Quietly, I slipped into the cold dark stairwell and lightly shut the door behind me. I looked around to see if I was truly alone. I saw not a soul; only gray concrete and thinly painted slab. It was freezing cold and even though I could not feel the concrete floor, I just knew that when I pressed my face against it, the gelidity would most certainly sting. I cared not and turned towards Mecca, closed my eyes, took a deep breath and…Wait! Did I hear a door open a few floors up?
I paused so that I might not unnerve an unsuspecting techie rushing to a meeting, or alarm an overzealous, yet mightily bored, security guard who would gladly find something to do in saving the building from someone skulking in the stairwell. Within moments I realized that all was clear. Yet, my anxiety in possibly being discovered saddened me. In the secrecy of that cold and dark landing between the stairs I felt like a thief. Why was I there?
Friends, co-workers, colleagues and associates often wonder why I walk away from what I am doing at any given moment, no matter how important the task at hand may be, to perform one of the five daily prayers prescribed in Islam. To them it seems so nugatory that I walk away from the proverbial hamster’s wheel for those fleeting 5 minutes to talk to God and bow before Him. I find their puzzlement ironic since within it rests the very answer to their question.
Their bewilderment is in itself a clear indication that humans simply would not afford the time to pray if not ordered to do so. God states in the Qur’an:
“And when affliction touches man, he calls upon Us, whether lying on his side or sitting or standing; but when We remove from him his affliction, he continues [in disobedience] as if he had never called upon Us to [remove] an affliction that touched him. Thus is made pleasing to the transgressors that which they have been doing.” (10:12)
This is an observable reality. When people are in trouble, they pray to God for help. When there is some material desire, people will pray to God that He may grant that wish. Otherwise, we are simply too busy to pray.
Yet, being a Muslim, I am commanded by God to “phone home.” It is to force that connection between God and His masterpiece creation for the latter’s betterment. It is to force the terminally ill child to swallow the medicine needed to be whole again.
Though I am the one who needs Him and He is in no need of me, He loves me and wants to hear from me. If that is what my parents expect of me, then why is this not understood from God? It is because, as much as people talk about God’s love, it is simply a catch phrase with no real meaning to most. This is something the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ sought to remedy. Once, while he walked the streets of Medina with his companions, they passed by a mother doting upon her child. To this the Prophet ﷺ asked a stunning question:
أَتُرَوْنَ هَذِهِ طَارِحَةً وَلَدَهَا فِي النَّارِ
“Do you think that she would throw her child into the fire?”
To this, the Companions replied in shock:
لَا وَهِيَ تَقْدِرُ عَلَى أَنْ لَا تَطْرَحَهُ
“No. As much as it was in her power she would not allow the child to be thrown thus!”
So the Prophet ﷺ informed them:
لَلَّهُ أَرْحَمُ بِعِبَادِهِ مِنْ هَذِهِ بِوَلَدِهَا
“Verily, God is more compassionate to His servants than she is towards her child.”1
In another narration his reply is:
ولا الله بطارح حبيبه في النار
“Likewise, God will not throw His beloved into the fire.”2
What the Prophet ﷺ sought to make abundantly clear is that God loves us more than a mother loves her child and will not allow us to be thrown into a fire. I can feel this Divine Love when I pray to God. When I rest my head upon the floor and surrender everything unto Him, I feel that He has taken the task upon Himself of relieving me of my burdens. It is a feeling comparable to the relief I feel when I hear my mother’s and my father’s voices when I am thousands of miles away and feeling alone.
This is why I walk away from my desk, pausing my life for a meager 5 minutes. This is why I sprint into a cold dark stairwell, hiding like a thief in the dark. There, I am able to pilfer a few quiet moments with my Lord. I raise my hands and present all my joys, good fortune, worries and misfortunes before Him. 5 minutes, 5 times a day makes 25 minutes out of 24 hours. To find that daunting is unfathomable to me.
So, the next time you’re Googling on your laptop at work and you notice the time for prayer is about to pass, look for the nearest stairwell. It may be quaint but, make no mistake, it is a Masjid (mosque).
وجعلت لي الأرض طيبة طهورا ومسجدا. فأيما رجل أدركته الصلاة صلى حيث كان
“All the earth has been made pure, purifying and a place of worship for me. So if anyone finds the time for prayer has come, let them pray wherever they may be.”3