my earliest memories of life in upstate New York was of my father grading his students’ exam essay blue books in the early morning hours. My dad would wake up around 2 or 3am to resume the monumental task of grading stacks and stacks of blue books. He would warm up hot water in the kettle on the stove and I would wake up with the whistling of the kettle. Even then, I was somewhat of a light sleeper, I would wake up, crawl out of bed in my footsie pajamas and go join him in the kitchen. While he made himself some tea or coffee, he would make me some hot chocolate and pour it into my beloved pink bunny rabbit bottle. I can’t remember how old I was but I clearly younger than four as I had not yet started kindergarten. I would drink my bottle of hot chocolate and then wander back to my room to sleep until morning.

Find a job that requires you to rise early

Growing up, my siblings and I shared a paper route. I was the youngest and joined my siblings in delivering newspapers when I was 8 or 9 years old in the third grade and continued for another five years until I found a more lucrative and less taxing babysitting job just before high school. Our father would wake us up at 4:30am or earlier every single day, 365 days a year, in winter and summer, spring and fall, during the school year, in any weather no matter how adverse, through snow, blizzards, and rain the newspapers had to be delivered. When all four of us kids worked the route, we had one rest day off every third day but soon it was just my sister Chika and I and so we worked the route daily without breaks except for the occasional summer or winter vacation.

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Even after I stopped working the paper route, I often still continued to wake up at 3:30-4:30am to listen to international news on the BBC or Deutsche Welle (DW) or a French broadcast on the local public radio station. I think we find it easy to wake up for worldly matters from work to early morning flights to watching international sporting events because we attach an immediate tangible benefit to that task. Earning money, the thrill of competition, and with airplane flights the pain, hassle, and cost of missing a flight helps ensure we do our best to make the flight on time. For me, the salah is a retreat, precious moments of peace and calming tranquility amidst the storms and stress of daily life. And I fully believe that matters are made easier for me by virtue of the salah and other acts of worship.

Increase in the Fear of Allah

I mentioned this story, a couple weeks ago, here. I remember once shortly after I converted, I stayed up quite late into the night, which was not at all unusual, filled with that new convert zeal and engrossed in reading and learning about my newfound religion. Either I forgot to set my alarm or did not hear it, and I woke up for the first time in a state of complete fear and panic in brightness of the morning. I quickly rushed to make my ablutions so that I could offer my fajr prayer. I prayed hurriedly and then checked the time and to my amazement saw that I had not missed the salah and was still within the timing before sunrise. But I did not feel relieved. I had cried while making my ablutions and while praying and even after I completed the prayer fearful of the consequences of missing a single salah in Islam. Such innocence and hopefully sincerity, one can only look back in silent wonder at that time period so eager, earnest, and blissfully unaware of what lay in store on this journey of submission.

At that time, I remembered a hadith where the companions had overslept for a prayer and they looked upward toward the heavens fearful that destruction might rain down upon them for this singular act of disobedience and I too fearfully looked upward. Thankfully, Allah is Most Merciful and I didn’t miss that salah and Allah has made it easy for me to guard the prayer since then,masha’Allah tabarak’Allah. May we be from amongst those who guard the salah in our lives. Ameen.

Driving or Walking to Fajr in a Mosque

I did not learn to drive until after I became Muslim and among the chief motivating factors pushing me to learn was my desire to attend the mosque for prayer because where I lived, public transportation would not be able to get me to the mosques in the area, especially not for fajr or isha prayer. Soon after I purchased my first car, I think the very next day, I woke up early, googled the directions and was off to begin visiting various mosques for fajr prayer. I loved those quiet early morning drives and loved the feeling of praying in congregation in the mosque listening attentively to the imam recite verses from the Quran. Sometimes, usually on the weekend there would be a short lecture after the salah and soon it became my habit to frequently pray in the mosque especially for fajr and isha prayers.

Even happier was the year I lived within walking distance to a mosque. I would walk in the dark to the salah, often I was the only woman there but occasionally I met some other sisters who would become my dear and expected fajr companions. Now, I still live relatively close to a mosque but it’s become like a man-cave not very welcoming to sisters and so I miss those feelings of praying in congregation. One of the beautiful things about making a commitment to pray in the mosque is that it requires you to organize your day in such a way that you must plan to leave with enough time to reach the mosque before the salah so that you neither delay nor miss the prayer.

Once when I prayed fajr at the Prince George’s Muslim Association (PGMA) in Lanham, Maryland, I was the only woman in the pink musalla, the men were in a separate musalla, and I heard a loud crashing noise. A piece of the ceiling had come down due to heavy rains over the previous few days. I thought about the khushu (humilty and concentration) mentioned concerning some Muslims from the early generations, who would not be distracted from their prayer even as they were afflicted by some harm or the building began to collapse around them. May we increase in our khushu. After the salah, I ventured into the no-woman’s land of the main prayer hall to let someone know about the situation. (pictures of the ceiling tile here)

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48 responses to “Training Yourself to Wake Up in the Early Morning & Fajr Prayer”

    • Muslima says:

      Thank you, Sister, for such useful advice. May Allah reward you and your loved ones. Assalaam alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.

