by Shaf Ghani
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The whole earth is a masjid (mosque). Except for the graveyards and the washrooms.”
Never have I thought that this would spur real-life creativity and innovation. To be able to pray anywhere except graveyards and washrooms. The possibilities seem to be endless. Is it really so?
Then how come there is this compelling need to hide the prayer space? Have you prayed? Is the deed done? Yes, I have. Near the fire extinguisher, at the last level. To be part of the minority race and religion in a country which recognizes the Islamic faith and its practices but still a worshipper of God can feel like a wrong piece of jigsaw puzzle. My name is Nook and my best friend, Cranny, have seen so many worshippers make themselves home for 10 minutes at a time. We have witnessed the quick as lightning prayer and heard the anxious mumbling or the re-doing of prayer over and over again. Sometimes a worshipper would knock his head on the fire extinguisher and we do not know if we should laugh or cry.
Nook and Cranny, both of us are a democracy. We accept anyone not just the Muslim worshippers but others like the texters, those in need of respite and the smokers. Sometimes they are the same people. But often the people who come to pray get annoyed of the latter because of all the cigarette butts they leave behind. Nonetheless, there is not much of a choice. One day I heard a young tudung-clad executive exclaim that it is not that she does not want to pray in the office but the boss might think that she is not doing her job. Or that other Malays might wonder: how come she has so much time to pray? Or god forbid, what if people think that she is trying to show she is religious. So here with us, she feels that it is the best place to pray. It is a little dusty sometimes because the cleaning auntie does not come up all the way upstairs but they would bring their own colourful praying mats so it is alright. It becomes our duty to provide refuge and sanctity for the five to ten minutes that these people need.
My friend, Cranny has seen a teenage girl restart her prayers at least four times because Katy Perry was playing over the speakers. She thought where there was not so much prying eyes near the mall staircase, she can pray in peace. Turns out there was the other battle for attention. In the name of God the most Beneficient, the most Merciful. Do you ever feel like a plastic bag? Drifting Through the wind. All Praise to the Lord of the Worlds. Where her prayers laced with song lyrics, it was a dubs mash she could not handle. She did finish her prayers eventually but did not always feel too good about it. Maybe it is good that you do not feel too good about doing good deeds. The things we tell ourselves. So you see, there is only so much that Cranny and I can do.
Cranny and I both do not think that these people hoped to be catered for or tended to, like certain bumiputras in Malaysia we know of. But we hear the inner thoughts (or sometimes rather loud mutterings) of these secret worshippers that they wish they had an easier time. Sometimes, the management is thoughtful. They introduce a plastic divider or put curtains to mark or segregate a praying space. It becomes slightly better though some contorting skills have to be put into practice. Sometimes the prayers become too rushed because one always has to think of the other person waiting in line to pray. In some sense, it becomes like using the public toilet. Maybe it will not be beneficial to build prayer spaces in all malls or public areas considering the small percentage of Muslims against the larger community. Or there is the reason of already having grand and beautiful mosques, so why do we need more prayer spaces in public areas? For every person who regards the church and state to be separate, there is another who truly wish that their love for God need not seem so forbidden.
Women worshippers have it bad. They can still already be in a mosque but not find space for themselves. Take Friday prayers for example. Everybody knows that it is the day men go for prayers and they dutifully do, dressed to the nines no less. But what about the womenfolk who want to celebrate the end of the week, or some may even call the Eid, or celebration of the Islamic end of the week. Many a time we see male gazes, darting at the sole woman worshipper who has come to bask in the words of God. And so these same males will occupy the said women’s section, leaving the women no choice but to be shoved into a corner or go home. There is much understanding about the compulsory nature of men and Friday prayers but what about these women who have come to seek solace. Female worshippers come to neighbourhood mosques on Friday afternoons only to end up being displaced and driven back to where people think they should be. Yes, the best place for a woman to pray is at home and the mosque should also welcome her if she wants to go. In the eyes of God, aren’t men and women equal guests?
The prayer place of the woman is at home, really it is. Because there is nowhere else to go. No, a person cannot pray anywhere he or she wants to. Such a democratizing religion might not always manifest in its practice. So as a bulwark of peace, we, Nook and Cranny, will always be ready to accept the man and woman who craves peace which a legal space cannot provide. We are no man’s land. Like in an airspace. Blurred boundaries. Self-made rules. For the secret five to ten minutes, the worshipper is granted asylum.
Shaf Ghani writes short stories and poems. She started writing in exercise books at the age of eleven. They were stories about a colossal, metallic mansion with about a hundred rooms and stories about ants. More of her works can be found on shafikassanctum.wordpress.com.
Illustration by Ishibashi Chiharu