In a life that inevitably spins out of control, it brings my heart so much tranquility knowing that I have an immutable constant—my daily salah. My prayers ground me; they put me at peace; and they help me manage my anxiety. Although many of us struggle with praying regularly in general, it still is practically easy to do when we're in the comfort of our homes. The challenge here is more on the spiritual/religious side than anything else.
When it comes to praying outside, however, that challenge is compounded by practicality. This is especially the case for those of us living in non-Muslim countries; it can be easy to fall into the trap of coming up with excuses for why it's difficult to pray outside.
Here are a few excuses I personally have come up with to justify missing prayers when I'm out:
The list goes on...
While some of these excuses are fair and valid (especially those where someone legitimately fears for their safety), you'd be surprised as to how many of these problems have simple solutions.
Before we get to those, let me tell you a story about a friend who is one of the main inspirations behind this blog post.
This past summer, I moved to a state where a friend and her family live. Since we lived in the same city, I had the chance to hang out with them quite often. One thing that I noticed every time we hung out was that no matter where my friend was or what the environment around us was like, she would always find ways to observe her prayers on time.
Whenever it was time for prayer, she wouldn't just wait to "find a private space" or to "check whether she had a prayer mat on her," she would just direct herself toward the Qibla and start praying wherever she was sitting. It didn't really matter where we were either; I saw her pray at Panera Bread, at some of the busiest restaurants where literally everyone could see her, and even at Whole Foods! She just could not be bothered about how others perceived her. In a way, I actually felt she didn't even notice them; she had a purpose in mind, and no matter how others viewed or judged her, she was going to perform her Salah on time. Oh also, she is a hijabi. So it didn't feel right for me—a fairly racially ambiguous dude—to say that I felt unsafe praying outside, while she—screaming I'm Muslim by wearing the hijab—was perfectly fine with the idea of praying wherever she had to.
I had never seen anything like that before. To say that I was both incredibly impressed with and inspired by her is an understatement.
While I one day aspire to emulate her level of dedication towards prayer and nonchalance towards what others think of her, I still found myself inspired to seek out ways that would facilitate the process of praying outside for me. So I started making incremental changes and coming up with solutions that would make it hard for me to make many of the aforementioned excuses.
This is an ongoing learning and development process for me, but I would love to share some of the things I started implementing, which have helped me reduce a lot of friction between me and observing my prayers on time when I'm out.
I hope you'll find any of those tips helpful!
Ever pictured the dreaded scenario where a white dude enters the restroom at the exact moment when your FEET ARE IN THE SINK while doing wudu? Well, that was one of a gazillion things I chose not to have to explain as a Muslim when I was in college. So I avoided putting myself in that situation altogether.
What I did instead, is make wudu before I leave, and then wear my socks when I had wudu. That made it easy to wipe over my socks when I needed to renew my wudu outside. It still may feel awkward wiping water over your socks in a public restroom, but it's way more subtle than having to put your entire leg in the sink and pray that no one walks in on you.
I think many of us already do this, but it never hurts to restate it.
If you want to avoid everything mentioned in the previous point, just find a gender-neutral bathroom and make wudu there. It might not always be an option, but more and more workplaces, universities, restaurants, and cafes are starting to have those. If you like to work from a cafe regularly and you have multiple options to choose from, try choosing one which has a private/gender-neutral bathroom. That will greatly reduce the friction of your having to do wudu when you're out.
If you have access to a private bathroom where you regularly work or go to school, it still helps to do some of the things mentioned in the previous point, such as making wudu before you leave and wearing your socks when you have wudu.
Some people fear for their safety when it comes to observing their prayers out in public, and that's a perfectly legitimate excuse. We've seen some of the most horrific hate crimes against Muslims since the rise of xenophobes and neo-fascists like Trump, Boris, and Bolsonaro. This is especially the case for those living in less metropolitan areas where most people aren't used to interacting with others who look and live their lives differently.
