“Hey! Where you going?” calls the janitor of an inner city public school to me as I jiggle the handle on a locked door in the empty hallway.
“Ahh, hello there,” I reply self-consciously.
Actually, no matter how many times this happens to me, it’s really embarrassing every time. “Maybe you could help me…”
I was in NYC on a tour of progressive schools. I had stepped out of an assembly because it was late afternoon and I needed to make the third prayer of my day.
I was only half listening to the presentation being given because I kept looking out of the windows watching the sun make its way down—closer to setting.
If the sun set, then I had missed this prayer, and prayers are one of the five essential pillars of the Muslim religion.
The four other pillars are:
- Proclamation of faith
- Fasting during Ramadan
- Pilgrimage to Mecca if one is able, physically and financially
So, I stepped out of the large room into a hallway of locked doors.
I hadn’t notice the rolling cart of cleaning supplies as I made my way to door one—locked. Door two—locked. Door three—locked…and then he called.
“Uhh, yeah—sir, I’m not trying to break into these rooms…” I shout back.
“Then what you doing?”
“You see,” as I motion to the headscarf around my head and smiling the smile that I hope will keep him from calling security, “I’m a Muslim and Muslims need to pray five times a day and…”
“You think I don’t see that? You think I’m ignorant?” I stopped dead in my tracks—alright, this guy is Foe, not Friend.
My smile faded…was it gonna be time to get my game-face on?
And then he smiled.
“I knew you was Muslim as soon as I seen you! But sister, you just can’t be going here wiggling locked doors! You know better—the way you look…you know how some people be ignorant in America. I’m not, but others are—others not gonna ask you questions.”
Phew—he was Friend.
“I really appreciate that advice—but I’d really appreciate if you could just direct me to a quiet corner or room where I could use it for 5 minutes. I won’t touch anything or…”
“Sweetie,” Friend put his hand up to stop my blabbering, “I got a space for you right here…” I follow Friend to the end of the hallway where a little nook is hidden from view.
Laughing heartily he says, “You just go ahead and knock yourself out here. Use it for as long as you need ‘cause God knows we need all the prayers we can get.”
I thanked him profusely and turned to start my prayers when Friend says, “And don’t you forget—there may be some racist or ignorant people out there, but I’m not one of them. You remember that. Peace, sister.”