Stairwell to Heaven

Quietly, I slipped into the cold dark stairwell and lightly shut the door behind me. I looked around to see if I was truly alone. I saw not a soul; only gray concrete and thinly painted slab. It was freezing cold and even though I could not feel the concrete floor, I just knew that when I pressed my face against it, the gelidity would most certainly sting. I cared not and turned towards Mecca, closed my eyes, took a deep breath and…Wait! Did I hear a door open a few floors up?

I paused so that I might not unnerve an unsuspecting techie rushing to a meeting, or alarm an overzealous, yet mightily bored, security guard who would gladly find something to do in saving the building from someone skulking in the stairwell. Within moments I realized that all was clear. Yet, my anxiety in possibly being discovered saddened me. In the secrecy of that cold and dark landing between the stairs I felt like a thief. Why was I there?

Friends, co-workers, colleagues and associates often wonder why I walk away from what I am doing at any given moment, no matter how important the task at hand may be, to perform one of the five daily prayers prescribed in Islam. To them it seems so nugatory that I walk away from the proverbial hamster’s wheel for those fleeting 5 minutes to talk to God and bow before Him. I find their puzzlement ironic since within it rests the very answer to their question.

Their bewilderment is in itself a clear indication that humans simply would not afford the time to pray if not ordered to do so. God states in the Qur’an:

10:12“And when affliction touches man, he calls upon Us, whether lying on his side or sitting or standing; but when We remove from him his affliction, he continues [in disobedience] as if he had never called upon Us to [remove] an affliction that touched him. Thus is made pleasing to the transgressors that which they have been doing.” (10:12)

This is an observable reality. When people are in trouble, they pray to God for help. When there is some material desire, people will pray to God that He may grant that wish. Otherwise, we are simply too busy to pray.

Yet, being a Muslim, I am commanded by God to “phone home.” It is to force that connection between God and His masterpiece creation for the latter’s betterment. It is to force the terminally ill child to swallow the medicine needed to be whole again.

Though I am the one who needs Him and He is in no need of me, He loves me and wants to hear from me. If that is what my parents expect of me, then why is this not understood from God? It is because, as much as people talk about God’s love, it is simply a catch phrase with no real meaning to most. This is something the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ sought to remedy. Once, while he walked the streets of Medina with his companions, they passed by a mother doting upon her child. To this the Prophet ﷺ asked a stunning question:

أَتُرَوْنَ هَذِهِ طَارِحَةً وَلَدَهَا فِي النَّارِ
“Do you think that she would throw her child into the fire?”

To this, the Companions replied in shock:

لَا وَهِيَ تَقْدِرُ عَلَى أَنْ لَا تَطْرَحَهُ
“No. As much as it was in her power she would not allow the child to be thrown thus!”

So the Prophet ﷺ informed them:

لَلَّهُ أَرْحَمُ بِعِبَادِهِ مِنْ هَذِهِ بِوَلَدِهَا
“Verily, God is more compassionate to His servants than she is towards her child.”1

In another narration his reply is:

ولا الله بطارح حبيبه في النار
“Likewise, God will not throw His beloved into the fire.”2

What the Prophet ﷺ sought to make abundantly clear is that God loves us more than a mother loves her child and will not allow us to be thrown into a fire. I can feel this Divine Love when I pray to God. When I rest my head upon the floor and surrender everything unto Him, I feel that He has taken the task upon Himself of relieving me of my burdens. It is a feeling comparable to the relief I feel when I hear my mother’s and my father’s voices when I am thousands of miles away and feeling alone.

This is why I walk away from my desk, pausing my life for a meager 5 minutes. This is why I sprint into a cold dark stairwell, hiding like a thief in the dark. There, I am able to pilfer a few quiet moments with my Lord. I raise my hands and present all my joys, good fortune, worries and misfortunes before Him. 5 minutes, 5 times a day makes 25 minutes out of 24 hours. To find that daunting is unfathomable to me.

So, the next time you’re Googling on your laptop at work and you notice the time for prayer is about to pass, look for the nearest stairwell. It may be quaint but, make no mistake, it is a Masjid (mosque).

وجعلت لي الأرض طيبة طهورا ومسجدا. فأيما رجل أدركته الصلاة صلى حيث كان
“All the earth has been made pure, purifying and a place of worship for me. So if anyone finds the time for prayer has come, let them pray wherever they may be.”3

  1. Sahih Muslim, The Book of Repentance, The Chapter “God’s Mercy Prevails Over His Wrath”.
  2. Musnad of Imam Ahmad, Mustadrak of al-Hakim.
  3. Musnad of Imam Ahmad, Mustadrak of al-Hakim.

