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I’m Embarrassed to Pray in Public

I’m Embarrassed to Pray in Public

Back in 2012, when I was in high school, I had an opportunity to take courses at a local community college for both college and high school credit at the expense of my school district. It was called dual enrollment.

I was excited to get ahead in my college career, but dual enrollment presented a new challenge I never expected—I would now have to pray on a college campus. You see, the two courses required me to be on campus from Dhuhr until Isha. So three of my five prayers would have to be performed on campus.

What was once an intimately private act performed at home was now on display in front of strangers, many of whom were not Muslim.

I was embarrassed. In several instances, I found myself praying in an empty hallway only to begin sweating out of fear when someone unexpectedly walked by. My focus during Salah (what is termed Khusu` in Arabic) was regularly disrupted by the thought that someone would see me.

In fact, in full honestly, sometimes I would place my red folder on the floor and if someone passed by, I would pick it up as if to retrieve a paper from inside. This tactic worked well if I was sitting after Sujood, but not so well if I was in ruku`. And either way, it wasn’t an appropriate action to take during Salah.

I would ask Muslim friends in my classes where they would pray, hoping for a partner to ease the anxiety. They’d often respond with “I’ll wait until I get home.”

Prayer is Not Negotiable

So, why couldn’t I be like them? Why couldn’t I just delay Salah and pray Dhuhr, `Asr and Maghrib late at home, saving myself the anxiety and discomfort of praying in public?

The answer, looking back now, was simple. Even as a Muslim who was extremely limited in knowledge of deen, I understood Salah was non-negotiable.

I knew that delaying Salah without valid reason wasn’t only a sin but a detriment to my own soul. It was a disruption of the very connection that made me Muslim—the connection with Allah.

So whether at school or at work, before you decide how to manage your Salah, let’s go back to the basics of what Salah is.

When Salah became mandated upon the Muslims, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, had to ascend to the heavens to receive the command from Allah. Keep in mind: the Quran descended to the Prophet. And yet, the command of Salah was so special, the Prophet had to physically be taken to receive it. This is a testament to the weight of Salah.

Legacy of Prophets

As Muslims, much of our understanding of faith requires us to be rooted in history. What I mean is, we understand Islam as connecting us with our forefathers in faith: the prophets and the previous true believers in Allah. In surat Taha, Allah speaks to Musa (peace be upon him) and states:

{And I have chosen you, so listen to that which is inspired to you.

Verily, I am Allah! There is none worthy of worship but I, so worship Me and offer prayer perfectly for My remembrance.} (Taha 20:13-14)

In this, we understand that our Salah is a continuation of this legacy of worship of Allah, spanning thousands of years. If, on the Day of Judgement, we wish to stand with these incredible believers, Salah is an essential part.

Continuous Purification

Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

“The five [daily] prayers, and the Friday (prayer) to the Friday (prayer) are expiation for whatever sins may be committed in between, so long as major sins are avoided.” (Muslim)

To put into modern language, our Salah is a very merciful insurance plan from the Rahman Himself. When Salah is performed earnestly and on time, it is a means for the erasing of the sins we committed from the last Salah. So in other words, Salah serves us in a way we couldn’t necessarily attain elsewhere.

And if all else fails, it is enough to know that to delay our prayer is taking from the right of Allah. So even whilst we feel anxious, nervous, and embarrassed, Allah only asks our effort and our timeliness.

Tips to Overcome Embarrassment

We now understand our Salah from the perspective of hope and of fear in Allah. So what are practical tips for when we’re embarrassed to pray in public.

1. Ask Allah to give you ease. Duaa is powerful and essential. Ask Allah to make you steadfast. Ask Him whatever you need to fulfill your Salah.

While praying on campus, I would ask Allah nearly every prayer to take away the feeling of embarrassment. And I kid you not, one day, the embarrassment just dissipated.

2. Remember what you are doing is a command from God. I would ease my anxieties by telling myself this:

If others don’t feel embarrassed to neglect Allah’s right, why should I feel embarrassed to fulfill it. I still use this mantra until today.

3. Find the reflection room. Many campuses have a reflection room for any persons of faith to use. If you’re not able to access it (perhaps it’s too far to walk to), scope up a quiet spot and bring a portable prayer mat with you. Empty rooms, staircases, corners of hallways, the world is your musala (prayer place). And know that each and every of these spots will testify for you on the Day of Judgement.

4. Take on a Sunnah prayer or two. When you truly love an action, very little can take you away from it. So instead of completing just the fardh, which we are obligated to do regardless, start praying a Sunnah everyday like the two rak`aat after Maghrib. The following hadith is one that can’t help but make you want to do more extra prayer.

Tamim Ad-Dari reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

The first thing for which a person will be brought to account will be his Salah. If it is complete (all well and good), otherwise Allah will say: ‘Look and see if My slave did any voluntary prayer.’ If he is found to have done voluntary prayers, Allah will say:” Complete his obligatory prayers therewith.” (An-Nasa’i: Sahih)

 In conclusion, we have been given a very special honor to be Muslims in this world. There will be so many circumstances in life where we are going to feel awkward about our practices because they are not the norm. We will be stuck in campus hallways with red folders hoping no one will see us. When we feel that way, we remember the following reality:

Islam began as something strange and will go back to being strange, so glad tidings to the strangers.” Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)

 


About Hana Alasry

Hana Alasry is a Yemeni American Muslim community organizer and activist working most heavily with MAS Youth. Her work focuses heavily on Muslim youth development, Islamic tarbiya and the Yemen crisis. She is currently in PA school studying medicine at the University of Detroit Mercy.

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