Muslims, Muggles, and Musallahs

It was always dark by the time I finished the journey there from an hour away. But I didn’t mind — the smooth nighttime drive was always a sort of therapy that I came to look forward to.

Like many in my generation, I had graduated college and held a few cool temp jobs here and there, but I would eventually find myself back at home with my parents, and with few friends around. I was one of those brave (or maybe stupid?) few Muslim kids that majored in the social sciences (international relations, specifically). At the time, I was working a petty hourly job at a local outlet mall for pocket money. I had just taken the GREs and was waiting for the fall to start, when I would begin graduate school. But a few nights a week, I’d get a chance to venture out of the home and my pajamas. I’d freshen up, put on a cool hat, grab my tasbih, and throw on some sort of loose clothing — sometimes shalwar kameez, other times I opted for the overpriced hooded galabayya I had bought at ISNA that one year — and if I was feeling especially giddy, I’d put on some ‘itr. Coming from a relatively small town in Wisconsin and having been very active in MSA in my undergrad, I was just happy to see other Muslims my age.

This might seem egregious or ostentatious to many of you, but I truly was excited. There was an Islamic learning institute an hour or so away, and I would make that journey several nights a week to just to sit in a class with a shaykh and a few other students and learn fiqh, adab, and minute points of Arabic grammar for 3 hours. The building was not too fancy, the only priceless things around being the books on the shelves. But I enjoyed every minute of it, alhamdulillah. Nowadays, amid my nonstop grad school workload, I remember fondly those slower days, with the rejuvenating suhba of classmates, the words of great mashayikh of the past on the pages, the teacher demanding we recite to him the ahadith we were to memorize for that week (even though I’d always manage to mess them up). I even miss that annoying florescent light that hung over us.

One of the many lessons I took from that year was one line the shaykh said one night, almost in passing. We were going through Tuḥfatul Mulūk (“A Gift for Kings”), an old Hanafi fiqh text which covers the basics of Islam in a very condensed form, one that even extremely busy people could understand and begin to apply (such as the rulers for whom it was written). The book, like most in the genre, begins with purification, moving on to salah and the other pillars of the deen. We were on the section that talks about the daily prayers, when the shaykh suddenly paused, looked up at us, and said something along the lines of,

[alert type=blue ]“One thing you will notice about all the arkān (pillars) is that they are meant to be publicly displayed or otherwise known among the believers. The shahada must be witnessed; the fard salah ought to be performed in congregation if possible; zakat must be collected from all those of whom it is required and given to those to who are eligible for it; Ramadan is a month where the believers abstain from food while going about their lives as they otherwise would in front of everyone; the hajj is done very publicly with millions of others at the same time. In essence, the collective performance of the pillars of Islam is what gives shape to the Muslim community. It is what truly marks the establishment of Islam in a given area amongst a certain population of Muslims.”[/alert]

I remember that hitting me like a ton of bricks, but I didn’t truly understand why at the time.

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Fast forward a year or so later, and I’m now in grad school. I’m walking out of a late class, when I realize maghrib had come in and that I had to pray now, or else I won’t have a chance to later.

I repeated a ritual familiar to many. Did I have wudu’? Yeah, I had wudu’. I then quickly scanned my surroundings for a suitable location. I saw an entrance to empty stairwell on the same floor I was on, one that was hardly used as the elevator was right there. I closed my eyes, and pushed the door open to my temporary Platform 9 3/4.

How I feel every time I find a good place to pray.

Having done the deed, I began walking home. Like my nightly drives to class a year earlier, these walks were beloved to me, especially nowadays when the only sound was the crunching of boots against the silence that only a snowy winter night can bring. I thought about the prayer I just performed. It was, above all, like any prayer done in near-public, very rushed. I was always paranoid that someone might come in and wonder what in the hell I was doing.

A friend once told me a story about a tabi’i, ‘Urwah bin al-Zubair (رضي الله عنه), and how he was told by doctors that gangrene had spread in his leg, and that it had to be amputated. He stoically accepted his fate, but had one request: that before the amputation take place, he be allowed to enter into salah. The doctors acquiesced to this curious request, and proceeded to amputate the limb without so much as a peep or quiver from ‘Urwah. He was so engrossed in his prayer that the outside world had effectively ceased to exist for him, ma sha’ Allah.

