A Time to Pray

A day in 2019

The day’s five daily prayers are carved into my daily twenty – four hours.

I drizzle the cold water on my arms and face, following the steps of wudu’ (ablution, purifying the body). The chilliness jolts me awake. I lay out my purple prayer rug – my Dadu (my father’s father) gifted me from his trip to Mecca – to prepare for my Fajr prayer. Before the sun has even risen, I raise my hands to my shoulders, throwing behind me the soft bustle the sliver of dawn’s light will bring me. Allahu Akbar, God is the Greatest.

And so, the bustle begins.

In the early morning light, cars screech against the roads and bump along in a frenzy as they swerve in multiple directions, all trying to reach various destinations.

I am finally out of the frenzy of the cars, only to walk through narrow hallways crushed by stomping feet. Hundreds of voices bounce against each other creating a loud hum of noise. I am crushed by the massive flow of bodies pushing and shoving, everyone frantic to get to class.

My mind is a nonstop buzz. I rush in and out from class to class, trying to grasp every word flying out of my teachers’ mouths.

Isopropyl alcohol is used to clean computer parts, the derivative of the function is the instantaneous rate of change, use the preterite for definite actions, velocity is a vector.

What, did she say the test is tomorrow?

I write quickly in my notebook, my mind not fully catching up, but my hand writes at the same pace my teachers speak. I write and listen until finally a break.

Then I run.

I jingle the keys and unlock the door to the computer classroom. The room is lighted with sunlight streaming through the large panel windows. I don’t have my purple prayer rug, but a kind teacher had bought us bathroom mats for us to pray on. I remove my shoes and place the bathroom mat in front of me. Now the sun has risen high above me, and I gaze down with my arms folded on top of my chest, in humbleness to my Lord.

What if someone tries to open the door? What if they peak in?

My focus falters and I hear my heart thumping rapidly. I continue reciting the verse in Arabic from the Quran as I am praying, but my worrisome thoughts have clouded my head and I barely remember the meanings of these divine words.

Alhumdullilah heer Rabbil Alameen

Slowly, I recenter myself and attain my kushoo’ (focus).

All praise to the Lord of the World. I am humbled to take these moments to serve a Higher Purpose.

I finish my Dhur prayer, lock the computer room, and make my way once more through the cramped hallways. Again, I try to catch the words my teachers throw with my pen.

Make sure to convert to kilograms, record your med ball toss, identify inductive reasoning.

Finally, the last bell of the day.

Again, I run. First to the bathroom to slip into my white long sleeve shirt and wrestle on my blue uniform. I rush to the bus, catching my breath from the busy school day as we bump along to the Colonie Town Park. At the park, we set our bags on the outer edge of the blue tarp and sit in the middle, crowded together. I check my phone, realizing it is already time for the next prayer. I scurry out of the tent, away from my teammates, and feel the burning sun on my cheeks. I approach a brown shed and slip behind it. Using the compass on my phone, I face east to pray Asr, the midday prayer.

I arch my back, rest my hand on my knees, and bow. I bow to Ar Rahman ir Raheem, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful. I am comforted to take these moments to receive love and support from my Lord.

The meet is over, and I am in the car frenzy again. I hear a chorus of honks and beeps from overworked adults impatient to go home.

Now I am at home with aching feet and a throbbing headache. The sun has dipped behind the clouds. I bring out my purple prayer rug for Maghrib and collapse into prostration. The day’s events weigh down on my back. My forehead touches the floor, the lowest point in this world, but the highest position in the eyes of God. Slowly, the heaviness dissipates from my back.

When I get up, my feet don’t stop. I run up and down the stairs to eat dinner and prepare tomorrow’s lunches, then I slide between my room and the laundry room to fold my clothes.

When I sit, my brain doesn’t stop. I crunch out numbers for calculus and work through equations for physics.

At last, the sun is hidden and the moon has risen. Darkness shrouds the sky, with just moonlight hovering over darkness. I clasp my hands in front of me and recall each piece of my day. First, the events between the sun rising and the sun at its highest, then from the golden of the sun to the fading orange, and finally now the night. My day is carved into these five daily prayers. Five times a day I can pause the whirlwind of my rushed life and just think. I think about my blessings of waking up to a world-class education, having time for recreation, and being surrounded by my family.

I think and I praise God. Alhumdulillah for these blessings.

