I was alone in the room, standing calmly, trying my best to focus on this very exclusive meeting I was in, then suddenly… the door opened, followed by footsteps and loud talking….it all went downhill from there. I lost my focus. I lost the precious moment I was in as my mind started wondering “what will they think of me now?”
I was in the middle of a peaceful meeting with my Creator for Dhuhr (noon) prayer, but instead, I became worried about what will people think of me. Something so natural as prayer can become a big struggle for some people on a daily basis due to work circumstances.
Since I can remember, as a child, I would pray; there was never a question of missing the prayer. Ever. This wasn’t because I had a perfect relationship with Allah from childhood, it was because it was the way of our house. Everyone prayed.
It’s easy to pray in an environment where everyone does so. However, trying to pray in an environment where no one else is -like work sometimes- can seem like a challenge.
I always knew why I had to pray but it wasn’t until I had firmly arrived into adulthood that I understood why I NEEDED to pray.
Why I found prayer to be very important?
1. It teaches commitment and accountability since it’s the first deed to be asked about on the Day of Judgement.
The importance of establishing the 5 daily prayers in Islam is demonstrated strongly and clearly in the Qur’an and many of the Prophet’s sayings. For example, the Prophet said:
“The first matter that the slave will be brought to account for on the Day of Judgment is the prayer. If it is sound, then the rest of his deeds will be sound. And if it is bad, then the rest of his deeds will be bad.” [Hasan]
So, prayer (salah) as taught to us by the Prophet will be the first of our deeds we get accounted for. This helps us develop a sense of seriousness, commitment and urge to avoid slacking behind in faith and connection with the Creator.
2. Prayer is linked to success.
Around 10 times a day the phrase “come to prayer, come to success” is uttered during the athan (call to prayer).
This success is referring to both worlds, so I realised I cannot separate salah from my daily life worried about ‘if I don’t mingle during lunch I won’t get that contract/ promotion etc.’ For me it was enough that Allah has promised me that salah is a means to success so I had to re-evaluate my priorities and give salah the worth it deserved.
3. It helps people learn more about your beliefs.
Often, we feel that if we pray or ask for a room to pray at work our managers/ colleagues will think we are ‘extreme’ but that’s just a thought. You see, a thought is only as great as you entertain it. In my experience, when I asked for a prayer room at work, it opened up more dialogue between us. My colleagues were intrigued but at the same time very supportive, alhumdulillah.
4. Exclusive, therapeutic private talk with the Creator
Salah is a space where no one or nothing gets to come between you and your Lord. It’s the only exclusive conversation you get to have, where along with all your troubles you get to put down your head and your heart to The One who created them; and He’s the best to mend what life breaks.
Physiological benefits of Prayer
If I turn your attention to the physiological aspects of salah, you’ll notice the positions of salah are somewhat like Yoga.
Yoga is celebrated and believed to be beneficial holistically. And if you think of the 5 daily prayers, just the position of sujood (prostration) alone, which is like the Balasana (child pose) in Yoga, allows the heart to be above the head hence increasing blood flow to the brain, this position also strengthens the abdominal muscles.
Research conducted by Raof Ahmad Bhat, titled “Unity of Health through Yoga and Islamic Prayer Salah” covers the similarities between Yoga and salah and how one rak’ah (unit of prayer) can activate the chakras which yogis believe to be the energy fields in our body. If the positions of prayer are performed correctly you can have a full body workout.
But prayer takes benefits to a much deeper level and it has a much deeper meaning.
The scientific benefits are only proven recently, but for believers, our reason for prayer is simple and straightforward:
“And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” [Qur’an: Chapter 51, Verse 56]
“And I have chosen you, so listen to what is revealed [to you]. Indeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance.” [Qur’an: Chapter 20, Verses 13-14]
Prayer and productivity at work
I came across an article about Pop&Rest rooms/ pods which are available for people to book from 30 mins to 2 hours for those wanting to take a power nap during their lunch break away from the stressful office to a calm and peaceful environment.
Similarly, the positions of salah combined with the recitation in it are means for you to unplug from the busy world to a place of serenity. This helps regain your peace, gives you focus and more energy.
