16 July 2013. It was one of those days when the heat was starting to get to me. I just finished giving a seminar-workshop on study habits to 4th graders and while I did have a great time, this backpacker’s blood pressure wasn’t cooperating much. My initial plan of heading to the university where I used to teach changed. That would take another 20-30 minutes with the traffic and when I get there, I might not be able to get some rest with the expected catching up after my decision to take a leave this term, I thought to myself.
I reached the local mall past 12 noon. After performing my ablution with some of the mall customers in the ladies’ room probably wondering what I was doing, I headed to the second floor—saying Assalaamu Alaikum (peace be with you) to the familiar-looking salesladies I passed by until I finally reached one of the stalls selling mobile phones. Just a smile and I didn’t have to explain further. The assigned saleslady motioned to the young man beside her to move a bit so I can easily get inside. There was roughly around 2x4ft. of free space to move about but I managed to go straight to the back where a curtain served as a division between their stall and the room I entered.
Other sisters were there and since some have already started their dhuhur prayer, I quietly put my bag down and prepared myself as well. A young girl took her place beside me, smiled back, and started to pray. Alhamdulillah, it was indeed a blessing to have found this room where 60-70 ladies could pray. After managing to practice reading Arabic for a few minutes, with the young girl kindly volunteering to help me out before leaving for her afternoon class, my body finally told me it was time for me to seriously get some rest. I was quite apprehensive at first—after all, this was a prayer room, NOT my bedroom—but it could not be helped since trying to remain awake to read more would mean my body ‘automatically shutting down’ after a few minutes. Hence, I decided to lie down on my prayer mat with my feet placed on top of my backpack to at least help keep the blood flowing to my head. Alhamdulillah the sisters near me did not mind and just silently continued with their own Qur’an readings.
Forty minutes before the next prayer, Alhamdulillah, I told myself when I finally woke up feeling a lot better. Alhamdulillah, I checked my phone and was relieved that the Psychology students who will be meeting with me for their proposed team building workshop texted that they were in a bit of a delay, hence, would be arriving past 3pm. Some sisters in the room have not left after dhuhur prayer and were still reading the Qur’an, mashaAllah. I decided to listen to some Qur’an mp3s on my phone to familiarize myself with the correct pronunciation.
“Balik Islam (Muslim revert) ka?”
I heard one ask. That started a heart-warming conversation with sisters. I guess I was looking pale awhile back that some really thought it was my first Ramadan and reassured me I’ll get to adjust to this routine, in shaa ALLAH. Another one, who noticed I was trying to learn Arabic, told me it’s difficult in the beginning but as long as I constantly practice, I’ll be able to read faster and faster, in shaa ALLAH. Ameen. (Let’s consider that a prayer, shall we?)
They were quite curious how I found out about their place since there wasn’t a single signage within the mall that would tell others a Muslim prayer room existed. I smiled and explained that a Muslim student once told me that if ever I find a group of Muslims—particularly the Maranao (or Meranao, if you wish), one of the 13 ethnolinguistic Moro groups from Mindanao—holding business in any mall or area, it would be quite impossible not to find a place for prayer. And, quite true, I simply asked one of the salesladies at the second floor a few months back, and voila! I found it, Alhamdulillah. I added that it’s actually my third time to pray at their place, which got one of the sisters’ eyes lighting up before remarking that I was one of those who worked at the university. It turned out she has seen me before but was not so sure. I smiled and nodded to confirm.
I couldn’t help but ask why there wasn’t any signage. It was then that I found out that the prayer room was not part of the agreement with the mall administration and was actually part of the space rented by three stall owners. Remember the stall where I entered? MashaALLAH. They decided that, since they don’t really need to display much items and their stock won’t occupy as much space, why not just convert the larger portion of their rented space into a prayer room for all the Muslim sisters and their networks in the area. Same thing was done by some brothers for the men’s prayer area, Alhamdulillah.
“At least hindi na mahirap mag-salah ngayon, di ba? (At least it now isn’t hard to pray),” one of the stall owners quipped.
Alhamdulillah, indeed. It was really inspiring to hear how the secret prayer room came to being. And, their warm treatment truly made me feel at home, Alhamdulillah. I guess they felt at home, too, that the older sisters couldn’t resist the urge to ask if I was married! LOL! I guess matchmaking was, is, and will always be part of the culture? So caught up with their own ideas of a good match, they went back to reality when I finally excused myself to renew my ablution for asr prayer. And, yes, I was escaping. 😛
Perfectly timed according to HIS Perfect Plans, I received a message from the students I was to meet when I finally got back to the prayer room—just enough time for them to settle down and rest at our meeting place and for me to pray, Alhamdulillah.
As I bid the sisters goodbye and extended Ramadan and salaam greetings, we ended up laughing when one of the sisters insisted I sleep at her place—thinking I had no place to stay. She finally relented when I told her I had to meet some students before heading back to the province where my mom was waiting. She did not, however, allow me to leave without bringing some food for iftar. A mommy moment right there, Alhamdulillah. I learned as well that she was the one who cooked and sold halal meals to the group since there wasn’t any halal-certified restaurant in the area. MashaALLAH.
I know we will never be able to count the blessings HE lovingly bestows upon us each moment of our lives. And, this day reminded me of that so much. Alhamdulillah for opportunities to connect and to reflect on such soulful connections. Alhamdulillahi Rabbi’l Alamin how we are all different yet the same—differently created yet the same servants of The Most Merciful One. Keeping that in mind, it would indeed be impossible to not find it in us to feel blessed and be a blessing to those we meet, in shaa Allah—through HIM, for HIM.