There's something about getting caught with your foot in the basin in the ladies bathroom at work that conjures up images of a deer caught in headlights. How do you explain what you're doing while trying to brush off that "you're weird" glint in the oppositions eye? But I'm getting ahead of myself...
As Muslims, we are required to pray 5 times a day. We bow down to The Almighty to acknowledge Him and what He has bestowed upon us. It's about always staying in a state of God Consciousness and really, it isn't half as strenuous as it sounds.
I'm not your average Muslim female. For one, I don't wear the headscarf (no excuses - I should be doing it - I just don't). And while I dress very modestly (mostly covered), I'm what they call very modern.
Now, in the land of Muslims females, the majority tend to fall into one of two categories: the traditional-headscarf-wearing-praying-five-times-daily kind of girl and the non-traditional-I-wear-and-do-anything-I-like-and-not-very-religious kind of girl. Then there is a minority third group: the Yes-I-follow-and-practice-Islam-but-I'm-also-fairly-modern-in-many-ways kind of girl.
And I fall into the third category. Well sort-of.
A few days before Ramadan began, one of my colleagues asked me if I'd be wearing the scarf in Ramadan (like some of the female Muslims at work do). I replied "no" and told her that for some reason, I just can't seem to get there - to that point (of wearing the scarf). And besides, I don't feel comfortable with the idea of wearing the scarf specifically for Ramadan and then removing it afterwards. It's like, what does that say about me? And while I don't have any issues with others doing it (many members of my family do it), it just doesn't sit well with me. All she said in her heavy Spanish accent was that "people grow and they grow in their beliefs too".
So headscarf aside, I am still a practising Muslim and I adhere to the five pillars of Islam. However, many people would never believe it. Because I wear a suit, and my hair is piled up into a sophisticated chignon or is usually blowdried to Heaven, and I stomp around in my heels; to others I couldn't possibly worship Allah SWT. I couldn't possibly be as sincere in my prayers as they are in theirs. I'm supposed to be some kind of heathen as it is.
These thoughts amuse me and I'm never bothered by what other's think because for me, prayer is a very intimate thing. It's my one-on-one time with The Lord. So in many ways, I try to be alone (even though it is recommended you pray in groups) and I will go to the office that is our designated Prayer Room at times when I'm sure that no one will be there.
On this particular day, I woke up very hungry. I spent the entire morning vacillating between hunger, exhaustion and thirst and I briefly contemplated not performing my Salaah as usual. I was so exhausted and thinking of all the reasons it wouldn't be a good idea to pray at work. I could always do it at home, make up for the day I thought to myself.
But something wasn't right. I felt restless, anxious and a growing need to just go and do it. Unfortunately, I had procrastinated for a little too long to avoid any run-ins with fellow Muslims who would also want to pray, but I braved myself for whatever was to come. The growing need was now a fully fledged obsession so I gathered whatever strength I had and went to the bathroom to perform the ablution. Rinse the hands, mouth, nostrils, face, arms and end with the feet. Two minutes was all it would take.
And that's when two unsuspecting females walked into the bathroom - with my left foot extended in gymnastic proportions to get into the high marbled basin. It was slightly embarrassing, but I was too concerned about doing what I had set out to do to care. After making my apologies, I set off to the Prayer Room, still starving and ready to eat the door off its hinges.
I got there just in time, I thought. Praying would be a challenge on this day because for one I was slightly late and forgot my burqa (long head-shoulder covering not to be confused with the burqa/niqab that covers the face). And secondly, while the waist of my pants was too tight to prostrate in, undoing the button would guarantee that my pants would fall down and I was expecting a barrage of men coming to pray at any moment and the last thing I needed was for them to see me in a borrowed burqa and with my pants around my ankles.
Thinking as quick as I could, I enlisted the help of a safety pin and strategically pinned the pants in such a way that I could move freely whilst ensuring that it stayed on me at all time. In a frenzy, I tried to get started so that I'd avoid any people and just as I was about to begin, in came Asif, a colleague from Britain. Fortunately, he had no qualms about praying in the same room with a strange woman, and both of us late and in a hurry, we didn't have time to talk it over. We just left the office door open and went about it.
Initially I felt a little uncomfortable with Asif there - and then two Moroccan guys joining in later - but something happens when you focus all your energy into one solid place. Everything else melts away, all the anxiety, frustration, hunger, pain and exhaustion just melts away and you find yourself in a calm peaceful space.
I like to contemplate The Almighty in that time. I think of Him as belonging to the very fibre of the fabric of my being. In those moments, I see Him everywhere... in the carpet I'm sitting on because He created the man who made it and bestowed upon him the knowledge and skill to create it... I see The Almighty in myself, "closer than the jugular vein", in every heartbeat, in the walls, in the building, in the people I'm surrounded by, in the entire world.
And in those moments I realise that I'm still physically hungry, but my soul is full.