There just isn’t enough space. The mosque is overflowing with people. Tarps are being spread to accommodate the mass of worshipers. Men are pouring out to the front of the mosque and the women are…waiting. Finally someone gestures to a brother to find something suitable for the waiting women. The women spread out the makeshift ‘prayer mat’ and seat themselves; but still, there isn’t enough space. I remember that I’m wearing a double layer hijab and quickly remove one layer of scarf and spread it out for the three girls to my side. They smile as the ‘iqaamah (call to prayer) sounds and my own children look at me, and then the scarf, but I cannot follow their glances any further: it is time to pray.
I recall the challenges I faced in Abu Dhabi a decade ago, shortly after my conversion, when finding a prayer space on a Friday. I remember being frustrated by the glaring sun, the contrived outdoor spaces, and an experience I later termed ‘praying with the ants.’ This Friday, we again pray outside with the ants running over our fingers amidst shared headscarves; but this time there is something different.
The scarf the girls are praying on in a Houston suburb had been given to me as a gift by a dear friend from Cape Town after performing Hajj. It is more than a simple scarf; it is shared threads that symbolize support and provision for one another. Although this scarf has been placed on the ground, it couldn’t have served a more honorable purpose than to have three young girls offer their salat al-jumm`ah (Friday prayer) on it. Perhaps to some it may have looked as though it was getting dusty, but surely there was a purification of another sort taking place.
Women’s prayer spaces are inadequate, and many of us are working to remedy this; but step back for a minute, amidst whatever cause you may be championing, and recognize the countless blessings in our midst. For me, the difference of a decade—which I might add is part of a lifetime journey of faith and growth—has given me a greater sense of peace. It has allowed me to enjoy the present, along with the struggles that come with it, and work toward improving it. Although there isn’t enough space for us to pray this Friday, and that was and is disheartening, there is always a lesson, always an opportunity to increase our iman (faith) and humility, and finally to remark on the beauty of the small creations amidst us inshaAllah (God willing), Ameen.
“Until, when they came upon the valley of the ants, an ant said, “O ants, enter your dwellings that you not be crushed by Solomon and his soldiers while they perceive not.” So [Solomon] smiled, amused at her speech, and said, “My Lord, enable me to be grateful for Your favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents and to do righteousness of which You approve. And admit me by Your mercy into [the ranks of] Your righteous servants.” (Qur’an, 27:18-19)