The Places We Pray

Sometimes I pray in our home prayer room. 

It is a place of colorful prayer rugs each with a history known only to our family, including ones that belong to family members who have passed on and whose rugs give us a reminder to make du`aa for them and also a reminder that we, too, will join their ranks. Every prayer could be our last.

There are prayer scarves in drawers,but also draped over chairs, dropped on floors… and I don’t care because their presence here and there tells me that someone has been praying. There is calligraphy on the walls, there are beadsin a bowl, and a spiral-bound Qur’an on a stand.

This space is our declaration that prayer is important in this home. It is where we hear each other recite the Qur’anand shake each other’s hands when we are finished. It constantly calls us to remembrance andgoodness and peace.

Sometimes I pray in my bedroom prayer space.

It is a dark, quiet, small corner. I keep a small, child-size prayer rug there to mark the spot but it is otherwise unremarkable and unembellished. It is the place I pray when I am ill or overwhelmed or need the seclusion that mothers so often lack but so desperately need. This is the only place I can crumble into the floor in secret tears and utter defeat before Allah to ask for His help. This is often the only place I can linger after my prayer because it is in the far end of my home where nobody thinks to look for me right away.

Sometimes I pray in my local mosque.

I have a lot of issues with this place. It has not always been easy for me to attend but I have pushed forward for the sake of my children if nothing else. Having lived part of my life in a community with no mosque at all I know it is ablessing to have one . There is new carpet and new leadership which gives me hope. It is a familiar second home to me even withthe struggles and imperfections. The carpet, the walls, the tiles, the voice of the imam, the way he leads theprayer, the voice of the man who gives the adhaan and their unique styles of recitation are all “old friends” even if they’re not YouTube stars or my preferred recitation style or even using correct tajweed.

I remind myself to look around at jumu`ah and appreciate all the women in the room- to make note of the myriad ethnicities, ages, languages, educational backgrounds, and life histories thatstand with me. Islam is for all times,all people, and all places! I absorb the colors and styles, and yes even the varying levels of practice because all that matters in this moment is that we came to the masjid right now and brought with us the seed of faith in our hearts to be nurtured. I know that every single person I look at is struggling in secret in some way and I marvel at the great and awesome miracle it is that we have come together in this space.

I make du`aa for the guidance and peaceof each and every person present but especially the children and hope thatsomething in my du`aa’ will stay with them and protect them as they grow.  And that they will grow up surrounded by happy memories of worship and love and their hearts will always find rest inthe remembrance of God and in the masjid. I find secret acts of charity to perform in the masjid that will benefit the community and I try to see and recognize acts of kindness and goodness in those around me. 

Sometimes I pray in the mosques in nearby towns that I don’t attend frequently.

It’s a blessing to have so many mosques in my area. Even though I’m often unable to attend other mosques regularly, I still have the great privilege of having access to them when I am out shopping or at an appointment, or when there is a special event being held, such as a wedding or an aqiqa. There are mosques that I tend to end up in more than others so they become third and fourth and fifth spiritual homes for me beyond my local mosque.

Some of them are set up different from my local mosque.  My local mosque has a wall between the men’s section and the women’s section but some of my favorite mosques to visit don’t have one at all. It’s important to me to take my daughters to those places so they know that walls and barriers aren’t necessary.

Sometimes the mosques we visit have a different ethnic makeup than our local one. We become more familiar with our fellow Muslims and aware of the diversity and blessing of the way Islam brings us together.

Again, no matter where we go we always have a home among the believers and the remembrance of Allah.

In Ramadan I turn my living room into a mosque for women.

In the last ten nights of Ramadan my local mosque becomes an overcrowded and overwhelming space for me and my daughters, especially when some of us have health issues to deal with.  So some years ago I realized that I could pray at home but still have a congregation to join me and I started inviting friends for a quiet, focused, all-women congregation.  I lead the prayer or invite friends who are also qualified reciters to lead. 

It’s a rare opportunity to enjoy hearing the Qur’an in the voices of other women, through the hearts of my female friends.  We sit together and read du`aas in English afterwards because our local mosque doesn’t offer this.  We have snacks, ask questions, share challenges and successes.  And we build quiet, sweet memories with our sisters. 

Sometimes I pray in the homes of my Muslim friends.

Other people have their own prayer rugs with their own histories.  It’s a different sensory experience, as they feel and smell different from my prayer rugs. Most people I know don’t seem to have a designated prayer space like I have but I enjoy the privilege and blessing of praying in another person’s home.   It grants me an opportunity to pray with people I might not normally get to pray with as well. 

Sometimes I pray at my parents’ home.  They are not Muslim. 

