Thank God for change rooms.
During my many excursions to various malls, I always took comfort in knowing that Sears or Winners could function as a temporary spot where I could pray. I’d often grab a random assortment of clothes—enough so that the clerk could realistically believe I’d be busy for 5 minutes—and disappear into a change room and pray. Sometimes I’d even try the clothes on. And, of course, afterwards I’d return the clothes to their proper places on the shelf.
After change rooms, stairwells are the next best thing. In fact, I prayed at the top of a stairwell at work for nearly a year. When I was in school, I’d pray in a small alcove at the bottom of the stairwell, among crude scribblings and carvings on walls, and sometimes with students coming and going, unbeknownst that, just beneath their feet, was someone worshiping God.
Praying in public is an uncomfortable but often necessary measure. I can’t help but wonder what goes through people’s minds when they walk by someone prostrating on the ground, unaware that they are involved in a deep and personal act of worship. As such, I’ve become quite adept at finding those tiny spots of seclusion, where people are least likely to bother me for a few minutes.
I’ve had to pray at the side of a snowy road, in various parking lots, near loading bays behind strip malls, in the backroom of restaurants, inside movie theatres, near emergency exits—and sometimes, just out in the open, in full view of the public.
The idea of praying on the concrete sidewalk, or in the corner of IKEA, is never that pleasant to think about. Yet even though it’s uncomfortable, there are times when you feel a strange thrill that comes with praying out in the open, like an acceptable danger that looms over you. When that happens, the world just becomes background noise. Sure, sometimes you get coke or a few crude comments thrown your way, but for the most part people are courteous to leave you alone—or perhaps even ask you what you were doing afterward. I’m grateful that I live in a country where I don’t have to worry about being arrested or beaten for praying in public. And I remind myself that, really, what’s the worst that could happen? You die. And what a better position to die in than one where you’re worshiping God?
The best places I’ve prayed, though, are the ones outside. The ones beyond the concrete jungle. The ones in the forest, where the soft moss serves as your prayer rug. Or on the rocks, mere steps away from a precipice overlooking a valley. Or even on the cold, night-kissed grass off the side of the road, with the canvas of the universe unveiled above you. It’s these moments where I truly feel the closest to God. It’s these moments where I remember the verse from the Qur’an, a reminder that “to God bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth— the sun, the moon, the stars; the hills, the trees, the animals…” (22:18). It’s a reminder that the whole earth is a place of worship, and in these moments when you are praying, all things created are praying with you.
We were created to worship God. Though worship can be anything done properly for the sake of God, including eating, talking, and even sleeping, it is in prayer that we find ourselves closest to God. It’s as though when we pray we’re fulfilling our purpose. And just as we have our own purpose, so too does all of creation. For instance, a tree absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen; that’s one of its purposes, and in fulfilling that purpose, it worships God. The same can be said for any animal, plant or insect. And so when you pray out there, in nature, you join an entire symphony of creation worshiping God.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said the entire earth is a masjid, which linguistically means “place of prostration”. So whether you’re in a bustling city, or near a roaring waterfall, or in the quiet serenity of a rocky canyon, you can place your head on the ground, and join creation’s unanimous prayer to God.