I made it to campus Friday prayers and I lived to tell the story!
You probably wonder why I make it seem like such a big deal. After all, it is not like Friday prayers are that unusual; nor are they known to be particularly risky events. Yet, this is the first time ever in my 4 years hanging around on US campuses that I’ve ever made it to a university one. In fact, I don’t go much to Friday prayers at all; often times one Eid to another can pass without me having stepped my foot into a masgid (Mosque) for prayer congregations in between. Why all this hostility? Shouldn’t Friday prayers be spiritually rewarding exercises, building a sense of community among Muslims? Yes they should. No, I’m not hostile. I’m just afraid.
It is not like I don’t yearn for the bonding praying together creates; there are few things I enjoy more than praying alongside friends and loved ones, especially out in the open surrounded by God’s beautiful creations. Also, it is not the masagid themselves I have a problem with (well, maybe a little – more on that later); the thing I love the most about Egypt is the splendor of her old Islamic architecture. Whenever place my forehead in the ancient dust of the bare rock floors in one of Cairo’s many centuries old places of worship all alone by myself with God, the overwhelming feeling of awe and iman (faith, but also my name) frequently bring tears to my eyes.
So if I do love praying together, and I enjoy being in masagid, why do Friday prayers scare me so much? The simple answer is bad experiences. Bad experiences from Islamic events on my alma mater’s campus which shall remain unnamed, and bad experiences elsewhere in the world (I am not intending to take jabs at the former here). Events of such kinds that insult your intelligence or make mockery of the including and tolerant character of Islam, or events that are simply all about shape and form – about mechanical rituals of act and appearance – void of any spiritual nourishment. Incidents of restriction, incidents of disappointment. Do not get me wrong, there have been jewels of wisdom and gems of spirituality scattered along the way; I just didn’t come by them too often. The bad experiences by far overshadowed the beautiful ones, scarring my approach to Muslim gatherings for years. So when I made it a point to make campus Friday prayers a part of my weekly routine starting today (on my room mate’s insistence – all good be granted her, iA), that was indeed a great step for me to take.
How did it go then? Will I become a commonplace face among the studious worshipers on my current campus? I guess you could all gauge some sense of positivity from the heading, despite the previous seriousness. Entering the room some minutes late, after being greeted by friendly faces outside the venue, my fears and skepticism were dispelled as the guest khatib (person delivering the Friday “sermon”) reminded the youthful audience of the most important concept in Islam. It wasn’t the fear of hellfire, it wasn’t the importance of the beard, niqab, or hijab. It wasn’t even the five daily prayers or the month-long Ramadan fast. Love is Islam, and Islam is love. Love for God, love for the Prophet are the defining traits for a believer. Love for the people around you for the sake of God is the worldly embodiment of such love. Granted, we should strive for more than love in perfecting our relationship with Him and with the people around us, but love should always be at the core. In this current moment of division and inflexibility, such a focus on love may seem hippieish, even Sufi-like (and the khateeb commented on this himself), but it is truly nothing but the unadulterated essence of the religion as evident in the Quran and Sunnah. So the answer is yes, God willing, I will continue to return every week from Friday prayers with love. May they all be as rewarding and beautiful as this.
Phewww. That was quite a verbose post, and if you made it this far, remember to send blessings upon the Prophet in these beautiful days (if you are Muslim, that is). Below is my outfit for the day, built around my tribal and neon bag.
Head scarf: H&M, winter scarf: H&M, leather jacket: Pitaya, faux fur vest: Forever21, neon green tunic: Gina Tricot (Norway), boyfriend jeans: Pull & Bear, tribal pattern bag: Urban Outfitters, studded sneakers: Aldo, accessories: Ebay, Friis & Co, ASOS, Urban Outfitters