This bit of wisdom is from a friend of mine, Afshin. At a gathering she hosted a few years ago, at some point during a conversation during the evening, she mentioned something that I picked up instantly as advice for Salah.
She shared that she goes through the surahs she intends to recite before each prayer, and that it helps her ensure the quality of her memorization.
Reciting surahs in your salah that you’re trying to memorize is an excellent way of practicing them. Aside from that obvious benefit though, this advice is profound for another reason.
The more effort that goes into planning something, the better it turns out. By even just selecting the surahs we intend to recite after al-Fatiha and then reviewing them briefly before a prayer, we signify to ourselves that this is an act that we take time for, prepare for, and regard as extremely important. It requires thought and intention. This small act of preparation relieves us of our prayer becoming passive and solely habitual.
Additionally it’s also helpful to just sit quietly in place for a minute or two. Our lives today are so busy and frantic that we run the risk of zipping through our prayers the same way. There is such an overload of information and responsibilities that concentrating is becoming increasingly difficult. My photography instructor in first year made a comment about salah during a critique one day. My friend had done her final project on my lifestyle on campus as a Muslim student. One of her photographs captured me from the back in front of the bathroom mirror, about to take off my scarf to make wudu. At this the instructor finally understood what I had been doing all those times over the bathroom sink. She admiringly praised the practice of leaving everything in our daily routine several times a day to turn away from the world and pay attention to God. I myself had never thought of it like that until then.
She was right. It’s a really grand act—prayer has meaning and intention to it, and we must be conscious during it. A few minutes to review a surah or to sit and ease our minds can help tremendously in engaging us better when we start our salah.