They have a designated room where we can pray- a guest bedroom, and we have a drawer in the dresser full of prayer rugs and prayer clothes. The prayer rug I keep in their home is the first prayer rug I ever had, 27 years ago.  Again, we bring the blessing of prayer and angels and dhikr to a place that would not otherwise have it.  My parents even remind my kids to pray when they are visiting and I pray that some day they will pray with them. 

Sometimes we go on a road trip and we map out all the mosques on our route and make a point to visit new communities on the way. 

It’s always part of the trip, just as important as the trip itself.  I do research before we leave and because we sometimes can’t get into the first mosque we try, we have backup plans.  We can rest and refresh ourselves both body and soul in a safe space that feels like a familiar “home” on the road.   We learn that no matter where we are, we can find other Muslims.   No matter where we are, we recite the same Qur’an and pray the same way.  Our true home is always with Allah and His Messenger and the Ummah. 

Sometimes I pray at the barn.

It is reported in Sahih Muslim that the Prophet (S) used to pray in the sheep corrals before the masjid was built in Madina, and remember that the spot for that masjid was chosen by his (S) camel.  In fact, if you think about it, animals have been present near praying Muslims for most of history. 

If the prayer time comes and I won’t be home in time, I spread a paper towel, a clean blanket, an empty feed bag, a saddle pad, a jacket, or anything clean in a corner and I pray in the barn with the cats looking in on me curiously and the rooster crowing and the horses sniffing and chewing on hay.  When I was a teenager, I prayed in the tack room, and I even had a cat jump down on my back as I was making sujud! 

But I don’t pray here only out of necessity or fear of missing the prayer time- the barn isn’t mine and the owner isn’t Muslim, but I have made that space a place of prayer and invited angels and the blessings that come in the Unseen world to the property.  It is a protection and a blessing for me and for her, and for all of our beloved horses. 

I believe it’s important to combine the things I love in the dunya with worship and remembrance.  Not only to “turn all of my actions into acts of worship” as the cliché goes but to go further and color my entire world with remembrance.  I want to connect all of the things I love it in some way with God and give them a sort of spiritual pedigree of their own.  I have been building Sully’s spiritual pedigree by memorizing Qur’an when I am with him.  He will forever be connected to Surat Hud, and Surat Hud will forever remind me of the smell of hay, leather, and horses and the tranquility of watching Sully eat his alfalfa while I memorize Qur’an on a stool or a bench nearby. 

Sometimes I have to pray in a stairwell, corridor, dressing room, parking lot, airplane cabin, sidewalk…

The Prophet (S) said in a number of narrations that the whole earth has been made pure for salah and even dirt has been made pure for us to use in the absence of water. Even though our required salah is a formal ritual, Islam is distinguished from other traditions in that our ritual is designed to be done anywhere.  We don’t need a specially consecrated space in order to perform it.

The fact that it is an obligation upon us within certain time frames means we design our lives, our time, our movements from place to place based on our salah.  We again sprinkle the places we frequent with the barakah of being a prayer space and the presence of angels.  And we again develop associations and memories in our minds between places and remembrance of Allah that would not have existed otherwise.  Instead of the classroom or the library or the office or the mall being only a “secular” place, a materialist place, a functional place they now take on extra, higher, meaning. 

Sometimes I pray in the grass or the woods.

We often think of this as an aesthetic, Instagram-worthy spiritual experience. And it can be- the beauty and serenity of the natural world is unmatched by anything we humans can build and it can help us to be thankful and focused. As modern people we spend so much of our time in manmade spaces that we often forget that we are not the architects of our world.

And when we pray outdoors, we are reminded of this not only by beauty and serenity but also by challenges.  The ground is uneven.  There are rocks and dirt in our way.  In fact many of the books of fiqh I’ve studied have mentioned that it is makruh (disliked) to smooth our prostration surface deliberately because praying on a bumpy natural surface helps to increase humility.  Also, have you ever gotten grass up your nose or been crawled on by a bug while praying?  Or realized that there is an ever-so-slight downhill orientation to your chosen spot? 

The Prophet (S) said that “The entire earth has been made sacred and pure and a mosque for me.” [Muslim]

The places we pray are many. There are limitless blessings in all of them, both hidden and apparent.    It is a human need and instinct to connect to God in any time or place.  It is inhuman, inhumane, and even illogical to claim that there are parts of the world that are somehow off limits for all or some of us to engage in worship, remembrance, and to seek the blessings of the time and place.   Break down the barriers to worship- self-imposed and otherwise- and seek the blessings that come from seeing the whole world as place of prayer. 

One thought on “The Places We Pray

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s