Whenever I find myself in situations where I don't feel comfortable praying in public, I no longer make that an excuse to miss prayer altogether. To me, that's double defeat. The first is spiritual, where I fail to observe my prayers on time. The second is letting Islamophobes stand in the way of my practicing my faith. Both are 100% unacceptable. So I just opt for praying in my car.
But even then, my mind always tries to find excuses for why it can be practically infeasible to perform my prayers outside. In the case of praying in my car, my #1 excuse is: how will I ever park my car where it always faces the Qibla? Chances are, it actually won't be facing it for the majority of times I park outside.
I failed to notice that my car doesn't necessarily have to be parked directly facing the Qibla; I could simply angle myself in a way facing it. I know I know, how obvious! But seriously, it never occurred to me to do this until I saw my friend do it once.
Okay, now what if my car is completely facing away from the Qibla? Super simple. Just park your car facing the other way and follow the above directions. You'll have to be extremely unlucky for the parking spot you chose to be exactly at a 90º angle from the Qibla direction! Even then, just try positioning your entire body so it's facing the Qibla. Yes, it will be a bit of an awkward position, but I guess that's better than missing the prayer altogether 🤷🏻♂️. It might help if you pray in the backseat; this gives you more flexibility to position yourself towards the Qibla direction compared to the front seats.
After saying all of that—and while I'm certainly not an Islamic scholar and the following is not some kind of a fatwa—it sits way better for me knowing that I performed a prayer imperfectly (not accurately facing the Qibla in this case) than missing the prayer altogether.
Again, I don't think I'm sharing anything revolutionary here, but a reminder wouldn't hurt. I usually keep a prayer mat in my car for Jumua prayers, but it also helps when I need to pray where there isn't a dedicated/clean space for observing prayer.
Below are a few places where this could come in super handy:
Many of us do not have cars or prefer to use public transportation instead of driving. I was just in college a couple of years back, where my main method of getting around was my trusty legs (missing the days where I averaged a daily step count of 10K+!)
That should not stop us from being prepared to pray outside if we ever need to. Especially for those of us still in uni, it's inevitable that we'll need to pray outside if we spend most of our time in class or studying at the library. A small pocket prayer mat is subtle and lightweight, and it takes a minimal amount of space. It literally could fit any type of bag I could think of. Those come in handy when you find that corner in the library where no one ever steps foot in. My spot was the Chinese Government Documents section (don't even ask 🤷🏻♂️).
"Ummm, no, Omar. You won't."
Your past selves
While all of these tips can be utilized, I found praying in my car to be the most practical and comfortable. I know that it's clean and private, and it helps me not rush my prayers. It's also great when it's raining/snowing or when the weather outside is too cold that you can't pull out your prayer mat and pray.
It's worth repeating, however, that the main inspiration for this blog post was a friend of mine who didn't give a crap about what people thought of her and how she chooses to practice her faith. That, in my humble opinion, is the ultimate goal because no one should have any control over how you choose to practice your faith besides yourself. There's really no reason we shouldn't pray wherever we want to (unless we legitimately fear for our safety or are in a place where it's not appropriate to pray).
Finally, the reason the title of this article reads "almost" is that, just like many of us, I still do miss prayers when I'm out. But I miss much fewer prayers than I used to before, and that's a win in my books.
I believe the essence of this beautiful deen is constantly seeking to improve spiritually, and it's a lifelong journey for all of us. So no matter where you are on your spiritual journey, as long as you're making improvements and becoming a better person, that's all that matters.
By writing this article, I'm just a messenger. I pray that my friend and her family reap the rewards for every person who starts praying more outside.
Please remember us in your dua ❤️
حَافِظُواْ عَلَى الصَّلَوَاتِ والصَّلاَةِ الْوُسْطَى وَقُومُواْ لِلّهِ قَانِتِينَ [البقرة: ٢٣٨]
Guard strictly (the five obligatory) Salawat (prayers), especially the Middle Salah. And stand before Allah with obedience. Allah commands that the prayer should be performed properly and on time. [Al-Baqara: 238]