  1. Abdullah Osman says:

    Good tips and interesting article. Insha Allah we can all benefit from it.

  2. Farheen says:

    A wonderful article.
    May Allah make all of us develop Taqwa. Aameen
    Jazakallah for this post.

  3. Haleh says:

    Assalamo alaikom Sister Ify,
    Masha’Allah I enjoyed your article! You motivated us to get our kids to be active in the mornings. It’s one thing to wake them up for fajr, but a totally different experience if they actually have responsibilities and activities.

    I have found that the majority of Muslims struggle with fajr prayers so it is important to cultivate good habits from early on.

    Jazakillah khair!
    Haleh

    • Ify Okoye says:

      Wa salaam alaykum Haleh,

      Alhamdulillah for my parents, as my dad woke us up and drove us around each day to deliver the newspapers. He also managed our money by putting most of it into our own bank accounts and giving us a small allowance from our earnings. The overall experience was fun and inculcated many lifelong lessons about responsibility, integrity, commitment, and so on. I remember I had wanted to join my older siblings in working the route earlier but had to wait until I got older and proved I could be responsible by getting up each day

  4. forever a student of Islam says:

    MashaAllah ukhti, in all honesty your determination and devotion to not miss a single Fajr prayer is amazing. May we all learn to be like that. And especially may we all get that feeling of fear you were talking about subhanAllah. Nowadays, people can miss prayers or delay it and not feel remorse nor regret. we need to change that inshaAllah. Good job ukhti, I am very proud of your small yet extremely significant act every single morning. May you continue to be an inspiration to others.

  5. nayma says:

    JAK for your encouragement to wake up in the early hours. I really did like PGMA’s community when I visited last year.

    • Ify Okoye says:

      Wa iyyaki, I no longer live as close to PGMA as I once did and don’t frequent it as much either but that used to be my main masjid. Preferred the old setup where for the daily salah, we prayed in the same room, made me feel more connected to the congregation. But I’ve always enjoyed the mix of people who come for the daily salah.

  6. Hena Zuberi says:

    MashaAllah Ify- i love it when people share such personal stories about their lives. You don’t take your deen for granted and that is so inspiring for me. I have insomnia and that is why I am up at this time reading but I am going to go to sleep so I can be fresh for fajr.

    My fajr struggle from last year

    • Ify Okoye says:

      I’ll check out that link, insha’Allah. Always a bit strange to share personal stories so publicly, makes me feel shy and hesitant to publish but hoping there is some benefit for those who read my words. May we not take our deen for granted.

      Alhamdulillah, I think in so many ways it’s a blessing that I came into Islam when I did. I grew up and was raised Christian in the same way I think many Muslims grow up experiencing religion more as part of our cultural inheritance than a conscious choice.

  7. Me says:

    Jazaki Allahu khairan. Really nice motivation, mashaAllah.

  8. Tariq Ahmed says:

    as salamu alaykum, Sister Ify. MashaAllah, a very beneficial and enjoyable article. I am glad I had prayed Fajr before reading it, alhamdolillah.

  9. Sara says:

    Assalaam Alaikum,

    That was truly a beautiful piece sister Ify, MashaAllah. I especially loved reading of how aware you were, following your conversion, that missing any prayer is indeed a grave sin that we must not take lightly. The fear in displeasing Allah, Most Merciful, should always remain at the forefront in our hearts, just as it was in the hearts of the companions of the Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). I can honestly say, Alhumdulillah & MashaAllah, after having made it a consistent part of my routine that I absolutely love waking up in the early mornings, and staying up after Fajr. The day goes by so much more productively!

    Once again, JazakAllah khair for the eloquent reminder.

    • Ify Okoye says:

      Wa salaam alaykum Sara,

      Wa iyyaki. I remember one of things holding me back from accepting Islam was the fear of sin, of not being a “perfect” Muslim. Alhamdulillah, the Mormons helped me get over that fear so that I could take the leap of faith into Islam but that’s another story. I agree waking up in the morning is a light and happiness in my life and hearing or seeing others not wakeup is painful for me. May Allah make it easy for all of us. Ameen.

  10. Shiraz Mahkri says:

    Jazak, simple and pleasant article.

  11. abu Abdullah says:

    Alhamdulillah, Allah gave us the Fajr and the blessings in time that follows it in the morning.
    Jazaki Allah khayr.

