Posted on Aug 27, 2017
Praying in public always feels like a delicate balancing act that requires being as discreet and inconspicuous as possible while fulfilling our obligation to Allah (S). But, it doesn’t have to be! Normalizing publically performing Salah is a great way to reconnect with yourself and God in the middle of a busy or stressful day (and also a great form of da’wah!).
Praying in public can also create some memorable experiences, like getting caught in a public bathroom with your foot in the sink while making wudu! Not all experiences are humorous though. It can sometimes be very frustrating to find a place to pray. We spoke to Mariam*, a young woman who successfully fought for and received a prayer room in her workspace. On what inspired her to take the initiative, she says,
For the longest time, I would duck into corners or conference rooms to pray, hoping that no one sees me. But it was extremely difficult to concentrate or have any type of khushoo' (focus) in my prayers. I felt terrible but I also felt like I didn't have any other choice. It wasn't until one day, I was praying in the corner of a storage room when a co-worker unknowingly walked OVER me to grab something from the other side. This person had no idea I was praying, and I awkwardly tried to stay in my position and finish my prayer. But I decided right there and then I absolutely needed to find a better space to pray because the situation was getting a little out of hand.
I'm sure many can relate to both the humorous and not-so-humorous praying experiences, so I put together some tips below for praying in public.
Praying at school or work:
- Let your boss or teacher know ahead of time that you need to perform a couple of daily prayers and need a few minutes out of the day for them. Per federal religious observance laws, they can’t forbid you from doing so unless it poses serious harm or inconvenience to business or your colleagues/classmates. Explain to your superior how it’s a religious obligation, and you’d need minimum accommodation for it, just a quiet area that is secluded and allowable for you to be able to pray. This could be a conference room, an empty classroom or cubicle, or even the back of the building by the parking lot. While this is not entirely desirable, make due with the best option you’re given. Your Salah is worth it.
- Petition Human Resources (or Student Services if you’re still in school) for a meditation room (also called a ‘multifaith room’ or ‘quiet room’), like Mariam did in her company. When requesting the room, emphasize that meditation and prayer help employees take a break out of the busy day to pause, reflect, and recenter, which would ultimately lead to better productivity and renewed energy when they get back to work after taking a prayer break. Here's how Mariam did it:
- Come up with a plan: I looked at the different spaces in the building that could potentially become a prayer space, and spoke to the other Muslims in my office, because, "there is power in numbers!"
- Address management: I sat down with my manager and explained that as a Muslim, I pray five times a day and that some of those prayers fall within working hours. I was kind and understanding and made sure to answer any questions he had, explaining that all I needed was a quiet area for 10 minutes. He understood immediately, and for that, I was grateful. He contacted HR, and within the month, the storage space was transformed into a meditation room.
- Enjoy the new prayer space! Now I can focus on improving my khushoo' in my prayer and not worry about having to be stepped on again. I look back and wonder why I didn't begin this process earlier. But the experience taught me a crucial lesson: when you go out of your way to pray or find time for your faith, Allah (S) makes solutions for you.
- Use your smart phone compass app to find the direction of prayer. Find the direction that points towards Makkah and take it from there.
Praying in public spaces:
- If you are in a mall, try to find a quiet, secluded place. Some malls even have meditation rooms, so be sure to check for one first! If you can't find a quiet place, my hack for this situation involves going into any retail store, grabbing a couple of clothes in my size and using the fitting room to pray. This is so easy and doable! It’s only hard when the music in the store is blaring super loudly.
- If you are in another crowded public place, you might actually benefit from praying in the middle of a crowd! For example, if you’re in a park where you’re surrounded by people playing ball, frisbee, or just lounging about, you’d blend right in bending over and getting back up amidst so much activity. Same can be applied to being in a crowded cafeteria, or amusement park. Just be careful not to pray in a heavy pedestrian-traffic area where you’d risk getting knocked into continually. Otherwise, look for a secluded area off to the side somewhere where you can pray by yourself.
As one of the five tenets of our faith, the importance of prayer cannot be underestimated. For example, when Allah (S) spoke directly to Prophet Mousa, He said,
"And I have chosen you, so listen to that which is inspired to you. Verily, I am Allah! There is none worthy of worship but I, so worship Me and offer prayer perfectly for My remembrance." (Taha 13-14)
Furthermore, it was narrated by Abu Hurairah that the Prophet (S) said: “The first thing among their deeds for which the people will be brought to account on the Day of Resurrection will be prayer.” Indeed, the adhan (call to prayer) also emphasizes worshippers to “hurry to prayer and hurry to success.” When we internalize this importance, praying in public will feel less of a nuisance or something we place on the back burner of our minds when we’re out and about; it becomes a habit we perform out of urgency and enthusiasm to commit to what is expected of us from God.
*Name was changed to preserve anonymity.