Part of Islams’ beauty lies in its structure, in its repetition, in the order it can bring to a believers’ life. Ironically, part of the difficulty believers find in practising Islam as fully as they’d wish, is found in exactly the same aspects; the routine, the timing, the repetition.
Five minutes, five times a day – as a new Muslim it seemed so easy! what’s five minutes? When you convert, logic tells you it will be the morning prayer you’ll struggle with most; funnily, that’s often the easiest set of prayers to make part of your new routine…you simply set the alarm, crawl out of bed, pray and if you want to, go straight back to sleep. The morning prayer doesn’t “interfere” with work or socializing and isn’t so directly affected by the seasonal changes of prayer time. It’s the other prayers, the remaining four which are hard to keep up, hard to make routine in your day.
In Turkey, we have mosques on every corner and shopping centres, car parks, even supermarkets have prayers rooms. We’re lucky, in that aspect, And I’m lucky, too that I don’t work now, but also that when I did, had a boss who was perfectly happy for office doors to close and provided prayer mats for staff to use. Too many people I know are forced to hide that they pray..yes, here in ‘Islamic’ Turkey..because the companies for which they work fear the faithful in the same way as the West; many friends have, at interview, been questioned on their beliefs, their practise of Islam and have been placed in situations to – for want of a better phrase – “test their secularism”. Following my conversion, slipping prayers into my work-day was easy enough thanks to the tolerance of my boss and both examples and support of colleagues – I’m so grateful for that job at that time – as a new Muslim, I had needed those prayers, my soul craved for those minutes, more than I’d known could be possible. It’s now I’m home everyday, theoretically in control of my time, that prayer times so often pass me by.
Take today. It started well, and M even let me go back to sleep after Salat. Then came lunchtime prayers and we were out..I left the house five minutes before the call came. When we came home, we’d missed it and afternoon prayers had been called. Ok, no problem, just let me feed M and get this load of washing…bah! That’s the call for evening prayer. And again, the same. Night time prayer is like the morning one – easy enough because it doesn’t matter if you pray just before bed or five hours earlier when its called, the prayer ‘counts’ the same. What I should have done today was delay for 10 minutes, pray before we left; prioritized to pray before laundry not leave prayer til last and instead of instagramming a photo of our day should have spread out the mat next to M’s big brick tower and prayed by his side. I failed miserably today.
One of the hardest aspects of the five daily prayers, for me, is letting on to others around that you’re going to pray. I’m British. We don’t talk religion – unless it’s to mock those who do. Growing up, church, belief in God was for geeks and grannies. The rest..the ‘normal’ people, went to church for Christenings, weddings, funerals and if you had a fear of the afterlife at all, Christmas Eve would see you there too. The rest of the year, prayers & belief in God are subjects not touched upon, certainly not in the context of “I do”. In contrast, every home you visit in turkey, whether the family are practising Muslims or not, every home has a prayer mat for guests to use and are able to point you in the direction of the Mecca to pray. There is nothing unusual, outlandish or fundamental about asking to pray while at a friends’ home, to pause a shopping trip to call in the mosque or to delay an event with the words, “just let me pray first…” As both a convert and a Brit, putting my religion out on the table in such a way felt, sometimes still feels, odd. My brain can’t stop judging me as a Brit.
I have never once prayed in the home of a friend in the UK, nor at any family members home save the one with whom we stay; bedroom door shut, no one is any the wiser. To ask to pray in someone elses home over there would be weird, just not done. Much as I feel guilty for not doing, for not sucking up the anxiety and stating a desire to pray, I reconcile the not praying with the leniency Allah swt grants for those on a journey and say a silent prayer for forgiveness for this lapse. Here, there just isn’t that excuse. Having got over the initial embarrassment i guess is the most accurate word, I’m now happy to pray at anyones home, or to pop into a mosque and let M crawl round at my feet. Outside the flat it’s so easy to find the time, so natural to stay on track with my prayers, so why does time elude me so when I’m home?
Winter’s the hardest. Prayer times are dictated according to the sun, so in summer there may be 16 hours between morning and nighttime prayers; in winter this can fall to just 10. There’s currently just two hours between Dhuhr and ‘Asr; to make this prayer you need to want to. I return time and again to the reasons why I truly love Islam, and the prayer and the ritual feature high up on those reasons that list. When I keep up with prayers, take the time to thank God for the blessings he continues to bring, I feel great. Giving thanks, showing gratitude reaps innumerous bounties on the soul.
I’m extremely lucky in the amazing women I have in my life – both here and around the world – but from a deen aspect, those in my life here. 90% of them are Muslims who approach their religion in the same way as I try to; continually learning, questioning, doing. Together, we kind of keep each other on track and within this group of stimulating women are a couple who are willing to be open with their struggles too, friends with whom I can confess that it’s been a week since I last prayed, not for an instance fearing their judgement instead knowing I can rely upon their encouragement and advice to kick-start my praying mojo again. In the 10% of friends not Muslim, there isn’t one who knows I pray. There isn’t one who has dared to ask why I cover my hair and I’m sure of the fact they, on some level, feel it’s G’s influence behind the hijab rather than a genuine belief. These friends knew the heel wearing power dresser and in lots of ways what remains of these friendships is superficial..we share coffee or lunch, talk lightly of our daily lives and miss out big chunks, often our biggest chunks, because we know we can’t share these at all. What fuels these friendships is a past we once lived and the people we then were. It’s with these friends my deen’s hardest to keep, prayers are hardest to pray.
Sticking to the path I choose, I want, is not always easy and its all too often I find myself slipping into gossip or about to give a great cocktail recipe to a friend who’s just bought beetroot in the market downtown. Scheduling in time to be dutiful in prayer, study the Qu’ran, read new hadith, challenge my faith with knowledge is harder, but its part of our test.
Each day I watch M learn something new. Today it was how to turn the dishwasher off and look coy when he was busted! Somedays what he learns seems so small, others so big yet big or small, whatever it is he is learning he is mimicking from us. As I unroll the mat and stand in position to pray, he crawl round to the opposite end so he’s facing me. He remains, bouncing up and down on his knees, watching me until he sees me come down to prostration and then it turns into a game..him against me, as he darts in between my legs, rolling across the mat. I pause, stroke his head and return to the prayer, he returns to the mats edge and watches once more. He’s learning from me. Soon he’ll be mimicking me, insh’Allah and he needs to be shown the true way, the correct way to allow him to find his path within and, no matter how challenging, how inconvenient or ’embarrassing’ it may be, this ritual we engage in needs to be five times a day, everyday. The balance has got to be right.