[Just to let you know, the text below is a transcription of what I've said in this video. So please excuse any words or phrases that don't quite look right.]
So you're travelling along in a car on the motorway and you've prayed your Dhuhr, but you haven't yet prayed your Asr and the sun is about to set. What do you do?
Most of us panic. Others of us forget that Asr needs to be prayed. Some of us pray in the car. Some of us stop and pray outside.
What's correct? What needs to happen?
Keep reading to find out how to handle this situation.
Can I Pray Anywhere?
Oftentimes I get the questions, "Where can I pray?" or "Is it okay if I pray in my car?" There's a lot of hesitation from people to pray in public places. They give the excuse, "Oh, I didn't make my prayer because I was out and about."
Now there's a very famous Prophetic narration where the Prophet, God grant him blessings and peace, is reported to have said:
الْأَرْضُ كُلُّهَا مَسْجِدٌ
The Earth, all of it, is a Masjid.
When we think of the Masjid, we think of the building with the nice, beautiful carpet and the minaret, maybe a dome. Basically, we think of the Masjid building. But the word masjid means "place of prostration."
الْأَرْضُ كُلُّهَا مَسْجِدٌ إِلَّا الْمَقْبَرَةَ وَالْحَمَّامَ
Except for the graveyard and except for the washroom.
So apart from these places where, for obvious reasons, we wouldn't pray, basically you can pray anywhere. That's something which is very important for us to realise and understand.
How the Prophet Prayed
The Prophetic default when it came to prayer and where to pray was simply any clean patch of land or earth.
Obviously, where there was a designated prayer area, where the people and the companions gathered in the actual Masjid or place for prayer, then there was a set place for everybody to congregate and to pray.
This was encouraged, of course. But the default and general Prophetic practise when the Prophet, God grant him blessings and peace, was out and about was that he would just pray wherever it was appropriate to pray. Most typically on the Earth: on the ground or a natural surface.
Now, many of us are hesitant when we're out and about. To pray in a park, on the concrete, in a car park or wherever it might be, we have hesitation. Even though sometimes these places are the only places we can possibly pray.
If you're thinking, “It's not appropriate for me to pray in these places,” I'm here to tell you: No, that's not the case. It's perfectly appropriate. It's perfectly fine in principle, to pray anywhere apart from the washroom or the graveyard.
How Clean Does it Have to Be?
Some people also say “Well, I don't have my prayer mat so putting my head down on this surface feels a bit demeaning.”
Frankly, that's partly the point. The point is to get your face down on the Earth, whatever the surface is, and feel the humility that comes with that.
Putting your face in prostration is supposed to be a humbling experience.
The fact that we bring out these three-inch prayer carpets and we have to have that softness to facilitate our prostration really is an issue. There's a certain vanity in that choice that seems to go against the point of the prayer and the point of prostration specifically.
Certainly, it wasn't a Prophetic norm or default to have anything laid down unless there was a risk of injury. So if there are stones or what have you, then something light may be put down to prevent the stones from cutting into one's face.
On the contrary, it was commonly known for the Prophet, God grant him blessings and peace, to sometimes come up from prostration and for there to be traces of mud on his forehead. Similarly for the companions.
In fact, it's also mentioned that they would hesitate to wipe this off their faces until the end of the prayer out of shyness!
Whereas, with us the whole situation is different. We need it all nicely laid out and it has to be super clean. Our default is to assume a dog must have urinated here so we can't pray. These kinds of thoughts and ideas come into our minds.
Instead, we need to be a bit more natural and normal. Frankly, we need to just get on with it and overcome our vanities.
But People Will SEE Me!
The next thing is a consideration about others around you. That's really typically what's going on. There's the worry about what other people will think if they see you praying.
I addressed this recently in another post on the preceding topic of Wudhu. Often we look for the disabled toilet in which to do our Wudhu because we don't want to be seen. This privacy becomes really important to us.
But the argument there, and similarly here, is that the first consideration should simply be: where can I pray and get on with it?
The fact that people are passing by and observing and seeing…what's the issue?
Recently, I came back from a trip abroad. When I landed, Maghrib had just come in. I managed to get through immigration and show my passport. They didn't hold me up or anything, thank God. I'm a legit dude, apparently.
I came through and then ended up where the baggage was coming through and the bags were, as usual, taking forever to come out. So I went, did my Wudhu, normally. Maybe someone saw me, maybe they didn't. I didn't really think about it. It doesn't really matter. As long as I was doing my Wudhu and was ready for Salat, what does it matter?
Then I found a space next to one of the empty baggage carousels. There was an open space and I prayed. I wasn't looking deliberately for the most private space possible thinking, "Oh my God, someone might see me!" No, in fact, part of me feels it's a good thing if we're seen praying. Let's normalise this practise.
Why is this not a normalised practise where everybody around us knows what it is to pray as a Muslim, as a believer, because they see it regularly. If we always hide it away from people, when will they ever know what it means to do Wudhu? What it looks like to pray Salat? Don't we want them to also do Wudhu and Salat one day?
Let's not have an unreasonable level of shyness.
Now obviously, if the issue is to do with safety, if one feels that one's safety is compromised because of the particular environment that one is in, that may be a different scenario. There may be a reason to, for example, pray sitting within a vehicle. There are some of those kinds of situations. I'm not going to deny those situations. But, in most cases and in most situations we should just get on with it.
Where Can I Pray While Travelling?
Lastly comes the issue of travel and being on the motorway. Again, most of us, if we even do some basic planning in advance of a trip, even if we're being delayed, typically there'll be a service station where we can stop. We can relieve ourselves, refresh ourselves, refresh our Wudhu, and again find some space to pray inside, outside or wherever it may be. The fact that it's slightly windy, maybe a little bit raining, maybe a little bit cold. So what? Let us show our devotion to our Lord.
Frankly, we've become weak when it comes to these things. We have fear of others and fears of all sorts of things. No, let us show our devotion (obviously within reason.)
Consider the fact that you are on a journey and there's nothing to necessarily fear or worry about in a significant way in terms of personal safety. Then the obligation on us is to stop and proceed to do our prayer.
What if There is No Space to Pray?
There are certain scenarios where, for example, you're in a plane and there's no space that you can stand up somewhere at the back of the plane. Or you're in a car and there is literally no service station, you can't stop, there’s a hard shoulder that's an obvious safety issue, etc. There is an allowance, then, to do as much as you can of the prayer echoing the broad instruction in Qur'an:
<< فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ مَا استَطَعتُم >>
Be conscious of God as much as you are able. Do what you can.
Some say that afterwards when you are in a settled place, you should perhaps repeat that prayer more fully. Others say, no, it would suffice. There's a technical difference of opinion there. But the general point here is: do as much as you can.
Most of us, in these situations, can do more than we think we can. We must examine our intentions, our motivations, what's going on inside of us and the voices that we are hearing as we think through some of these challenges that we find ourselves in. Typically, we make excuses for ourselves too quickly. So let's avoid that and remember,
الْأَرْضُ كُلُّهَا مَسْجِدٌ
The whole Earth is a place of prostration.
It's a beautiful thing. Allah made the whole Earth for us as human beings to benefit from, to enjoy in a lawful manner.
Allah tells us in the Qur’an this provision is there for us. It's all there. This whole place is, in principle, a place of prostration. Just as the Earth itself and everything else in creation are glorifying Allah, is prostrating to Allah, is doing its own Salat in its own way. We just have to join in as part and parcel of that universal phenomenon of Salat.
It's a beautiful thing. It's an amazing thing. Let us actualize that, realise that, in our lives insha'Allah.