He was so engrossed in his prayer that the outside world had effectively ceased to exist for him.

I am not nearly that cool.

Just the other day, I was praying maghrib in a hallway, and someone stopped, watched, and waited until I was done. Excruciating does not even begin to describe it. He looked at me with the utmost concern, and then asked, “Are you ok?” Now, I could act super macho and tell you that I was totally unbothered by the incident, that my khushu’ was not affected in the slightest. But I’d be lying through my teeth. It was difficult for me to focus on Allah (جل جلاله) when I knew someone was staring at me in the same way one might stare upon noticing a zebra had taken up residence in his or her building.

Just the other day, I was praying maghrib in a hallway, and someone stopped, watched, and waited until I was done. Excruciating does not even begin to describe it. He looked at me with the utmost concern, and then asked, “Are you ok?”

I like praying. I like the required five minute timeout five times a day to reconnect with what matters. But it starts to feel like less of a blessing and more of a burden when you’re forced to pray in stairwells or dressing rooms or parking lots.

I remembered the shaykh’s advice from a year earlier, how the prayer is fundamental to the establishment of authentic Muslim life. I thought to myself: wouldn’t it be so great if there were prayer rooms, or musallahs, conveniently located everywhere? A place where salah was not just understood, but encouraged? It’s hard and expensive to build masjids everywhere, I get that. But why couldn’t we work together to ensure that musallahs were there for Muslims when they needed it?

I didn’t need Platform 9 3/4, I needed Mr. Potter’s Room of Requirement.

Definitely not a coincidence that the Room of Requirement looks like a masjid.

Then, on that walk home, a thought hit me: we all have smartphones these days, so why couldn’t we use them to crowd-source musallahs for Muslims everywhere? Muslims own businesses and property all over the place, and even where they don’t, I am sure that there are many places with non-Muslim landlords, such as churches and synagogues or museums or high schools, would be nice enough to put out a rug or two for any Muslims who might be passing by. Heck, it might even bring in more foot traffic then there otherwise might have been.

That was last year, and the idea has been stuck in my head the whole time. It just wouldn’t leave me. I began to work on the idea in my spare time, as a side project. I started taking courses, researching the tech industry, and frequenting startup circles here in New York City.

At the beginning of this month, with the help of my incredible wife, we began raising initial funds for the initial version of the app, called Musallah, on Kickstarter. You can view more details as well as a fun video we made explaining what the app does at that page.

We’ve been raising funds since March 1st, and the response has been nothing short of incredible. We have had Muslims from all over the world reaching out to us offering their programming skills, their labor, their donations, their du’a. It’s confirmed to us that Muslims want to give more importance to their prayers, but with our increasingly busy lives, it just gets difficult. We need a better solution, and Musallah will be that, God willing.

Here’s an excerpt from a message we received the other day:

As-salamu alaykum brother Rashid and sister Nushmia,

I have been living in NYC for about 12 years and always found it difficult to perform daily prayers in regularly due to many circumstances. But Alhamdulillah I live in a Muslim neighborhood and been blessed with easy access to mosque nearby. I work in the city Fridays and Sundays and it is always very difficult for me to find a place to pray. Most of the time I pray in my car.

His is not the only story like this we heard.

I, like many of us, want to live and succeed professionally in this life as well as the next, but that gets hard to manage unless we can truly devote ourself to the salah when it comes in. Car prayers just won’t cut it. I want a world where I can give my prayers their full right. Musallah is our attempt to make inroads towards that.

If you like the idea, consider supporting us in any way you can, whether that means donating, tweeting, liking us on Facebook, or sharing the Kickstarter page with your networks. At the very least, keep us in your prayers, and may Allah accept all of our efforts to grow closer to Him.

 

Rashid Dar is studying Islam & Arabic traditionally, and is currently a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) in New York City.

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29 responses to “Muslims, Muggles, and Musallahs”

  1. mohammed khan says:

    Br. Rashid Dar:

    Maybe I understand what the shaykh meant.
    You are innovative and a keen listener and you follow your heart.
    That was amazing and this article is one of my most favorite this year so far.