A day in 2020

All of a sudden, everything slows down.

For others, things speed up like it never had before.

And everything changes.

My day is still carved by my five daily prayers.

As I perform wudu on this quiet morning, I rub the cool water into my hands, taking longer than usual watching the water run from my fingertips to my wrist. Then, I place my purple prayer rug on my carpeted floor, taking note of the soft and warm fabric under my feet.

I raise my hands to my shoulders, but before I can pronounce the magnificent words, I need to clear away anything in my mind that is not focused on Allah, most High. The latest news headlines of school, businesses, and travel shutting down because of the Corona Virus pandemic immediately flood my mind. I pull away from it. I put aside my fear, my uncertainty, and my absolute helplessness and channel it towards Allah.

Allahu Akbar. God is the Greatest.

I finish the morning prayer, the sun shining strong. There is no more car frenzy, except for our essential workers - doctors, nurses, grocery workers - rushing to heal, aid, and support other people. The streets are largely empty as people hunker down to the comfort of their homes, safeguarding against this deadly virus. While others must go out because they must feed their families and they must survive.

I am no longer in my narrow school hallways. The scene of people crowded together, pushing and shoving to get to classes is now replaced with classes over Zoom, all of us in little boxes. Despite my school shutting down, my teachers are able to quickly adapt and take advantage of our online resources. Our lessons go on as my math teacher solves equations using her stylus, my history teacher posts PowerPoint slides and video, and my science teacher holds review sessions via Zoom.

There is a stillness, a kind of silence just being alone in front of a screen.

Instead of needing to duck in and out of my lunch break to pray Dhur, I merely move two feet from my desk to pray. I cross my arms and look down, feeling humbled. Alhumdullilah heer Rabbil Alameen. Allah deserves my great praise for all His blessings. I think and I thank Allah for the privilege to study at home, technology, and having a safe home.

Throughout the day, what’s most unusual is now only seeing my mom, dad, sister, and brother with me. From morning to noon, to night we are together. We adjust to a new schedule of being together. As I try to do an online lesson, my three-year-old little brother barges in trying to pull me away from my chair to play with him. He has absolutely no understanding of what is going on in the world, all he knows is that the house is never empty and there is always someone to play with him. My family and I try to be pillars of support for each other, but we also inevitably get on each other’s nerves.

It’s Asr time. I bow down, and whisper, Ar Rahmanir Raheem. It is out of Allah’s mercy even when I am alone, I am surrounded by much love from my family. When I miss physical contact with people, Allah has given me my family.

This time before Asr and Maghrib I’ve developed a routine to slow down. I walk in the neighborhood, following my little brother’s running with his tiny feet and giggling. At times we walk in parks and hike in the middle of nowhere. We breathe in nature as we cross rivers and slide downhills. The beautiful glow of the sun against an intense blue sky - all signs from Allah. I also read a few pages of the Quran, pausing after each verse to think. And I just reflect, not feeling rushed to be somewhere or do something according to creation, rather wholeheartedly focusing on my Creator.

The sun dips low and I get ready to pray Maghrib. In sujud, I put the most honorable feature of my body to the ground because only Allah most High can raise me. I am in complete need of Allah. I am weak, so weak that a virus that can’t even be seen by the naked eye can infect our bodies and destroy our health. It is in this state Allah loves to answer our dua’s - when we completely turn to Him alone.

Darkness settles quickly. Now I help my mom cook dinner, even taking notes of her most delicious recipes. My sister and I fold the laundry, one by one. I play cars with my little brother. I don’t pay attention to the clock, no longer strictly bound by time.

The last prayer of the day is Isha’. I raise my hands towards the Ka'ba, the house of Allah, where millions of others too make dua’. I find myself praying alone, deep into the nights when most eyes are asleep but my own heart is pumping with life. I invoke Allah, weep for His mercy, and call unto my Lord for His closeness.

I’ve understood prayer differently in a time when everything has slowed down, versus in a time that was always rushed. Prayer is to maintain my connection with Allah, Most High, the Most Merciful. Prayer is when I express my gratitude for all of my blessings.

I am not lost in a time when everything I knew to be safe and comforting is now dangerous and isolating. Praying daily and reflecting on the words and actions of the prayer are reminders for me to have firm faith and rely on Allah.

A time to pray is a time to connect.

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