Before the holy month of Ramadan ends, I felt like sharing the role of prayer in my life.
As a Muslim, I have been taught to pray five times a day: Fajr, Zuhr, Azar, Maghrib, and Isha.
Have I followed the recommended dosage of prayer regularly? Honestly? No. And that is mostly because I don’t pray in an effort to show people that I pray. I pray for myself.
But I do try to be consistent. I try, time and again, because prayers are important to me. This might come as a shock to some of my acquaintances, because I rarely discuss my faith with anyone. In fact, taking into consideration my hijab-less and jeans-wearing ways, I wouldn’t be too surprised if there are old classmates or new colleagues who think I’m an atheist.
Now, if you ask me why exactly I pray, I will be hard pressed to give a concise answer that encompasses all the reasons that prompt me to incorporate daily prayers in my everyday routine. I won’t go into theological debates simply because I believe every person is entitled to his or her own beliefs.
People who place their trust in God should not be considered too weak to make their own decisions, nor be portrayed as those seeking to escape the struggles of reality. Religion should not be used nor seen as a smoke screen to hide behind. It’s private. And no one has a right to question another’s beliefs, nor judge them.
Personally, I am an advocate of prayer. Be it in a beautifully crafted and softly carpeted mosque, be it under the majestic arches of a synagogue, be it on the carved stone steps of a temple, be it among the silent pews in a church. Be it even in the middle of the street, prayer commands respect, because it is an act of human beings expressing their humility. Exposing their vulnerability. Repenting for their sins. Hoping for a brighter morrow. And that’s beautiful.
And if it comes from your heart and is not merely a charade put on to appease social convictions, then the effect prayer has on ones psyche is undeniable. Placebo or not, prayer is uplifting.
My relationship with namaz has always been erratic, but consistent in that I somehow manage to find my way back to the musallah eventually. And each time, I fight harder to strengthen my bond with my green mat, unmarked by time. It’s the same shade of olive as the first time I stepped on it carefully, and it’s as soft and welcoming as ever. There is no reproach for my time away, no guilt trips, no complaints. I feel at peace on my mat.
As a child, I used to mimic my mother’s actions wit gusto, trying to comprehend the whispered phrases escaping her lips. As I grew older, I kept a diary of notes by my side as I attempted to pray because it made me feel more confident. As time progressed, I got a little confused by the variations in prayer followed by the different sects in Islam, which made me anxious. Should I wear socks when praying alone? Where should my hands ideally be placed? Which is the best spot to focus my eyes on? Can I close my eyes while in sajdah? What if I was doing it all wrong?
So I decided to do my research and try to perfect my namaz with the best bits of everything I could find, while staying true to the basics I was taught from a young age. And if you ask me, perfecting my namaz is an evolving process that still keeps me on my toes. I find that there is always something I can do to improve myself: focus more, slow down at times, find interesting dua’s, or work on my posture, among a million other tiny details. And I welcome the chance to make positive changes to my style of namaz, because I feel that learning stops when I get too comfortable or set in my ways.
I also strongly feel that one should never claim that their way of praying is “the only right way”. This shows ignorance on your part, it shows that you are intolerant. It shows that the true spirit of the religion is lost on you. In fact, just recently, a rather judgmental woman had accused me in front of a lot of people of being a girl “who does not even know how to offer salah!” because I raise my hands to my head before folding them during takbir, whereas she does not. The woman was clearly ignorant and warranted nothing but pity. I’d say, try not to one of those self-righteous people.
For me, namaz is a part of my overall well being, be it mental, physical, or emotional.
It’s meditation to calm my mind by emptying it of all worldly worries and focusing on peace, at least or a few minutes daily. It’s yoga for my health if I do the motions correctly and become more mindful of my body as I offer supplication. And it strengthens me emotionally by giving me an opportunity to be grateful for the blessings I have been given, to acknowledge the privileges that situational habituation sometimes makes me take for granted.
Prayer reminds me that there is a beautiful community out there, millions of people with millions of hopes and dreams and unspeakable sorrows who persevere despite everything. It gives me a sense of belonging which makes life’s little woes easier to bear.