About the author

Shibli Zaman

Shibli Zaman

Shibli Zaman was born in Summit, New Jersey and raised in Houston, Texas. Since his childhood, he has frequently traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Later in life, much of this time was spent studying Islamic jurisprudence in the Shafi`i and Hanbali schools of law. He has a deep appreciation for different cultures and is literate in several languages such as Arabic, Persian, Pashto and Urdu. Surprising for a Muslim, he is also adept in Hebrew and Aramaic. Having a proclivity for Semitic linguistics enabled him to study the Biblical texts from a unique perspective. He holds a gold medal in Bible Memory from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has contributed to one of the most significant websites defending Islam's textual sources and traditions from an academic perspective, He was an employee of Shaykh Salman al-`Awdah from whose inspiration he benefited tremendously and assisted in the early phases of his English website,

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  • Truly Allah’swt loves those who rember “Him and so insha’Allah “He now rember you and me ameen.

  • This article really struck me. Every day at work I “sneak out” to a part of the floor that is completely empty and there is one room that has been left unlocked. I go there to pray. I too have the same emotions, and stir to any noise of footsteps, etc. Of course, what I feel guilty about is why I am stirred – after all, I am praying and not impeding anybody when doing so. Reflecting on it, I feel like I need to build my identity as a muslim, so like Brother Shibli Zaman, they too know that I am just stepping out to prayer. I pray that Allah gives me the courage and faith to attain this level of imaan.

  • Asalaam Alaikum,
    I found this article to be very encouraging and positive! I know in my deep soul that praying is the only way to success in this life and the hereafter yet I can’t get myself to pray. It’s not like my life is a bed of roses and don’t have time to pray but mentally I just can’t get myself to do it. I know prayer is the only place I will find peace yet blank!!! I need help ……. I see myself walking towards hell. Please don’t hate me just help me correct my relationship with my creator.

    • salaam my sister. I’m no scholar – but i would recommend just take it one step at a time inshAllah. start with at least one a day. Find ways to make it meaningful. Know that you can use it as a time to make duaa from your heart in your own language asking Allah for whatever need you have when you are in sujood – one of th most beloved times to make duaa. That alone can be reason enough to start at least once a day…and then build upon that with time.

      the series on salah might be one nice way to start being inspired by the meaning behind each motion in prayer:

      here is the reference for being able to add your personal supplication in your own language in addition to what is required in prayer:

        • Assalamu Alaikumussalam wrwb dear sister Anna, The very first step to success is knowing what your doing wrong and regretting, and trying to do better, and mashaALLAH ta’ala your already there. So many people do wrong without even knowing or caring, but mashaALLAH you know what your doing wrong and you care. Dont stress yourself, the very first thing I think you should do, is take a praying mat, sit down and make dua to ALLAH, ask him for guidance, and forgivess, and ask him to help you start praying. InshaALLAH ta’ala in no time you will find peace and happiness in salah. Read about the salah, the benefits, and what salah really is. Today people have made it an exercise, you stand, bow, read stuff, make sajdah, stand up again, bow, sit, and make salam. Thats not what salah is, its a a very wonderful time you spend with your best friend ALLAH, you talk to him, theres no one between you and him, just like when you go to a friends house and have a nice chat, well here in salah you have a nice talk with the king of ALL kings, its such a blessing to actually be invited to come and offer salah and talk to ALLAH. Try to bring your heart in salah, think about everything he gave you, all the blessing around you, who he really is, his creations, and then when you see how almighty, great he is, then start salah, and inshaALLAH ta’ala you will feel something different. Wow, I hadn’t planned to make this such a long post, I think thats enough for now. sis please remember me in your duas.

      • Sana, that answer was better than any scholar could have given. Jazaki Allahu khayran 🙂

        Anna, heed the words of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) that were shared in this article. They are but truth. God loves you more than a mother loves her baby, and He (praised be He) will, likewise, not want you to be thrown into a fire.

        • Assalamulaikum. Nice to hear from brother Shibli alhamdulillah. i was wondering what happened you your website was inactive and you had planned to publish a work on Melchsidec cult in soc.religion.islam Google group several years ago. Just wondering if you had published it somewhere.

  • Allah knows the crazy places we’ve prayed. Allah knows the times we prayed late, the prayers we missed and the prayers we prayed in darkness. May it be accepted from us.

    ‘whoever finds the time for prayer has come let them pray wherever they may be’. Insha’Allah.

  • I have always been upfront with work (when I have gone for interviews) that I need time out to pray.My time slots get booked out and they have never expected me to compensate it either, even though I have offered. Alhamdulillah, all we have to do is ask.

    Once when I took my children to the museum ,I knew I would be there till dhuhr, so as soon as I arrived in the morning I asked if I could pray in a room at 1.30pm. The lady said -no problem and told me to go to the reception at that time.

    When the time came- the receptionist was waiting for me, knew why I was there and took me to a conference room which was booked out in my name for that time. I felt really official. When I went inside, they had taken the care to mark out the compass points too..Subhan’Allah…hadaahumullah!!!

    I was very impressed. All we have to do is take that step and He will make things easy for us insha’Allah.

