Lubna Sausan Bajwa, Pakistan
My favourite thing about this quarantine has become the at-home Friday prayers, something which I don’t remember offering since 2010. Friday has yet again become a day of such enlarged significance after so many years.
As my husband and I rush around in a frantic spree after breakfast trying to finish all the household chores to get ready for the Jumuah prayers, I feel waves of nostalgia washing over me. Instead of the usual slouching on the couch or aimlessly moving from the drudgery of one task to another, on Fridays, during these bleak, grim days, we find ourselves consumed by an electric energy of sorts, ensuring to get ready in our best clothes, quick enough to make it to the cut-off point of 1:30pm.
The day is already structured. The house is spotless and we all are well fed, showered and ready to start with our prayers. What a wonderful feeling — perhaps a stay-at-home mother can relate best.
But today — right after the Friday Sermon, when my husband moved onto the latter part of the Jumuah prayers, the khutba thaniya — my mind was flooded by the memories of all the Fridays we got to spent in this ceremonious manner while growing up. For most part of our lives, we grew up in missionary homes, adjoining the masjid compound.
My father was a missionary, the imam who used to lead the prayers. The congregational prayers were always a blink away — a given, a constant.
I remember Bait-ur-Rahman, Karachi like it was yesterday. Fridays, Eid, Ramadan were always elaborate. The women had their own industrial sized kitchen, a large prayer hall and a beautiful guest room. We even used to have congregational Tahajud prayers occasionally.
I can’t forget the sense of community, the fondness of belief and the strength of faith the masjid and its experience cemented in us. We were posted there for three years and for perhaps four consecutive Eids we could not afford to travel back to Lahore to our family. The community around Bait-ur-Rahman never let us feel lonely during any of those Eids.
But perhaps the strongest and longest association I had was with the mosques in Lahore, Dar-ul-Zikr and Bait-un-Nur, where we spent more than 15 years of our lives.
Today, as I return to offering the Friday prayers with a little family of my own — during a time where all the mosques of the world are closed, inaccessible to each and everyone, regardless of gender, creed, colour or sect — I am reminded of yet another loss which is perhaps more permanent, more fracturing than this temporary shutdown due to Covid-19.
As my husband reads out the khutba thaniya and my ears blare with the words “Wa ladhikrullahi akbar” “And verily, the remembrance of Allah is the highest virtue”, imagery from a distant, long repressed past resurfaces where an endless sea of women used to rise as the imam called out these words.
The coronavirus lockdown will soon lift, Insha-Allah, and life will return to a (new) normal. The men will return to the mosques for their usual prayers and Fridays will be ever so hustling and bustling.
But us women will go back to the same exclusion, enforced due to the fear and insecurities that wounded Bait-un-Nur and Dar-ul-Zikr on 28 May 2010.