    Regards,
    -Mohammed

    • Rashid says:

      Thank you, Muhammad. Please feel free to reach out with any comments or criticism you may have, or even if you just want to chat about nothing in particular. May Allah keep you happy both in this ephemeral life, as well as that permanent abode which is to follow.

      • Gerdi says:

        Dear Rashid, as-salamu alaykum, I appreciated very much your sincerity in expressing your heart felt emotions and feelings, the positive ones and the negatives. The first thing that came to my mind while reading through the lines was the similitude with my own experiences, and I wished I could have a sahib like you to share those kind of thoughts. May Allah bless your efforts and increase in ranks those that want to get closer to Him!

  2. Moh'd-Mudasir says:

    Great work you are starting up. Only Allah knows the guilt i feel whenever i have to join zuhur and asr prayers cos of work. I hope the app will be useful in other cities of the world.

  3. Abdul Malek Hassan says:

    Masyaallah. Fi hifzillah..

  4. Zev says:

    Been there, done that. I’m Jewish, not Moslem, but whether you spell it maghrib or maariv, the issue is much the same. Your idea isn’t quite http://godaven.com, but perhaps more like http://localsukkah.org.

    What exactly is involved in a mussalah? A room with some rugs or a carpet, an indication of the correct direction, a washing facility, and a shoe rack?

    And would it be a problem if those who wear shoes during prayer were to also use it? Would it disturb your prayers to have someone else praying in the same room in a different manner (standing or sitting rather than bowing)? Because I’m thinking this network of prayer rooms could be more successful if it were made more generic, to appeal to all those who pray or meditate regularly, regardless of how.

    • Rashid says:

      Zev – thanks for your note. There are indeed many parallels between the two traditions. We’ve had this suggestion made to us before, actually.

      There are some issues, I’m afraid. One is that genders would be segregated and separate areas, so not just anyone could come in to any part of the space. Another is that shoes are generally taken off when praying on carpet.

      It could be something we consider working on in the future, but our focus right now is on Muslim prayer. This is our area of comparative expertise, and, given the burgeoning number of Muslims in America/Europe, and the frequency with which these spaces would be used (prayer comes in 3 – 4 times during the work day), the need is particularly acute in our community.

    • Fahd says:

      Here in Toronto, many major companies, the airport, and universities have either a multi-faith prayer room which works perfect. It doesn’t have to be a mussala only.

      One company I worked for called it a “spirituality room”. My uni called them multifaith rooms…. THe airport has a half chapel, half musallah in its multifaith room. Hospitals have them too.

      So I don’t think it would be an issue as Rashid mentions. It works well here in Toronto for us. Just need more places like them. Prayer rugs can be made available in a box. Segregation or seperate areas are naturally respected depending on the number of men and women. I feel we shouldn’t limit it to Muslim prayer space only. If people of all faiths are on board, it could really work.

  5. Sophia says:

    Rashid,
    Salam. I was forwarded this article by a friend of mine in the madjid. I was quite surprised to find it had been written by my very own cousin, Mashallah. I have to admit I am so very proud of what you are doing! May allah bless you and Nushmia in your hard work and dedication. Love you!
    Soph

  6. Hira says:

    Great effort!!!!!! May Allah help u with it !!!!!

    I am frm pakistan..bt even here there are such problems smtyms!! (as sadly,women dont hav a space in masjids here)
    but I can understand overseas muslims must find it very difficult to have a proper prayer place !!

    • Rashid says:

      That’s a great point, Hira – we’re trying our best to be good listeners, and you’ve brought up a point we’ve been thinking about in our context here in America, but the more we listen, the more we’re realizing this is a global issue that needs addressing. Thank you for your input! We hope to one day expand to the entire globe.

  7. Leena says:

    Salam Rashid,

    This idea is wonderful and addressing it is absolutely necessary. I worked in downtown Chicago for nearly 3 years and it was always awkward using the stairwells (which were also for emergency use mostly) or the meeting rooms when empty. I walked in on so many meetings, and many meetings walked in on me. When caught in sujood or even simply standing, I felt like I was “up to something.” And the stumblers were confused all the same.