    As the lady at the museum said to me “I wish more people would just ask us rather than stand up and pray where it could be potential health and safety problems”

    Alhamdulillah, when I have been at conferences-it’s just easier to ask and they often give you a good room and make it as private as possible for you. I guess we should never shy from just asking.In fact the one time I did try to do a “sneaky” one- leaving mid way through a lecture and looking for a “spot”, an employee came running after me asking what I was doing. I said I wanted to pray- lo and behold-she brought me a prayer mat. Subhan’Allah w’Alhamdulillah.

    Hadith Qudsi 15:
    On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Prophet (PBUH) said: Allah the Almighty said:
    I am as My servant thinks I am (1). I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assemble better than it. And if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a fathom’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.

    • Sister, I truly admire your devotion and openness to express your desire to pray. I pray that God continues to assist you in this. However, with all due respect, not all workplaces are as accommodating as yours appears to be, nor are they required to be. There is no legal responsibility to designate a specific place for you to pray. You are told to freely use any empty conference room and you are welcome to pray there. Thus, they have fulfilled their legal requirement to accommodate you. When you work for a major corporation, conference rooms are almost always occupied with meetings. Often times, people in such busy environments find themselves in the stairwell and I wrote this piece for them: Those for whom prayer is NOT made easy in the work place. I know that there are many who want to pray, but who aren’t quite there yet when it comes to taking that extra step to get their prayers done even when it becomes difficult. To them I say: “I’m right there with you, comrades. I feel you.” Perhaps the emotions I’ve shared in this article will push them to take that extra step, God willing.

      • Insha’Allah your article will help greatly.

        I was just trying to express that we shouldn’t feel shy to ask. I have always found the general public to be more understanding than we give them credit for. We sometimes fear even asking and indeed many a time they themselves are most grateful that we have asked.

        If after asking, there are issues, then this is a different matter and may your words make it easy upon us all insha’Allah.Ameen

        Barak’Allahu feek

  • Salam all,

    Thank you Shibli for this nice article, as my friend who forwarded this to me said: well-written 🙂
    I really pray that we all have the confidence to never feel like thieves when we’re praying because we’re doing the best thing one can ever do
    And, just like Zaufishan said, only Allah knows the strange places we prayed at 😉 I always think that it’ll be different fun stories to tell my children in the future inshAlla… gas stations, airplanes, movie theaters, under trees in the park, airports, room at McDonalds, and of course stairwells 😉

  • my favourite part
    absolutely great part
    loved this
    may Allah swt reward you and please continue to post!!!!!

    “This is why I walk away from my desk, pausing my life for a meager 5 minutes. This is why I sprint into a cold dark stairwell, hiding like a thief in the dark. There, I am able to pilfer a few quiet moments with my Lord. I raise my hands and present all my joys, good fortune, worries and misfortunes before Him. 5 minutes, 5 times a day makes 25 minutes out of 24 hours. To find that daunting is unfathomable to me.”

  • Great article, akhy! Alhamdulillah, I am blessed to join you in this stairwell. May Allah multiply our rewards for praying in jama’a. Ameen.

  • My first day in my new job, just over 10 years ago, provided a memory that I won’t forget, and a lesson that Allah does what He wants.

    This job was important to me because a) the difficulty of employers accommodating me the privilege of salat, especially and specifically Friday prayers, meant I was to remain jobless leading up to this point, and b) this was the first job in the field in which I could pursue a career in, as it is what I loved doing. All the previous (lost) jobs required no real challenge.

    So, about that first day. The time of Zuhr approached, so it was time to request a place to do my praying. In my mind/heart I was thinking “oh well, no chance I’ll last the week here”, fearful that my request would be scoffed at.
    The manager’s reply was, “yeah, sure, how about the book room upstairs?”. My quick reply was “yep that’s good enough, thanks!”

    Then, as I turned away, he said, “you can go to the mosque on Fridays with John Harvey, too!”
    (John was a revert). That moment reinforced something I always remembered from the hadith of the beloved, “whoever leaves something for the sake of Allah, Allah will recompense him with that which is better.” More or less.
    Controller of the hearts! Subhanak ya Kareem.

  • After a year or so in this job, no Friday prayers were missed thanks to Allah. However one Friday, I was paid a visit from right at the “top” – Iblis himself (may Allah protect us from him). He came just before the time for me to leave for Zuhr.

    He whispered, “Look at all that work have to do, there is no way you can complete this considering your deadlines. Impossible. It is better for you to work through your break, no need for salat alzuhr, Allah understands, it’s ok….” He wouldn’t stop nagging.

    These thoughts wouldn’t leave me. The work I needed to complete, Allah is my witness, appeared as though would take over 6 hours to complete. I needed it finished in much less time, so skipping this one Friday was “logical”. But all Praise to the one Who’s Order is between the kaaf and the nuun, I went to the mosque instead.

    Then I came back, and Allah is my witness that within about 20 minutes I had completed EVERYTHING, with His permission, and then sat there with nothing left to do twiddling my thumbs, smiling to Allah, wondering where all that work went.

    He’s got everything under control so trust Him.

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