By Ammar AlShukry
I was recently in the company of a friend who had gotten into photography with something of a vengeance. As we were walking through the streets of New York on a cold winter morning, he would stop at every few minutes to take a picture of a tree, or a building, or myself. He wouldn't take pictures the way a normal mortal would of course, he was an artist after all; even the way that he would stop walking if he anticipated a beautiful shot wasn't a normal stop, it was a passionate stop, a don't you dare take another step forward stop. The next thing I know, he would be twisting his body over a railing, or getting on one knee with his expensive new toy of a camera covering his face as he snapped dozens of shots. While all of this was happening, I noticed the crowd of people who would walk around him. Most people side stepped around him without even so much as a glance. I thought how strange it is that a man is on his knees on the sidewalk, blocking pedestrian traffic and no one gives him a second look.
This has always been the case in this city though. Eight million people, eight million characters. I've walked into parks to see men in the twilights of their lives, with no shirts and pants hanging dangerously in need of a belt, dancing to no music that could be heard outside of their heads, while seemingly reaching up for the sun that beat down fiercely on them. All of that, with no one paying them any mind, and the examples of this type are too many to count. So as my friend continued to find new ways to twist and turn to get the angle that he desired, my mind wandered to the one action that seemingly was too provocative for even the most liberal of cities: ṣalāh. In my mind at that moment the following poem was being formed;
I've seen photographers get on their knees to capture an angle
And painters lay on their backs to cover a canvas
A lover gets on one knee with ring and heart in hand
And a farmer may bow his back as he tills the land,
Then why is it considered strange,
For a man to fall in prostration in view plain
of all, in the middle of that street you know
Is he not an artist, or a lover, with seeds to sow?
And upon hearing this past week of France intending to ban the prayer in public places due to it being offensive to the sensibilities of its citizens, one cannot help but wonder, in these liberal democracies, what is it about ṣalāh that makes it so offensive?