Those moments that make you feel an emotion that you can barely describe are the ones to remember.
I experience such an emotion every time I pray Jummah with my school’s MSA.
I so vividly remember the first time I prayed Jummah at school. It was during my sophomore year of high school. It was the first time I had ever gone to the school’s MSA (Muslim Student Association), and I only went because one of my friends guilt-tripped me into going with her.
You see, upon starting high school, I was incredibly resistant to joining the MSA. When I was preparing to go to public school for the first time after years at a private Islamic elementary school, I promised myself that I was not going to be one of those Muslims who ONLY hung out with other Muslims. Also, after years of being dragged to Sunday School, I absolutely did not want to spend time after school attending yet another religious class, which is what I assumed the MSA was at the time.
It was a Friday afternoon. After a long week of school and homework, the last thing I wanted to do was stay at school even longer to attend a club I wanted nothing to do with. But, I promised that I would go, so I swallowed back my pride and went.
The first thing we did was pray Jummah.
To put it simply, it was incredible. During the Khutbah, I found myself just looking around in shock. There I was, in a classroom at my public American high school, surrounded by Muslims. Suddenly, the nameless faces of other students I walked past in the hallway were a part of my community. As I sat on the rolled out bed sheet on the hard, cold white tiles next to the other Hijabis in the school, I was transported back to my elementary school days when everyone in my Islamic school would go to the Masjid together every day to pray Dhuhr.
Sitting around me were the students who I had known for five years, but they were always just other students to me. For the first time, I saw myself as one of them. I saw them as part of my family.
All of the Muslims know who the other Muslims are in the school, but this was the first time that I really saw them as MUSLIM. Back in middle school, we would all hide our “Muslimness” in embarrassment. The only way to pick out the Muslims in the school (I was the only person in the school who wore a Hijab back then) was to look for the kids who wouldn’t eat lunch for 30 days in a row. To an extent, this carried over into the first couple years of high school.
That day at Jummah was the first time I had ever seen some of those girls wear a Hijab. I almost didn’t recognize them. That was the first time I had ever seen some of the boys praying – boys who I didn’t even know were Muslim. In our halaqa afterwards, it was the first time I had ever heard anyone talk about being Muslim within my school.
It was such an odd feeling. As I listened to one of the seniors give us the Khutbah, I really couldn’t believe I was still inside my school – the same school where my European-American teachers taught us about the Cold War and where we read Shakespeare. Right outside the door was the same hallway where couples would make out, girls would wear clothes that should be illegal, and kids would curse out their parents.
I never expected to feel my Islamic identity develop in that building, next to those hallways. I never expected to feel united with my fellow students on a level other than “When is Spring Break coming?! YES, we have a sub today! Did you understand the chem homework from last night?”
I never expected to connect with them on a spiritual level.
Years later, and going to Jummah on my college campus still has that effect. It is a different building with different people, but it is still the exact same environment that I experienced over ten years ago in my elementary school’s Masjid.
Prayer spaces inside a predominantly non-Muslim school are truly special places. It is where the people only Muslim by name suddenly become your brothers and sisters. It is like a bubble of my beloved Muslim family coming out once a week. At least now in college, we feel more comfortable to venture outside of the prayer space and continue to hold that identity. Alhamdulillah. Praise be to God.
(Jummah = Friday prayer, Hijabi = the colloquial name of a woman who wears a headscarf, Masjid = mosque, Halaqa = a gathering of Muslims discussing something related to Islam, Khutbah = an Islamic “sermon” given during the Jummah prayer)