Goatmilk on Friday, Mar. 18th
A Muslim who prays in public is like James Bond, but without the bling, sophisticated gadgets and entourage of gorgeous women eager to bed him. Both brilliantly fail at every attempt at stealth. Like the fictional secret agent, a Muslim, despite his best intentions and clandestine efforts, sticks out like a pink elephant when forced to offer his ritualistic prayer, salat, outside the comforting cocoon of his home or mosque.
Contrary to the fear-mongering asserted by professional Islamophobes, Muslim Americans do not wish to impose their religious practices and beliefs upon their non-Muslim neighbors. The reality is that most of us are simply trying to navigate the sometimes tricky — but often entertaining — balancing act of adhering to our religious values and rituals while avoiding societal awkwardness and being seen as modern-day Boo Radleys.
Each time I have to pray and am unable to find a secluded spot, I would love for a magic Muslim portal to open and take me away to a fantastic Greyskull castle. Here, I could pray in solitude, shielded from the curious eyes of fascinated and horrified observers and ride on an armored tiger named Battle Cat while drinking mango lassi from a diamond-encrusted goblet.
Unfortunately, I live in reality.
Instead, I discover I have 15 minutes left to pray the afternoon Asr prayer and I’m stuck in a crowded, Valley Fair mall in San Jose, Calif. Realizing that I’d probably be tazed and shot by Homeland Security if I decided to bust out my Arabic tai chi at the Orange Julius, I seek temporary refuge for my prayer woes in the most obvious location: the fitting room at the Gap.
I enter the clothing metropolis in a frantic state and pretend to peruse the fine clothing merchandise. I randomly pick up some accessories and head toward the fitting room stalls only to realize that I am holding skinny female jeans and a Size 2, purple dress. I hastily dump the incorrect clothing on a wooden bench — making sure no one saw me — and run to the men’s section. I decide to play “pretend” and pick up hip, expensive clothing I’d probably never wear in real life and lug the stylish suit, jacket and jeans to the fitting room.
After waiting five minutes due to the long line, the ridiculously good-looking female employee directs me to a fitting stall. I cannot bring myself to make eye contact with her lest I confess my ruse. I rush into the stall and hang the clothes on the wall and devise a complex and sophisticated strategy to secretly pray while “pretending” to try on hip, urban garments. I make sure to create as much noise as possible when changing my pants from the brown, Docker, uncle khakis to the hipster jeans so they don’t suspect my celestial intentions.
I leave the rumbled pants on the floor, along with my shoes and my outer shirt, as visible signs of evidence that I am indeed using this fitting room for normal fitting room purposes.
Now, all I have to figure out is which way is Northeast, because Muslims pray toward Mecca, and this event occurred BIP — before iPhone. I basically do an “eeny-meeny-miney-mo” with the four corners and go with my “gut,” and decided “Mecca” was probably somewhere in the corner nearest to the stall door.
All is well until the prostration, where Muslims have to touch their forehead and nose to the ground. As I’m about to go to the floor, I was overwhelmed with a sense of comfort — I honestly thought I had created a successful camouflage using limited means with limited time. I felt proud and complimented myself on being a pretty dope, on-the-fly, Pakistani, Muslim American James Bond.
My head and knees are now on the floor next to the gap in the door, and everything is going smoothly. I glance to my left and the Gap employee, having bent down, is now staring at me and asking, “Sir, is everything all right?”
F my life.
Find out what happened next at Goatmilk.