November 28, 2020
The Places You’ll Pray

The Places You’ll Pray

Where there are Muslims, there is a place to pray. We Muslims have a hadith “The (whole) earth has been made a Masjid for you, so where ever you are at the time of prayer, pray there.” We tend to take this quite literally.

Stalking the wild prayer spot is definitely an adventure in keeping sunnah.

 

Allahu Akbar!
It’s that time of day.
You’re off to Great Places!
It’s time to go pray.
You have a scarf on your head.
You have wet feet in your shoes.
The qibla app will steer you any direction it should choose.
You’re on your own. And the sun’s getting low. And
YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.

You’ll look up and down streets. Look’em over with care.
About some you will say, “Dare me to pray there?”
With your ears full of azan and shoes full of wet feet.
You’re ready to bow down at any corner or street.

Aneeka Malik knows all about getting a little creative when in a time crunch: “During the five years I lived in Pakistan, my family and I did not have much trouble finding places to pray. We found a masjid made out of salt while exploring Khewra Salt Mines in Pakistan’s Kohistan-e-Namak (Salt Range Mountains). Another time while in Swat Valley, we prayed on top of a boulder in the middle of a stream, beneath a waterfall.

However, living in a country where there are not mosques at every corner, forces one to become even more creative in terms of prayer spaces. One place stands out from my middle-school days, in Frederick, Maryland. Before our community raised enough money through fundraisers and bake sales to buy a masjid for the Islamic Society of Frederick, we prayed Jummah at the Hampton Inn’s Ballroom. The manager of the Hotel forgot to tell us one Friday afternoon that the ballroom would be closed for renovation. In its place he offered us the dance floor of the bar on the first floor. At the time, we did not find it very odd seeing as we had previously been praying in a ballroom. We simply prayed underneath a disco ball, on a dance floor, next to a bar with those little spray thingies that shoot out what I knew back then as haram liquid. But hey, a Muslim’s got to do what a Muslim’s got to do. It was Jummah and we needed a big space and quick. So, we checked our intentions and got down on the dance floor… in prostration, I mean.”

Here or there?
Would you like to pray?
On a roof
Or in a cave
Or in a theater during a play?

“I was watching the play ‘Assassins’ when the time for Maghrib rolled by and the pull of anxiety to pray on time got me out of my seat,” says Saima Akbar “I awkwardly pushed out of my row and looked for a place to pray in the dark theater. I found a small space beside the exit at the top of stairs, and started praying amidst the sounds of the play. I’d managed to tune out the sounds until one of the actors shot a gun, effectively removing me from my skin. I don’t even know how I managed to concentrate after that but luckily I did, since right after I finished and moved, one of the actors popped out of the exit and a spot light shone on the area I occupied just a minute earlier. That probably wasn’t the best place to pray.”

Oh! The Places You’ll Pray!

Abdul Rahman Latif is quite the experimenter: “One of my favorite places to pray is the campus quad. It’s convenient to stop there between classes, the grass is soft so it’s easy to put my forehead to the ground, and I like to feel the wind. When I hear the birds chirp, it’s almost as if they are praying with me. When the time for prayer is running short, I typically drop down wherever I am, i.e. in less convenient spots. Notable locations include a small mountain in the middle of the desert, on the highway, several stair wells, nearby many trash cans, sidewalks, subway stations, airplanes, outside a NASCAR-style race at the NC State Fair, and- just once- an elevator (this one was less about running out of time and more doing it for the heck of it). Occasionally I get to pray in an actual mosque. Prayer makes me remove myself from worldly concerns and re-orient myself towards the divine. It provides me regimen of meditation. The many backgrounds remind me that divinity is truly everywhere.”

And when people start looking, don’t worry. Don’t
stop. Just go right along. So what if they call the cops?

