To those of us who want to be free, we have to come to terms with one simple, inalienable fact: freedom comes at the price of discipline. By this I don't mean to evoke thoughts of legions of jackbooted soldiers frogstepping across bootcamp, rather what I mean is that we must put structure and shape to our days, we must learn the art of living a little more deeply than our fellow citizen who doesn't fear internment without trial, or torture.
We are lucky in that Islam provides us several easy inroads into the art of living not just deeper, but better more focused lives which make us not only more productive, but also immunize us from many of the techniques the state would use for coercion.
Chief amongst these is the prayer, or salat. It is not a chore, it is a respite from daily activity, it returns balance, and brings peace, resolves focus, and well so many other things that I can't begin to mention.
What I should mention however, is that some don't know how to pray properly. Either they weren't taught properly to begin with, or have been so long away from prayer that they are rusty at it and feel shame. Most live in minor terror of being asked to lead prayer at some Muslim gathering, with the social shame of failing in some way. That comes not from neglect of the scriptures, but actually more a neglect of self.
Our natural and developed memory is infused with strength from the Quran and prayer. Ironically, the modern world provides us with walls, with carpets, with compass, and oddly enough with time... all we need to pray daily... yet, it also furnishes us with interruptions, distractions, competition, social stigma and commercial pressure. So our sacrifice is usually for the transient appearance of integration, with our resentment and will to change diverted inward to pain ourselves, bruising our conscience until numb.
How do you learn to pray? If you can, go and ask your imam. His horror will pass quickly, and if he has any sense at all he will help you recite the bits you need to know, and take you through things. Often your first prayer will be the best in your life, and a weight off your shoulders. If there is no imam handy, go find someone who does know how to pray and ask them, with complete sincerity to teach you. Remember there is a choice here, permanent shame, and perpetual growing fear, or accepting temporary shame and then peace of mind and strength. Cowards don't deserve Paradise.
Failing that, go find some books and learn the parts off yourself until you know. And you will know, because the Quran is poetry, easily remembered and beautiful to recite. We're very lucky in that the elements of prayer themselves are each very short, and we are able to choose those Surahs to recite. Take comfort and joy in the simplicity and elegance of Islam.
This of course needs to put into place during the day. So here are a few things which helped me get through the day.
1. Bring a prayer mat, and just chuck it into your desk. Don't make a fuss, and when the time comes, just pick it up, find a quiet room, pray fard, and then come back as if nothing happened. In almost all cases, that's all that needs doing, and you're praying at work.
2. Remember prayers are in periods not set times. If a room isn't free for half an hour after Asr starts, you can wait for a little while and then do it. Don't stress, or raise a big deal. If the weather is fine you can even go outside to the grass, in a quiet corridor/stairwell, or borrow a friend's office while they are at a meeting. Compromise and the path of minimum resistance is the key here.
3. Avoid conflict conversations. When they ask if you're religious, just shrug and say everyone prays sooner or later, it's not a big deal, it's just part of who you are. Then mention that you're a busy man, and have work to do.
4. Remember it's not worth arguing over, you simply do it, and then it becomes part of the routine. If your boss wants to talk about it, then answer his questions clearly and gently, and if he or she expresses discomfort, then say it's not worth the company arguing over. The law is clear about your right to pray, as long as it doesn't disrupt work.
5. The time away from work is very short. All prayers combined are less than 15 mins. Putting this into perspective, that's like one or two smoke breaks. This is worth coming in early for, or making up at the end, or an early coming back from a lunch break.
6. Get up for Fajr. (dawn prayer) Trust me. This motivates many people to actually do the remainder of the prayers for the day.
It's worth taking time at the end of the day to look back on the day's events. This is very interesting to do when you've been praying because the inter-prayer periods end up making much more sense. Try it and see. Also your memory of the day's events will improve. As will the spiritual connection with your inner self. The process of prayer is akin to meditation, and allow for a reset, and refresh in the brain, which clarifies and regenerates cognitive function.
We can build on this in a few key ways, here are a few exercises:
1. Try each night to remember everything that happened that day. Start with where you went, and what you did. Then who you met, what was said, any unusual things you noticed, the shape of your day in terms of transport, periods when you were completely stationary, breaks, moments of concentration, things you enjoyed and things you didn't, and what you thought and felt about the day overall. This strengthens your natural memory, removes a great deal of the anxiety people feel before going to bed, it also makes it much more likely that your dreams are lucid, and you'll have a refreshing sleep.
2. Try to remember the faces, clothes, habits, of the people you meet each day. Start with familiar faces, their shapes, the hair, the general impression, imagine if you had to describe them to the police, how would you spot them in a crowd? What clothes do they wear? Bright, clean, shabby, old, drab, smart, tight, loose, accessories, layered, warm, etc etc. What are their voices like, if you had a child and were trying to 'do' their voices, how would you do them to make the child laugh? So they could recognize them?
3. Pay attention to your surroundings. Memorize the layout of rooms you visit commonly. Close your eyes and picture your classroom, your office, what is stable, where is everything? How many computers, how many bins, how many people, windows, books, doors etc. Is it hot, cold, comfortable, quiet or loud and busy? Is it stressed or calm, is there laughter or tension.. Could you draw out where you visited each day to your friends and family?
4. Learn to memorize numbers, letters, IDs, registrations etc perfectly. This can be done using the Major System, the Dominic System or by simple repetition and practice. These are reference points, on letters, on cards, on important documents and other items which allow you access to those areas of your life which are crucial. When you experience them between prayers, spend a little time looking at their shape, their uniqueness, and committing them to memory. Even if your recall isn't perfect, the effort will improve your recognition enormously, and make remembering your whole day, and important facts much much easier.
The purpose behind the memory discipline is that it will allow you explain to yourself where you have been, explain to your family and friends with more clarity what you have done and what happened to you, and also eventually your colleagues and those you meet.
This is quite important.
Noticing these things and improving your immersion dissolves the alienation pushed onto you by society, and reverses the isolation. Several years of war have had a negative effect on communication between muslims and non-muslims in societies across the world. If you can crack a joke about Paddington station, and swap tales about the Angel of the North, while talking about how crumbly your scone was on Botanic Avenue in Belfast, suddenly it is much easier for you and your fellow man to relate with each other.
After all, we all put up with the same crap, and it's nice to know we all make it through some how.
Memory is somewhat neglected due to people's view of it as a video recorder, it is not. Quite simply it is the meaning of your life to you. You should be able to remember what happened to you today since you got up, if you can't, that experience, those moments of your life... are lost forever. Part of you has died, and you may never even notice until it's too late. Prayer helps to keep you in focus with the story of your day, infuse it with meaning, and a connection with God. The practice of your memory improves your situated consciousness and makes you much more alert and ready for action, and actually much likely to be better at your job.
As a law abiding Muslim it is your duty to remember as much as you can about your own life so if you ever come into any problems you can have a certain confidence about what did or did not happen, what is and what is not real, and so what can, and what cannot be proven against you.
Your discipline ensures your freedom.