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Recently, at my children’s school, a fellow parent asked me about where I pray when I’m on campus. He was genuinely interested and it even felt like he wanted to talk more about prayer and how beautiful he found the Muslim practice to be. I was so grateful. But at the same time, I found myself trying to shut down the conversation as quickly as possible. Instead of talking more and just asking all the questions I had about how he discovered prayer and what made it interesting to him, I felt like I needed to just smile and change the subject. I walked away so confused.

Why is it so hard for me to talk about prayer? Or to pray in front of people who don’t pray? When I pray in public I find myself so distracted and just wishing to finish quickly. I worry about people walking up to me and talking to me while I’m praying. I worry about looking weird or crazy. The entire experience is anything but spiritually satisfying.

At first it seems like it’s just an embarrassment having to ask for the time or the space. I need to take time away from my commitments so that I can go do this thing. I need to ask for a quiet space. I need to communicate needs that others aren’t asking for. Even more, and especially when I’m out in public, praying with my child next to me makes me feel negligent. I need people to be patient or just understand that for a few moments I need to turn my attention away from my kid.  On the surface it seems that I’m worrying about inconveniencing others, but I know that’s not the full answer. 

I found the courage to eventually talk to that same parent again. He seemed incredulous that I should feel that I have to hide this practice. “It’s obvious [you’re] not bothering anyone” he said so surely. I knew he was right. It doesn’t make sense – especially if I’m literally praying outside in a field by the school building – that I should think I’m bothering anyone by doing that. Further, it wouldn’t make sense that I don’t even want to talk about prayer. Yet, prayers always feel like something I need to hide from people who don’t pray. 

As a friend of mine put it: 
If you’re not ashamed of it, why are you hiding it?

Prayer as Love

Prayer is a love action. It is proof of the love inside of us. Taking time out from your day and offering it to another is a way to say I value you over all the other things I could do with my time. It’s true, that prayer is an obligation, but in a way, it’s a means for Allah to tell us, we are never unworthy of having those moments with Him. And, our constant return to the practice, though obligated, reminds us of our own love and commitment to Allah. I could drop this meeting if I wanted to, yet I persist, because my relationship with Allah matters that much. 

Loving someone is usually life changing. When it is a joyful love, you want to paint everything with that love. Your love lights up your path and knowing which turn to take is so clear. Your love is nourishing and uplifting and it is the thing you want to sing from the rooftops. It makes life so much easier to understand and move through. 

When that love is wrong in some way, though, it is unsettling. You want to hide it and you want to hide the traces of it. Even if that love gives you happiness in a moment, the bad feelings of wanting to hide it overwhelm any joy. It sucks life from you and distracts your movements. You start to wonder if love is even worth it; if love is even real.  

I know I am hiding my prayers like a sinful lover … What is so wrong about loving God?

The truth is, I’m embarrassed to tell others about this love; to claim it openly to the world. When I pray, I want it to be in secret so that I don’t have to admit that I really do love God, and my love for Him is persistent. In an increasingly Godless world(view) it feels that everyone must think me utterly ridiculous to bow my head. Like some sort of archaic ancient dance, what is really the purpose of such a practice in a modern life? How deluded. At least that’s what I imagine everyone is thinking when they pass by me with my head on the ground. 

If my prayer is about God though, why does it even matter what other people think about it? Isn’t my faith strong enough? Isn’t my love earnest enough? Haven’t I already committed to journeying through life in a quest of submission to Him? Isn’t that symbolized so perfectly by literally submitting my body to the ground before Him? I have already chosen to hold on to an ‘illogical’ love amid a cold-hearted world, haven’t’ I? My hidden prayers, though, belie my claims. My love is not yet strong. It bends to the imagined criticisms of imagined people. My love is still a quiet lullaby I sing mostly to myself. 

So I ask Allah: 

To be dutiful on all of His earth 

To be fearless in my devotion 

To be beautified by my submission

To be honored through my choices

And most of all …  

I ask for a love that burns from my heart so loudly, I want to sing it wherever I may be

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