  12. Leo says:

    One thing I’ve noticed it doesn’t matter how much/little ive slept but I always feel sluggish for the rest of the day if I’ve missed fajr.
    Conversely doesn’t matter how little I’ve slept I always feel clear-headed when I’ve prayed fajr.

    • Mirza Shahebaz Baig says:

      So true, subahan Allah, for this great blessing. Neo, you may try this. No matter when you sleep, wake up at the same time everyday. Insh Allah your body will adapt. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. Also try being smart in afternoon siesta, if you prefer. Also if you could, sleep in chunks of time multiple of 90 minutes. (like 4 X 90 minutes as in six hours and so on).

      Frequent prayer times changes in North America does change your habits though, as we are not living in Equator ( Malaysia etc ) to have fixed time for prayer throughout the year.

      There is no denying the blessing Allaah has put in the morning, let us embellish it with some warm Qur’an (before/after warm coffee/ tea, if you may).

      wallahu ‘Alam.

      • Ify Okoye says:

        I remember hearing a statement of a scholar, maybe Ibn al-Qayyim, that for those who are regular in praying, if they are asleep and the time for salah is about to expire, Allah will send an angel to wake them up or push them out of bed so that they don’t miss the prayer. And I feel that, so many times I’ve not set an alarm (although I tend to wake up naturally before the alarm goes off) or haven’t heard my alarm or am just really tired but alhamdulillah still somehow manage to get up purely from the grace of Allah.

        If I go to sleep very late, when saying my dhikr I ask Allah to help me wake up for fajr.

    • Bilal says:

      Brother I feel exactly the same way!!

  13. Mirza Shahebaz Baig says:

    @ author. Why did if I comment using some other name you let my comment stay? and you delete an entirely non offensive, on the topic comment to be deleted.

    • Ify Okoye says:

      I’ve been away for much of the day and didn’t delete any of your comments. Comments get caught in our automatic moderation filters for any number of reasons, which then require manual approval, which is what happened to your comments.

  14. Ify Okoye says:

    Thank you friends for reading and for your generous comments. Please also feel free to share your tips for waking up so we can all benefit, insha’Allah.

  15. Ibn Nazim says:

    A.S

    Always enjoy reading your writing :)

    Jazakullah khair

  16. Umm Ibraheem says:

    Alhamdulillah, living in the middle east, getting up for fajr is not a problem as our day begins at that time anyway, sometimes awakening even before fajr adhaan (in winter months).

    But what is a big problem is getting enough sleep! I wanted to know what time do you early risers go to sleep, and how many hours do you sleep most nights?

    I cannot retire to bed before midnight, as there is so much to do, and most nights it is 1am before I fall asleep. My alarm goes off at 5.30am, as we have to leave the house for 7am for kids school etc. After kids have gone to school I attend Quran school and Arabic classes till 12pm, so I do not have an option of going back to bed after kids have gone to school (as many of the women do here).

    Throughout the day I am struggling with tiredness. There is not much option to sleep during the day, and when I do fall asleep I cannot wake up and end up sleeping 2 to 3 hours, with the kids being neglected. So I really avoid sleeping during the day, even though it’s a sunnah, because I just abuse the daytime nap.

    So I would really like some practical tips on how to function on minimal sleep, how much do we really need, can we survive on just a few hours.

    Thanks

    Umm ibraheem

    • Ify Okoye says:

      I think sleep is highly variable. I generally sleep quite late and now balancing my current routine of work, school, and other activities it’s not unusual for me to sleep less than 2-4 hours a day several days a week. If I go to sleep less than 2 hours before fajr, I make sure to set three alarms on my cell phone because I’m liable not to hear the first one or two. Hard to say what’s normal because I don’t really track it but probably between 4-6, often less, sometimes more.

      But don’t get me wrong I enjoy and require sleep like everyone else. And I might crash after my 20 hour day running around but even then tend to wake up after 5-6 hours, will stay up for 2-3 more, and sleep an hour or two before fajr. I also don’t keep my room exceedingly dark with black-out type curtains because I like to wake naturally with the increase of daylight.

      Fatigue definitely impacts my alertness, started falling asleep during an exam last week after a marathon weekend where I slept probably less than a total of 4 hours non-consecutively. The research into sleep is fascinating and I’ve spent some time poring over studies. It’s hard to know any one person’s situation but I view the “I need 8 hours each night” with skepticism maybe because my own experience is different but also there’s research to show we can do with fewer hours or fewer consecutive hours sometimes meaning more naptime. For parents, it’s tough, may Allah make it easy for you. I’ve had the opportunity to have some parenting experience and my sleep pattern was certainly disturbed. Nancy Pelosi has a good quote about raising her five children and that she used her free time during those years to sleep or something like that.

      I remember in kindergarten, I was like the only kid who actually slept during naptime to give my mind a break because the whole experience was quite overwhelming for me in the beginning.