Hamzah Karimi can attest to the communal nature of salah: “My roommate and I were driving back home from our University. It was late, and we realized we hadn’t prayed Maghrib yet, and on top of that my roommate wanted to get some food. So we quickly took the next exit into a rural town and pulled into the nearest McDonalds. Since it was dark and raining outside, we didn’t want to pray in the parking lot, so instead we went inside to look. Immediately we noticed a small semi-closed off lounge area in a corner of the restaurant, and no one was using it. We ordered our food and, after asking an employee’s permission, we quickly prayed Maghrib.

After our prayer, a guy approached us as we were leaving. He began by asking us why we chose to pray in the restaurant, complaining that it made everyone uncomfortable when they saw us. The conversation started with our right to pray where we had permission, and soon led into the other guy’s view of Islam. While we were trying to explain the truth about Islam to him, and eliminate any false ideas he had, we realized that he and my roommate had a mutual friend whom my roommate had met while studying abroad. After learning this he was much friendlier towards us, and we left each other on good terms. What had been a potentially risky move turned out well for us thanks to an unexpected coincidence.”

You’ll come to a place where the qibla is not
marked. A fitting room spotted. Oh, great! No hijab.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and
chin! Do you take another route? Do you dare to go in?
Okay, fine Charlotte Russe. Let me grab a dress and hair pin.

Sana Imam has tips on how to improvise: “My family and I were making our usual bored-on-a-Saturday-afternoon visit to the mall one winter, when the time for Maghrib came quickly, as it does during those short December days. My sister and I were browsing through some shoes at Macy’s when it came time for our usual how-to-pray-at-the-mall dilemma. When it was time to pray, my dad would simply ask one of the employees politely and score a super fancy fitting room at Nordstrom, large and fully equipped enough to hold a whole congregation and maybe even a nice dinner for afterwards. My sister and I weren’t as bold. Sometimes, at the mention of “prayer,” we could see images of candle-lit rituals and animal sacrifice go through the person’s head – though that was the fault of our over active imaginations, not theirs. Luckily, the fitting rooms at Macy’s were open for anyone and mostly empty. We thought it would be easy to find a nice Pashmina scarf to “try on” since it was winter, but surprisingly couldn’t find any. As an alternative, we grabbed some maxi dresses and went to the largest fitting room. My sister also grabbed a skirt to wear as a poncho and cover her short sleeves. The maxi dresses felt awkward and large on our heads and we looked ridiculous, but there was something satisfying about the price tags hitting our foreheads as we placed our head on the cold, slightly dusty tiled floor as slow Christmas carols played above. Going through a little struggle to pray made it all the more worth it.”

And if you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite? Or go around
back and sneak in from behind? Simple it’s not, I’m
afraid you will find, for a mind-maker-upper to make up
his mind.

No! That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll escape all the weird looks.
You’ll find the strange places where Boom Bands are
playing and confederate flags are flapping, once more you’ll step
forward – shoulder to shoulder. Forget about those hoodlums.
Be that kind of Muslim.

Hamid Ali found that peace of mind can be achieved anywhere: “Dusk was approaching. So was a sign: “REST AREA 3 MILES.” A unanimous decision was made to pull over and get something to eat. We took shifts going to the restroom and staying with the car. I was the last to go. My brother had returned, but my father was still in the restroom. I saw a big pickup truck with a confederate flag plastered on the bumper, the apparent rebel soldier leaning against it. We make bitter eye contact. I kept walking. I get to the bathroom and my father had one arm in the sink, the other dripping wet (up to the elbow, of course), all while another man used the urinal. Here we go again. It never got easier. I left the restroom after my father, now my arms were dripping wet. I saw my father laying the windshield sun shade on the grass…right in front of the Rebel Truck. I tensed and walked over. We began to pray. I could feel everything; the eyes of the rest area patrons; even the bugs and grass trapped under the sun shade. Just as the sounds of 70 mile-per-hour cars filled my head something happened. Peace. Peace, only second to the peace I had found in my Prophet’s masjid. The Rest Stop Masjid. Let them watch. Let them learn.”

Kids, you’ll follow the sun
So…be your name Saima or Aneeka or Hamza or
Hamid or Sana or Abdul Rahman Latif, you’re off to Great Places!

But…

It’s time to pray!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

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