Prayer in Islam happens at least five times a day for every Muslim at each of the times that the prayer is called. I could write a million words on how beautiful it is, the process, how I feel when I'm done, but a reader had requested I write specifically regarding my more "interesting" experiences of trying to pray in America - WHEREEVER I may be.
First, you must understand that there are time periods that we have to pray. So, if it's getting close to the next prayer and you haven't prayed the last one, you have to bust out your prayer rug and complete the prayer before the next prayer call.
A quick note on awkward times that involve the athan, or call to prayer, specifically. I have my phone set up to go off with the athan when it's time to pray. The athan starts with "ALLAHU AKBAR," which has become synonymous in the media with terrorist activity.
In reality, it just means "God is the Greatest" in Arabic. And He is.
Other people don't know the meaning of the words, however, so I have enjoyed having my athan go off - LOUDLY - in the following places. SubhanAllah - I feel that whenever I am in a situation that I need to be discreet it goes off more loudly than even the loudest settings on my phone.
Anyways, here are some goodies when my athan has gone off:
1) When getting into an elevator with a large bookbag on my back.
2) When in line at the post office with a huge package
and, best of all...
3) Sitting in the terminal about to board a plane from Ohio to Boston.
Needless to say, all three times were a bit awkward. The last one causing people to physically move away from me.
On to awkward prayer situations:
Experience #1: During my first Ramadan, I wanted to try to spread the idea of fasting to my friends. My best friend, a strict Christian girl, said that she would be happy to give it a shot to be in solidarity with me. I told her we can meet at sunset at Chipotle to break our fasts. So, we got to talking and one thing lead to another and long story short, I had 2 minutes to pray.
Now, I was in Chipotle. There is no place to go and pray in Chipotle. I can't hide behind any booths, it's a wide open space. So, I asked her to come with me to the parking lot. I had her protect me as I prayed so that no one would come up to me or say anything to me.
She was happy to do it. I prayed in the parking lot, on the hard, harsh ground, and then halfway through she said something to me. It is supposed to be a time of reflection and complete focus during the prayer and she said "you know what just hit me? you look like a wizard! I bet a lot of people think you're a wizard in your little cape. You just need a pointy hat." It's pretty hard to keep focus in this situation.
Experience #2: Just a few days after that first experience, I had the pleasure of being invited to iftar, or the breaking of the fast during Ramadan, every night by my dear convert friend Michelle and her husband and his family.
Her father-in-law is the sweetest Egyptian man I could ever imagine and he would spend his entire day cooking for us. When we got to talking, time slipped away from us and we had to pray quickly before heading to the mosque for taraweeh. One of these nights, her husband told us to hurry so he could start the prayer - he was the leader at the time. We were ready, standing behind him, just she and I. Her father-in-law rushed to clean himself - another requirement of the prayer - and came to pray with us immediately afterward.
His shorts that he was wearing were a little short and so he thought it would be appropriate to cover himself in a NEON YELLOW towel and walk into the room with us. He looked like a wannabe playboy when he entered the room. We had already began the prayer and, may God forgive me, we couldn't stop laughing when we saw him. We had to physically separate from the prayer, go pray in DIFFERENT rooms, in order to finish it. Her husband yelled at us the entire way to the mosque, but it was not fair because he didn't have the same view of his dad walking in that we had the pleasure of experiencing. An awkward car ride.
Experience #3: Praying at work. I had been praying in my large cubicle for a while and hadn't had any problems. The prayers we do during the hours of work are mostly quiet so there is little that would lead to anyone's concern. The way I had to face in my cubicle - so as to point towards Mecca - was an awkward position should someone pass by my cubicle's opening.
So, while praying, I was in a position during the prayer where I was bent over and the woman across from me happened to pass by. She asked me, "Did you drop something?! What are you looking for? Can I help you to find it?!?"
Because we are supposed to be in a time of complete concentration, I couldn't answer her. She thought I was being rude and she proceeded to explain how rude this is, while I finished my prayer. I bought her a Starbucks giftcard and brought it to her to explain after lunch :)
Experience #4: After Thanksgiving Dinner, it is traditional here in America to go to the stores and wait in line for the best deals on Black Friday. My friends and I had decided to go from eleven o'clock at night on Thanksgiving and we drove to a far away mall in Michigan that had the most luxurious stores and the best deals. We were there from midnight to 8 in the morning.
We nearly passed out.
While we were there, the morning prayer athan went off. I was distracted and busy and didn't hear it. Then, I looked at the time and realized I only had 3 minutes to pray.
I RAN (literally) to a bathroom to wash up - and RAN back to my friends across the mall. I asked them to block me so that no one would be concerned or ask me questions during the prayer.
And, in the middle of Somerset Mall, I prayed my little heart out.
Keep in mind other shoppers are still totally around - and concerned - about what I'm doing. The entire time I was praying, my friends had to apologize for my awkwardness while a family of Japanese tourists were EXTREMELY frightened by what I was doing - hey, they have Fox News in Japan I'm sure - and started nervously huddling together.
Then, my friends explained to them it's okay, I'm just praying and that I'm not about to hurt them.
So they thought they could photoBOMB me. After they felt okay that I wouldn't hurt them, my prayer became a photoshoot opportunity for them. Peace signs, ducklips and all.
There are other stories that are similar and I'm sure more to come, but I ask for nonMuslims to do one thing: If you see a Muslim and they look like they MAY be praying, then chances are they're praying.
Don't distract them, don't photobomb them, just let them do their thing. They'll be done in a few minutes and you can ask questions. I wouldn't see you with a bowed head and folded hands and say "WHATCHA DOIN?" so please have the same respect for us, even if our prayers are a little longer. We need to focus and concentrate, please & thank you!
Also, may God forgive me for the times that I have failed in self restraint and control during these prayers. They are truly so important and close to my heart that I would never purposely disrespect them.
May God grant us all the sincerity needed to please Him during our prayers - in every language, in every religion, and at every place and time. May He unite us in our love for Him <3