Reading Time: 5 minutes
At my kids’ school, they sing a soulful song which repeats:
When I first heard my kids singing these lyrics, I had a knee jerk reaction: A holy place?!!
Isn’t that blasphemous? … Why are they saying the earth is holy?? … How could that be? … Isn’t the earth a place of temporal desires and unlimited distraction? … Isn’t its beauty just a means of forgetting that heavenly place of holiness??
But then after my fears settled, my mind started to turn in so many directions …
There are many origin stories the world over that try to get at how it is that we humans ended up here on this earth. How did this place become our home? For us as believers in the message of the Quran, the story of Adam is (re)told. The earth was the place Adam was meant for and sent to. Before even creating Adam, Allah told the angels that He was going to create a successor for the earth1see the story of Adam in the second chapter of the Quran titled ‘The Cow’, verses 30-38. Yes, man was a creature created outside of the earth, but simultaneously made from earth stuff, for residence and growth on earth. Initially man resided in the peaceful heavens, but was not meant for it (at least not yet). There is something important about our being on earth specifically, that Allah chose it for us.
I remembered a saying of the Prophet ﷺ where he likens the earth to a masjid. He says: ‘The earth has been made for me a place of prostration and a means of purification, so wherever a man of my Ummah is when the time for prayer comes, let him pray”2Sunnan Annasai 736. If one were to claim a place as holy on this earth, surely it would be a masjid – a place dedicated to remembrance of and longing for Allah. Yet, the Prophet ﷺ seems to reeducate us. The earth in its entirety is a place to bask in the remembrance of Allah and reach out to Him. It is the place that Allah has chosen for us to know Him, to prove our devotion to Him, and to rise in ranks closer and closer to Him.
I’ve heard that it is preferable to perform prayers on the naked ground. It’s almost as if touching the earth with our bodies somehow lifts us up towards Allah more effectively. It’s just dirt, sand, stone: it’s just lumps of coldness. When I feel it though, against my hands and face, it humbles me. It reminds me that I am made from the same stuff as all this coldness. I am a lowly slave made of earth stuff and filled with earth trivialities. I am earthly and yet wish somehow to reach into the heavens. And so, Allah allows the earth to transform by my submission. The pressing of my forehead into it makes it sacred. It is now a masjid, a beacon towards God. This earth is more and more sanctified the more I pursue knowing Him. The earth can even facilitate that remembrance and longing. In the absence of water, I can use it to physically purify myself and thus be ready to bow and prostrate to Allah. My prayer gives meaning to the earth just as the earth gives meaning to my prayer.
So as to this earthly life. The beauty of the saying of the Prophet ﷺ above is that it shows me that the holiness is inherent to the struggle. A thing is made holy by the work that’s put into it. To engage and to reach out in longing for the Lord is to pray. This world is the place of prayers: the place of learning and understanding and reaching out to our Lord. Untangling the two from one another would render our prayers soulless because there would be no struggle and there would be no surrender. To pray on this earth is to testify the faith you carry within. Yes Allah, I cannot see You, I can only see your creation. Yes Allah, I cannot hear You, I can only listen to your creation. Yes Allah, I cannot feel you, I can only touch your creation. Yet here I stand performing this salah, bowing and prostrating and speaking your words, in longing, and in full conviction that You are with me.
I often find myself looking for the ‘right’ (usually hidden) place to perform my salawat. Somewhere quiet, somewhere familiar, somewhere people won’t stop and stare. Sometimes I just want to push the prayer until I get home and can pray in my usual spot. I need that sweet spot to find my surrender, to focus away my distractions, and to feel at peace in a clamoring world. But maybe I’ve just been deluding myself – there is no right place to pray. Every place I am in is a measured gift from Allah. Each space is a chance to meet Him anew and connect on new fronts.
When I pass by spaces I’ve prayed in before, I’m washed with a sense of comfort. The place gains a familiarity and intimateness it didn’t have before. Even when I have prayed there hurriedly and with great distraction, I still feel connected to this prayer place. Now me and that bit of earth are bonded a bit. If I’m always waiting to ‘get home’ and to pray in my little corner, I’ll never get the chance to embrace the small little bits of earth that Allah writes to become a home away from home.
This earth in all its earthliness may be for us the holiest place of all …