Yesterday, after praying, packing a little, and drinking unnecessary amounts of tea, I decided to head out for London. It was quite a nice day and the sun would be setting momentarily. My roommate and I decided to go to Brick Lane to look at some vintage and then eat some Indian food, finally, since my numerous attempts at veggie tikka masala was not cutting it.
Well, I carefully timed my exit to leave after I made midday prayer which commenced yesterday at 2:08pm. The sun sets here around 3:55pm. So, what that meant for us is that by the time I made Salat and we shuffled to the bus stop, the sun was approaching its decline.
I enjoyed seeing the pinkness of clouds from outside instead of the glass pane of our windows.
Upon reaching Brick Lane, I immediately saw many hijabed Muslimahs young and old. The area is populated by many Southeast Asian, Indian, Bengali people. For a second, I thought to extend a Salaam. Even though I was feet away. Even though the girls and women with their children seemed unconcerned. Uninterested.
I ruled against it.
As we continued, my roommate noticed that all of the restaurants were closed.
“It’s probably because the owners are off to make prayer,” I said, glancing at my watch. Almost 3:55. It’s time for Maghrib.
We continued and I told her, “I think I’m going to go pray.”
It was rather sudden sure. But I explained to her that we passed a small masjid a few blocks before. That I had the intention to make all 5 Salats during these 10 days. That since I’ve started observing Dul-Hijjah on Monday, I did not miss any (Alhamdulillah).
She agreed to wait.
We set a time, “I’ll meet you here in 30,” and I went back the way we came till I reached the mosque. Literally like a hole in the wall. It was easy to miss.
I step inside and tried to locate a sign for women’s ablution area. There were none. As I took a few more steps I saw some brothers making wudhu and I felt like I was watching them bathe. Luckily, a brother stepped out of the prayer room, rushing towards me, “May I help you?”
“Yes, I’m looking for where the women pray?”
Nodding, he told me there was no place here. Only for the men. He looked upstairs, I guess, trying to visualize if there was some space up there for me. Nope.
Just for the brothers.
I exited, feeling stupid.
Of course, how could I forget. Women were not to pray with the men in some mosques.
But I was really sad, at my ignorance and at the fact that I would not be able to make my Salat on time. As I walked back to meet my roommate, I tried to rationalize what just happened, so I could explain to her that I didn’t need 30 minutes because I would not pray. Not there. Not in that mosque. That the men were expected to pray in a congregation. Not the women. We (women) are granted the convenience of praying in the privacy of our own homes, for every Salat.
I tried to remind myself that it was a convenience. I also had to remind myself that I am a woman. And that in Islam that is as important as anything else. That my womanhood came with rights granted by God. But that womanhood also comes with social contexts. And for that second, I felt less than.
As we walked to a restaurant (they were open now), I began to wonder, if one of the conveniences of womanhood in Islam includes being absolved from making certain Salats like the second to last one, Maghrib.
Of course not.
That can’t be so. Clearly, in the Qur’an, the five pillars are explained in repetition throughout. Make the 5 Salats. Make the 5 Salats.
But, as I passed more Muslimahs on the street, I began to wonder where were they off to. Did they know of some place to pray? Were they as nervous as I am about missing Maghrib?
I forced a smile as we entered a Bengali restaurant. As we ate, I noticed how when men entered they stepped in saying “Salaam Alaikum.” I continued to wonder why such Salaam was not extended to me when I entered. Sure, I was with my roomate: white female, pink died hair, goth attire. But I was still me.
I was still wearing hijab.
My roommate and I continued to talk about prayer and Islam. Sure there were some Muslims who did not pray 5 times a day. Maybe they were born in Muslim families and Islam for them is as cultural as religious, and unfortunately, their culture may take precedent over basic tenets in Islam. Maybe they justified this. I could combine my prayers when I got home. I could even not pray them at all.
But I explained to her that I did not want to start making excuses. To start feeling entitled to being blessed without doing the work. Because I wear hijab. Because I have a Muslim name. Because today, Allah subhana wa’tallah guided me to believe.
I explained to her that it is times like this when I panic. I’ve already began looking up Muslim Student Associations in Pittsburgh.
And, sometimes, I am afraid that I will not find a Muslim community to talk with. Share with. Pray with.
But like before, I know that I am fine alone. For now. I am at peace with my solitary refinement.
I rejoice in the silence beneath my thoughts.
I look forward to waking before the sun and having no one to greet. But sometimes, when I come home after a long day, I am angry at myself for being so far from “home”. Not topping up my cell phone. Not feeling sure to reach out to those closest to me.
And “close” is such a strange word to me right now.
I believe that God is with me when I am with Him. But close? Close implies proximity. God may be close to me.
But you? Him? Her? Close? (No.) That is something still foreign to me. Maybe I continue to seek opportunities to leave “home” because it is when I am farthest from people do I feel closest to myself.
Finally, after our meal, when my roommate was using the restroom, one of the owners collected our plates and asked, “Are you Muslim? No, right?”
I guess he wanted to make sure.
“Yes, I am,” I said, smiling. Happy in that moment because I could now clear any doubts.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“But originally?” he continued.
I was used to this by now. This impossibility. I am brown. African. Female. American. Muslim. I hijab. I realize this may cause problems for some.
I smiled and thanked him for the meal, still wanting to say Salaamualaikum, but seeing no space to insert a greeting into the middle of a conversation.
As we left, I turned one last time. Hoping for a chance to leave greeting them in the Muslim words of peace.
I told my roommate about the quick conversation. She confirmed my logic, “It would be weird to just declare ‘You are Muslim’ to someone, so he asked first.”
“Still,” I protested, “I’m not wearing this hijab as a fashion statement.”
I have the tendency to doubt myself, my intention, my success. In everything that I do.
Islam is no exception.
I will continue to doubt what I do. But Allah subhanna wa’ tallah knows best.
All I can do is continue to learn and be taught.
But then again, that’s all I ever really wanted to do for as long as I can remember.
Islam is no exception.