  17. Umm Ibraheem says:

    Also, forgot to say, the adhaan here is so loud MashaAllah coming simultaneously from the local mosques, that you have no choice but to wake for fajr. However, whether you choose to get up for prayer is an entirely different matter!

  18. Tariq Ahmed says:

    Another piece of advice from the Sunnah of the Prophet sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam: use a bed that is comfortable enough to let you sleep, not one that is so comfortable it makes you sleepy.

    Bi’idhnillah someone will gain the ajr of posting the complete text of the hadith here (or has already done so), but basically one of the wives of the Prophet sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam out of genuine love for him made up his bed one night with extra padding. He slept well, but when he woke he asked her what she had done since he did not wake up as he normally did. And he asked her always to use the lesser amount of padding.

    Alhamdolillah, I think of that hadith often, and I have always noticed this whenever I have slept on the floor, whether in a masjid or just on the carpet at home, anywhere: if I am just comfortable enough to fall asleep, then I wake most easily and have the least difficulty rising for prayer.

    May Allah grant us all the sweetness of salat, in the best part of the night, of fajr, and of every time the raakieen and saajideen do their thing.

    • Cartoon Muhammad says:

      yea I’ve noticed that too. When I go too sleep too late and worry about missing fajr, I sleep on the floor, because the bed has a way of tempting you to go back to sleep lol.

    • Student Of Knowledge says:

      but basically one of the wives of the Prophet sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam out of genuine love for him made up his bed one night with extra padding. He slept well, but when he woke he asked her what she had done since he did not wake up as he normally did. And he asked her always to use the lesser amount of padding.

      I’m sorry to disappoint you brother but this hadith is not authentic.

  19. umm_ismael says:

    Aoa wr wb,
    How does one deal with children who take their mothers feed. I have an eight month old who keeps waking up after every 2 – 3 hours to be fed. I have to be up early for my 3 and a half year old to goto school. I cannot sleep after that since thats the time that all the work gets done cooking etc) I cannot sleep during the day since my children don’t and who else to look after them. My husband has an afternoon shift so hes not back till 12 and this means I sleep around 1 or 1 :30. Any suggestions to ensure I never miss fajr?
    aoa

  20. Great article by the great Ify Okoye! JazakAllah Khair!

    Besides going to sleep early, the best thing to help you wake up for fajr is having some kind of motivation. Like Sis Ify wrote, increasing fear of Allah and having an early job or class helps a lot.

    I’ve been wanting to become an early fajr bird for a while now, but its so hard to find the right motivation to get up and go to the masjid when i’m so sleepy =[. InshAllah gotta keep trying.

  21. Ameera Khan says:

    A very, very enjoyable and motivational piece, Ify! Jazaakillah khayr! And reading the comments, plus your responses, was educational in itself. :)

    I’ve gone through all the same issues with waking up for Fajr that everyone else here has, I guess. And I definitely agree with the title of your post – it’s about “training” yourself and not just expecting for a miracle to drop into your lap, making you the perfect early riser without having put any effort into attaining it.

  22. Mike Ilyas says:

    Asalamu Wa alaikum sister Okoye, Subhan ‘Allah I just got scolded for mssing my Fajr on a constant basis,and truly my problem is fearing Allah. How can I increase my fear

    • Ify says:

      Wa alaykum salaam Mike, I think we’re all working on trying to increase our God-consciousness. I find reading the Quran and really trying to understand it and relate the verses to my own life increases taqwa. In addition, learning about the religion and focusing on improving an aspect of my religious practice day by day helps me. It may be different for each person.

  23. Willy eater says:

    Asalamu Wa alaikum sister Okoye, why do you use the interesting gravatar profile image?

  24. sireesha says:

    im a female train me to pray Allah whole heartedly becoz i love allah and muslim tradition and muslim friends.Tell me a good prayer

  25. Manzoor says:

    Thanks! Very helpful ;).

  26. Fatima Basra says:

    Dear sis Ify,
    Assalam-u-Alaikum! i really enjoyed your article and it helped me a lot to try to get up earlier than usual and also to view this habit positively.I was able to extract many benefits of getting up early from your article. JazakAllah for sharing it at such a public site. 

  27. Asad says:

    this really works,you feel spiritually elevated and no matter how tiring your day is ,you somehow feel you need to make more ibadaat and you do! Your day is only productive when all your salaah is read,quraan recited and if you can nafl ibadaat…nothing else matters…

  28. Muhammad Ali says:

    A very good article , may Allah reward you for this useful knowledge. Thanks for sharing. It’s all about our mindset. No excuses for not wake up for Fajr prayer.

  29. Meer says:

    jazakAllah thankyou for this great article .

  30. zeesol says:

    Very nice article. God bless you!

  31. Nice and helpful article
    Thanks for top quality content

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