Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Attention in solah

A very good way to learn something new is by teaching something you already knew. From personal experience, this new knowledge or awareness can be obtained either by design of by accident. When teaching the topic of attention in Cognitive Psychology class, I’ve learned something about khusyu’ in solah.
When asked to explain attention as it applied in solah, many students tend to say that solah requires selective attention. This type of attention requires the person performing solah to attend to some information or event and filter out other irrelevant stimuli. This rather simplistic view of attention may be derived from the common understanding that khusyuk involves paying full attention to the acts involved in performing solah: understanding the recitations and looking at the sujud spot, for example. It could also mean the students are not fully appreciative of the other type of attention: divided attention.
At first, it might be counter intuitive to say that we have to divide our attention when performing solah. However, we need to understand that divided attention refers to the act of switching attention between two or more tasks or stimuli. This does not mean that we switch back and forth between solah and irrelevant tasks. It should be taken to mean there are more than one tasks or events that occur during solah.
Consider a solah in jamaah. The makmum has to pay attention to their personal physical performance of all the rukun of solah. At the same time, they have also to pay attention to the voice of the imam. If attention is not divided between intrapersonal and extrapersonal events, then the makmum would not be able to follow the imam. Being able to direct attention to intrapersonal event is called endogenous attention. When we perform the takbiratul ihram, we direct our attention to making the niyyah. Before we can begin to recite surat al-Fatihah, we have to subject ourselves to exogenous attention whereby external stimuli (e.g. the voice of the imam) act as a signal for us to pay attention back to our personal action.
If we reflect on what we actually do during solah, we may come to the conclusion that solah is a complex ibadah that involves behavioural, cognitive and affective components. It is no wonder that we have to use a lot of cognitive resources to perform the solah. We can consider solah as a task with high cognitive load. When we use our cognitive resources fully, then we will not have spare capacities for irrelevant tasks like doing a maintenance rehearsal on the formula for standard deviation. May Allah make it easy for us to maintain sufficient level of attention when communicating with Him.

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