12 February, 2024: An Interrupted Salah

Feature and Cover 12 February 2024 An Interrupted Salah

Mother is bending down on her prayer mat on the floor of her kitchen, listening to the call to prayer and performing salah. She has the verse of a particular surah in the back of her mind that she would like to pray towards.

But then her mother-in-law starts to cry. How can it be possible?

When her husband told her he was planning to move his mother to live with them, Mother was hesitant for various reasons. Mother mostly stayed at home and did housework. She had her habits and hours at which she would clean, hours when she would get on the phone to catch up with relatives and friends, hours set aside for prayer and reflection and thought. A new person in the house would interrupt the flow of her daily life. A woman like her mother-in-law, who was suffering from a strong case of dementia and a crippling bout of Parkinson’s, required the attention only an aide could give. Her husband more or less assumed that Mother could handle it alone, and Mother herself didn’t say anything, because even she felt it wasn’t worth the money to hire someone.

An acrid smell covers the room. It is like the decomposed parts of rotting vegetables in which maggots are born. Most likely her mother-in-law is crying because her diaper is wet with faeces and fluid, and she wishes to be clean.

And yet it is the time for salah. Their house was built right on the other side of the Great Mosque, and so the prayers coming from its minaret are loud. They resound throughout the cottage, whether Mother is on the third floor or the ground floor. If Mother were to look up she would see it, an opulent golden beauty, right outside of the window, reminding her to pray first and foremost. With her eyes closed, Mother imagines the building, the height of its minaret, the green-ness of its dome. She reminds herself that the prayer will last another ten minutes. Then Mother will be free to do what she should.

She almost gets her calmness back, but the back of her mind is hit by another image, that of her mother-in-law’s distorted face, pain in its expression.

Mother tries to remember the surah she wanted to pay attention to. It is too late. Her mind is completely out of focus. The verses are coming out in a jumble. She recalls certain stories, images, and similes but not in the right order. The fact that she is emotionally perturbed makes it hard for her to organise her thoughts. This angers her. She is used to praying at this hour and knowing exactly what she wants to pray towards.

What she wants to do is get up and smack her mother-in-law. She deserves to be punished. Her mother-in-law herself was born and brought up as a Muslim woman. She ought to know how horrific it is to interrupt what is so sacred, and to all Muslims.

She orders herself to concentrate. This is prayer time. This is time meant to be between herself and Allah.

Her mother-in-law is not just crying. She is now sobbing so loudly that her wails are as loud as the minaret’s blaring.

It is one thing that she is incontinent. It is another thing how randomly she has bowel movements. Mother is sometimes woken up at four in the morning by the horrid smells. She has had to stop herself in the middle of chopping goat to wheel her mother-in-law into the toilet, discard all of her clothes, and scrub her from top to bottom. There was a time she left millet on the stove to clean her mother-in-law, and when she came back, the millet was a charred blackness that took days to scrub out of the pot. There was a time when her mother-in-law soiled herself so badly that it got on her legs and into the folds of her dress, and the smell was so bad that it remained on Mother’s fingernails and skin for the entire day.

And now, the prayer of all things has to be interrupted.

Breaking her prayer means failing her religion. But she will fail her mother-in-law by leaving her in such a condition. Both, it seems, are failures in the eyes of Allah. Allah has His ways to test Mother, and Mother is Allah’s servant.

The voice from the minaret carries on while her mother-in-law shrieks, wailing in discomfort and agony.

Mother is a human. She wants to help anyone in trouble, because that is her nature.

Mother is also a woman of Allah.

Mother remains with her face fixed to her palms, assured she will clean her mother-in-law as soon as the prayers are done, but keeping herself focused on her prayer’s verses for now.

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