Praying at School or Work
It’s been nearly a decade since I made a serious effort to practice the religion. This period in my life overlapped with the start of my post-secondary education and my career. As a result, I’ve had to navigate spaces such as work and school while upholding my obligations. Ṣalāh is one of the most noticeable acts of worship we do.
I’ve had classmates unaccustomed to seeing people pray in public. In fact, once in a group project meetup I needed to go to the corner of the classroom to pray and I’ve had curious non-Muslim group members ask if they could watch. Unfazed, I said sure. It’s possible that some of them hadn’t seen a Muslim pray before or it was something they’d only seen on TV. But what surprised me was their surprise itself.
It would be easy for me to list ways I’ve found to navigate within this society and still practice. Strategies for doing wuḍū’ or which waterproof socks I like. But, unless there is a shift in one’s mindset, some might tell themselves “I’ll repeat my prayers at home” and ignore such advice.
“Do I care about what others think of me if I pray Ṣalāh?” Some fear the loss of their employment. Others fear the inability to explain why they pray. And some wonder how they’ll pray. Where there’s a niyyah to fulfill an obligation, there’s a way. This fear is what I want to address first. It’s one thing to say “don’t fear them” but that assumes one is ready to admit they have that fear to begin with.
Many of those who harbor negativity when they see us pray are the same people who adore what we detest. We do not need the validation of those who are amused with vileness, because it is irrelevant to us if they get upset seeing us pray. Who are they anyways? Ours is a higher standard and we seek to obey the Commands of Allāh. If those people don’t like us, who cares? We aren’t out to start a fan club. We are in these spaces to study and work. When the time comes, we do our obligations, finish school or work, and go home. You might still feel that surge of hesitation run down your spine. Whether we are fearful of the opinions of others or we don’t care about what they think, the fact is that we still have to pray. So even if you do have this fear, it’s something that disappears with time.
“Am I willing to make my needs known?” There will be times where you’ll need accommodations. Don’t hesitate to do it. When we live in a society that values the dollar over the Dīn. There will be times where most of society will be doing one thing, but you have to do another. What if you have an exam that you cannot reschedule and you’ll miss Ṣalāh if you write the whole thing without getting up? Tell, don’t ask, the professor that you have to pray and ask where you can do that so you can return to your exam in due course. At work, it’s better to be up-front and tell your manager that you need some time, some of which can be at lunch (factoring in daylight savings) to pray, and some time in the afternoon. The conversation will come up eventually. Wintertime in North America often means praying Maghrib in addition to Ẓuhr and `Aṣr at work. Usually, if you are willing to be a ‘team player’ and work late some days, get your work done, and aren’t a monster to deal with, people don’t bother you. A key lesson is that if you treat this as something normal, they will too.
“Can I be clear about the parameters of what I can and can’t do?” Your boss (probably) doesn’t know fiqh. Things we assume others know, they often don’t. Honestly, they don’t. They don’t know the start times of Ṣalāh adjust on a timetable every day and they don’t know that we can’t speak in Ṣalāh. Tell them. Show them a Ṣalāh timetable if they are curious. Again, if you treat this as something normal, then they will too.
This is a good place to discuss another issue Muslims in the workplace face: Christmas parties and greetings. The same principle applies. “I understand that this is a part of the work culture and I wanted to mention that an important part of my religion is not to mix aspects of other religion’s practices into mine. So, when things like Christmas or Easter come, I will not be engaging in the celebration of those events.” Another issue, alcohol. “For religious reasons I don’t sit in a place where alcohol is consumed.” Will this mean going to fewer company lunches or networking events? Yes. But there’s other ways of moving up and finding opportunities. Where there’s a niyyah to avoid ḥarām, there’s a way. One thing I’ve found people tend to like is when you bring in sweets the day after `Eīd. Win people over with food.
This brings me to the final part of this article. How do we actually manage to practice in the workplace with all this in mind? I’ll address the first thing that’s on our mind: how do we do wuḍū’ at work and what do we do if someone walks in when we have our foot in the sink? You have a few options:
1) Act like it’s normal and carry on. This may work in places where you find other Muslims doing the same, but I’ve heard of situations where this gets mentioned to management and they try to cite health and safety reasons to not do so.
2) Find a disabled washroom that has a lock. This is one of the easiest ways to do wuḍū’ at work. This is advantageous for sisters as it means privacy during wuḍū’ when parts of their `awrah are uncovered and there is less risk of non-Muslim women seeing them.
3) Get waterproof socks. No one ever notices you wiping over them.
4) Get a bottle of water and wash your feet after you’ve done the rest of the wuḍū’. This might mean washing your feet in a bathroom stall that has a door or in the parking garage.
When it comes to the time of prayer, it is fairly simple:
1) Your Ẓuhr often coincides with your lunch break. If the clocks change then just let your manager know that you might need to take lunch a little later/earlier depending on your local times.
2) Where I live, at the earliest in the year `Aṣr starts at around 3:00 PM and the latest is 6:41 PM. This means for approximately six months a year, `Aṣr starts after 5:00 PM, which is the typical end time for most workdays.
In terms of where to pray, it really depends on context:
1) If you are at a university, you will often find that there’s a prayer area. Sometimes you’ll find that for particularly large campuses, you can’t make it to the prayer area and back in time for class. In those situations, I’ve found that the place underneath stairwells are nice, clean, and secluded spots to pray.
2) For libraries, space tends to be tight when you have desks in the perimeter. What I used to do in those situations was find a set of bookshelves that are quiet that back into a solid wall (rather than being in an open space) and then pray there. That way there’s one way in and if someone did want to come in, they’d see you there and not bump into you.
3) Another nice place for Ṣalāh are empty classrooms. Some of them even have a coat area or a waiting room before the actual lecture hall and those are nice and quiet to pray in as well, particularly if you have a lecture going on there.
4) At work it is slightly different since the setup is more dense. The first thing to find out is whether your workplace has a nap room, meditation room, or an employee wellness area. If you don’t know, ask. I went months into an internship before my manager told me about a massive prayer room downstairs.
5) Another nice and quiet place to pray is the parking garage. Find a corner where there are no parked cars and where you are safe and visible. The added plus is that if you drive to work in Ramaḍān and own a pair of waterproof socks, the car is a great place to nap while others have lunch. Before returning to work you can do wuḍū’ and wipe over those socks before you pray and resume working. The Ramaḍān power-nap has kept me going during long days at work.
With all this advice one thing to remember is that you might find certain situations that are unique to yourself. I can’t advise sisters as effectively because I’m a guy and I don’t know exactly what they experience. I can speak in general terms and hope someone benefits from this.