As the adhan was called for maghrib, we shuffled into rows on the colourful patchwork of tarpaulins and straw mats. But this was not what would typically be viewed as a mosque or even a musalla. Living as a Muslim in a non-Muslim country, one becomes accustomed to making do with a variety of haphazard and far from ideal ‘prayer spaces’: fire escape stairs, baby change rooms, quiet corridors and my personal favourite – department store fitting rooms. Yet, even when the weather is at its best and pleasant outdoor areas abound, many of us continue to hide ourselves away in these second rate spaces or worse, miss the prayer altogether.
The first time I saw someone praying outdoors, I was taking my lunch break at a nearby park. There, amongst the picnickers, doting young couples and sunbathers, a brother stood unabashedly observing salat al dhuhr. To my surprise, he did so undisturbed and attracted minimal attention. But my attention was caught. In a city with no mosques, I had been struggling to find a place to pray and this brother, by merely answering Allah’s call where he was, provided me with my answer. I soon followed his example, settling on a more secluded area of the same park which partially concealed me from passers-by. Unfortunately, this did little to quieten Shaytan who kept a running commentary of how everyone was staring at me, laughing at me, mocking me and how at any moment someone would confront me, harm me or even take the opportunity to steal my belongings. Alhamdulilah, to my knowledge, none of these fears became reality. Instead, I made a valuable discovery: the simple act of praying in the natural environment, so far removed from the typical dark and windowless ‘musalla’, provides one with a profound sense of connection with Allah (SWT) and the rest of His creation.
Of course, this should be no surprise to us as Allah (SWT) says:
“Indeed, within the heavens and earth are signs for the believers. And in the creation of yourselves and what He disperses of moving creatures are signs for people who are certain [in faith]. And [in] the alternation of night and day and [in] what Allah sends down from the sky of provision and gives life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and [in His] directing of the winds are signs for a people who reason. These are the verses of Allah which We recite to you in truth. Then in what statement after Allah and His verses will they believe?” (Al-Jathiya: 3-6)
Even the everyday rhythms of the natural environment that we take for granted, such as the alternation of night and day, the provision of rain and the turning of the winds, are signs for us. However, the nature of the modern, urban lifestyle most of us lead sees us flitting from one indoor space to another with little, if any, outdoor activity in between. This ultimately results in a severe disconnection from nature and its rhythms.
An easy way of re-establishing the connection with nature and, indeed, with Allah (SWT) is to return to the practice so common amongst the Prophet (SAW) and his companions – praying outside. You can use it as an opportunity for quiet contemplation and relaxation or, to earn extra reward (and enjoyment!), encourage friends and/or family to join you. Facilitate this by inviting them to a meal at any outdoor space available to you, whether it is your local park, beach or even your own backyard. Including young children can be particularly beneficial as it creates positive associations in their minds with Islam and its implementation which, insha Allah, will encourage them to follow the straight path into adulthood. Another way to encourage this would be to organise camping, or any other short trip, which allows them to be in the outdoors. The simple act of praying outside has the potential to not only improve our own practice of Islam but also to inspire others to embrace this beautiful deen – Muslims as well as non-Muslims.
Danyah Von Helms is an Australian freelance writer who is engaged in a constant battle against her homebody nature. More of her writing can be found at www.thecamelandthekangaroo.com.