    These spaces not only provide a chance for someone to pray who might otherwise miss the prayer, but it also allows for those who are adamant on praying anywhere to find a space that is 100% welcoming. No need for a woman to double check if the qiblah is facing a way where it would make her prayer inappropriate to perform (because her back is to traffic). May Allah grant you both success (Now & Later) that you didn’t anticipate. Ameen.

  8. Zakariya says:

    Your app idea makes me think of Airbnb.

  9. shahnaz says:

    jazakh Allaah for the article. The need is there and we must work together to find a soluion. Keep me informed of the progress. I have experienced the same reactions from onlookers and it does distract me .

  10. […] an Islamic scholar, as quoted in the article ‘Muslims, Muggles, and Musallahs’ by Rashid […]

  11. Anonymous says:

    A brilliant article. This is something many of us have experienced.

  12. Sari says:

    What a great article! May Allah grant you ease and taufiq for your efforts. I’m Indonesian and it has never dawned on me how grateful I am to live here and find so much ease in praying 5 times a day wherever I am because we have so many mosques and musholla around. Thanks for reminding me how grateful I should be.

  13. Bilal says:

    Your app idea reminds me of the Ahli app: http://ahliapp.com/. I downloaded it when they first launched and while the idea is good, I haven’t actually found someone else using it so I could pray with them. Still, it’s nice to see us utilizing the newest technology to facilitate ibadah.

  14. Faria says:

    SubhanAllaah I can so well relate to this. Everytime someone sees me or hear a sound my hearts skips a thousand beats and I feel I have achieved nothing from the salah. I pray that your project is a success. Though I’d like to know how exactly this is going to work. How do you create that awareness amongst your fellow non Muslim friends or acquaintances or just stranger as to how important and central prayer is to us? Thanks a lot.

  15. Fatima says:

    In Singapore we use this website: http://musollah.com/. Sharing because you might find it helpful to get in touch with the team behind it. :)

  16. Muslim says:

    Salam Aleikum,

    Nice article, but the story with the leg seems to be confused with story of Ali ibn Abu Talib (ra), an arrow was stuck in his thy and it was pulled while he was praying. It is attributed to others sometimes because the event took place at the battle of Siffin, which some Muslims cannot unfortunately not only discuss, but refuse to even acknowledge that it took place.

  17. Naheed says:

    Assalamu alaikum,
    Great idea.
    I’ve just been travelling in Malyasian Borneo and Indonesia and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to pray when out and about, even when there wasn’t a masjid nearby. There were Musallahs (small, simple rooms) at service stations, rest stops, restaurants as well as tourist attractions. There were areas for both men and women. Alhamdulillah, it was so easy to keep up with the prayers.
    I wish you success with your idea.

  18. DI says:

    this is a nice idea, mashaAllah. like the one commenter above, it could be broadened with jewish community too, mutually help each other. i know rabbis have advised their followers to use multifaith / muslim prayer rooms at airports.

    also, i always thought it would be nice to come up with guidelines for a impromptu musallah. things like if a washroom is nearby, time concerns, wearing khuff, have a scarf or shawl (for guys) to use as prayer mat, how to focus in prayer in these random locations.

    di.

  19. ayesha says:

    i clicked on the link to this article because of the hogwarts express image (because i click on anything HP) but then saw the “dear rashid and nushmia” and got so happy. i haven’t met you yet, rashid, but i watched nushmia grow up… one day inshallah i’ll get to see you both together :) may Allah bless you in all the good and beautiful things you are both doing! and this app sounds fantastic.
    ps – there is some HP fanfic out there about the hogwarts MSA and how they use the room of requirement for their meetings…

  20. Hanadi says:

    Salaam,

    When I first started reading this article and came across that you lived in Wisconsin, I immediately thought to myself I only know one young man from Wisconsin that majored in the social sciences and SubhanAllah it turned out to be the very same person to write this article. I truly wish you the best in your endeavors and look forward to using the app.

  21. Tasneem says:

    AlhamduLillah. May Allah bless your efforts. I am so happy that you chose the urge to act on this brilliant idea.

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