The Prayer Has Never Been this Hard
Libraries are like studios. No sound goes unheard. No noise passes without someone looking up or, in this case, a librarian hissing and excitedly shushing the disturber of the peace, silencing the noise polluter.
Nervously flitting and creeping about the bookshelves, I was endeavoring to be as quiet as such can be.
Every footfall, every little brave breath was carefully measured to an exact decibel level, no more, no less.
The only dynamics that I failed to control were the thumping of my heart and a much more subtle tone that somehow made it past all my enacted sound barriers, my mental matrix-built firewall, my muffled mind. It was similar to a flute in that it was both soft and gentle. Yet at the same time, it was piercing and bold, a constant anthem striking out through my internal environment. It was my soul, my little life-giving charge.
It was calling to me, chanting a sweet Athaan that only I could hear in this muted world of books. And oh how I loved it, yet dreaded it!
I had to find a place to make prayer, somewhere in this college library, in my first term ever of a higher education. But I was so afraid to do so, so shy to bow my face in the presence of others, so worried about the impression of expression. What if some malicious person attacked me? What if I was held in contempt because I was “fanatical,” a loon? Newspaper headings flashed through my mind’s eye: Terrorist Plot in University Campus Exposed! Homicidal Ritual Offered in Campus Library! Al Qaeda’s Hand Reaches the Countryside! And Librarian Tasers Student Fanatic.
Passing the atomic clock on the wall no less than 10 times, the minute hand began to drive into my mind, each tick sounding like a deafening beat on a kettledrum. The situation was getting desperate. I could not miss my Prayer. But what about the people? What about all the possible pain, the potential outcomes, internal and external?
I felt as though I had to breathe. I had to go make Prayer. It was a bodily function. I silently battled on, pretending to read random books on politics. If the librarians could hear my insides now, what with all the furious debating and intense fracas going on, they would probably eat me alive. How bad it was, this predicament of mine.
Dragging myself just in time, I found a relatively secluded, undisturbed spot and began to perform my Prayer. Every noticeable motion was a huge movement, a draining operation for me. I felt as though my waist, that corporal hinge that enables us to bend and bow down, was rusty. I really needed some spiritual WD-40.
This was a ground-shaking test, at least to me. I’ve been reflecting on it all week. It took all my will to simply make Prayer, to express my piety, my gratitude to God the Magnificent Being behind my organic architecture, my magical physique, my creative expression, my artistic passion—my nafs, that invisible soul that makes me who I am. And now, fire-tested and gauged, I realize that my soul, the gift from its Crafter, has not been thanked for properly, in the right fashion in the wrong situation.
I look at the creation around me—the horses and the birds, the trees and the falling snow, the little springs and hills —and know that I have seen authentic, whole worship. Flapping, loping, growing, falling, bubbling up, all these creatures worship their Creator in their own unique, prescribed ways. The bird flies and fulfills its Prayer, its bodily functions. Our equine companions thunder about the plains around the world.
They fulfill their purpose, express their worship, and provide momentum not only to their graceful forms, but also to their tender souls. The trees reach into the heavens. The rills gurgle from the earth. Everything worships Allah Almighty.
One creature among all creations that live in the world, we are in no way exempt from fulfilling our functions to completion. Being creatures composed of minds, souls, and bodies, we must satisfy all these individual aspects to remain healthy, to possess that spunk, that bounce that keeps us in full blossom, at full tilt, if you’ll pardon the idiom.
We eat, drink, exercise, make love, and many more things to meet our bodily needs. In order to quaff our intellect, we go to school, read instruction manuals, take on mathematical concepts, and memorize.
But what do we do for our spirit, our internal core that inspires all the other parts of our body? We make Prayer. A simplistic answer? I think not.
Worship opens our entire being to a refreshing breeze from the outside, cools our hot interiors, and inspires the mind, the body, and the soul. Would you live in a house of stifled air? Would you swim in a stagnate marsh, no spring or current to wash it clear? Would you have your wings clipped?
The Prayer to us has become an outstanding act, a massive struggle, five battles a day. Floating about the stratosphere of modern secular life in our hot air balloons, it is tempting to just throw those canvas sacks of Prayer, those weighty responsibilities, overboard.
For in the eyes of my rising generation, the Prayer has been demoted to spiritual baggage, to an audacious act of faith. But without it, how can we be healthy?
Now, if we have to fight ourselves on something as basic as the Prayer, with what might must we strive simply to survive? Worship should be a thing to be proud of not to boast, but to be full with.
The Prayer that we know—this Prayer of Islam—is the ultimate paradox, the real irony, for it brings us literally down to earth and makes us humble. Yet at the same time it elevates us just as unambiguously to the heavens and, behold, we metamorphose into sublime beings, better than the angels. And that is something worth not fighting for. Surrender.