The important thing to remember is quality over quantity. If you are short on time and want to be able to maximise the benefits of salah at work, here are 3 key points to remember:
1. Keep it short and sweet: focus on the fardh (obligatory prayer) and recite the shorter surahs in your qiyaam (standing position of prayer). Allah wants ease for you so go easy on yourself.
2. Try to read the translation and/ or commentary: on the surahs you choose to recite which will help you gain a deeper understanding and help you concentrate. When you try to connect with the words you recite, it brings a new meaning to your salah.
3. Be present: this is vital to maximising the benefits, by understanding who you are meeting with and cutting off from the outside world for just a few minutes, it rejuvenates your body and soul.
But How to Ask for Prayer Room at Work
If you’re someone who works in a non-Muslim environment and is struggling to secure a prayer room, here’s my experience as somebody who has worked in Central and Local Government as well as the private sector and managed to get a prayer room in each employment, and my prayer rooms ranged from meeting rooms to cramped storage rooms and a fire exit stairwell.
If you don’t ask you don’t get
I noticed that there is always provision for people at work to take smoking breaks; asking for time to pray does not take longer than the smoking break your colleagues get. Those few minutes to fulfil your obligation of salah reset your mind, and give clarity and rejuvenation which helps at work.
When I asked for a room to pray at work, I was initially given a storage room to pray in, but it was still a space that served the purpose. I remember later on the fire exit stairwell was suggested as an area to pray and I thought ‘it’s not very private’ or ‘what if someone walks in whilst I’m praying?’ Then I reminded myself that this Dunya (worldly life) is not perfect and I had not come to work to find a perfect prayer place.
Compromise and be grateful
If the space you are given is not up to your standards, remember that Allah wants only ease for you. When we look at the story of Ibrahim he was never concerned with comfort, he just kept moving forward. I found a peace that I couldn’t find at home when I prayed in the fire exit stairwell because I found a connection there.
Perhaps because of my determination to not compromise on my obligations, Allah rewarded me with peace whilst praying at work. I was grateful when the brothers started using that space to pray also. A small effort on my part opened ways for others to pray.
Food for body and food for soul
Lunchtime – my favourite part of the day! It would seem nonsensical if your employer denied you the right to eat. if your stomach signals that it’s hungry then it’s time to eat. In the same way, salah is food for our soul. The signals for your hungry soul are the feelings of unrest pent up inside you that you are unable to make sense of.
Just as you feed your body to be energised to go about your work, your soul also needs to be nourished.
Employers look for loyalty, integrity and discipline in their employees. By showing them that you attend to your prayers punctually without intervention will show them that you are trustworthy and loyal. Salah was ordained for you to increase you; in spirituality, sustenance and in a commodity we are all in need of: time. It puts barakah (blessing and prosperity) in your time.
Calculate and make the most of your time
When planning my day, I plan it around salah and not the other way around. If you’re fortunate enough to have a mosque within a few minutes walk from your workplace, you can manage to incorporate prayer into one’s lunch break. However, if you need room to pray in your workplace and/ or the prayer time comes in between working hours that can be a little tricky depending on your employer.
I found that being open and honest about your needs is paramount in getting what you need. If you are not able to get the ‘smoking break’ time, then cutting out no more than five minutes (or however long it takes you) from your lunch break is an adequate compromise.
But what happens if my employer says ‘no’?
If you are made to feel uncomfortable by your employer for requesting a room for prayer, it might have more impact if you are able to get together with other Muslims in the workplace to request one. Although I have not personally experienced this, my husband and his colleagues had to navigate through several obstacles to obtain a room to pray and their stance on the matter helped with this.
The request is not unreasonable, but asking with a diplomatic manner and confidence can make the difference. Rather than impose yourself, find a way to compromise, and pick your battles wisely. Someone I know was told that praying in the corner of the staff room made one colleague uncomfortable, so instead, they gave her a classroom on the fourth floor. It may have been longer to get to, but she was grateful to have a room given to her to pray.
How often do we carry imaginary baggage with us that feels heavy on us? Salah put simply is the most beneficial transaction you will make in the day. It benefits your physically and spiritually allowing you to offload your baggage and renew yourself. So next time you are thinking ‘I’ll just finish this email’ change that thought to ‘come to success’ then run for it.