Prayer is a powerful tool. It has been used throughout history as a form of non-violent protest. Martin Luther King Jr. knelt in prayer during protests. Mahmoud Abdul-Raouf would silently protest by raising his hands in prayer during the national anthem before each NBA game. People might ask, what can praying accomplish? What does praying do when action is instead needed?
Prayer is an action…it is a call for help, guidance, and clarity. Allah says in the Holy Quran, “Call Me and I will respond to you.” To have Him there, listening and answering our calls – anytime, anywhere – is truly a blessing. It is more than just an act of spiritual worship; prayer is a tool that people rely on in their most difficult and emotional times.
It has been over a month since Bill 62, aka the Niqab Ban, was successfully passed. As a niqab-wearing Canadian woman, it’s hard to comprehend the implications of this ban. I attended and graduated from a public high school and a public university while volunteering at public hospitals. To accomplish these things, I used public transit multiple times a day. My niqab was always just another piece of clothing…incidental to getting an education and giving back to society. But for Quebecois women, these are all impossible. To know that they are being ostracized for the clothes they wear evokes both anger and hopelessness.
It is hard to react with hope vs defensiveness, but I was reminded as I struggled to navigate this new bump that faith is a source of hope through any situation, no matter how abysmal it seems. It first and foremost allows us to proactively step back from the situation and take a moment for ourselves. But even more, prayer has far-reaching implications for our mental health and physical actions.
Psychologists have long researched the effects of prayers and their scientific studies not surprisingly backs up the positive effect of prayer. In separate studies, researchers have found that praying before an exhausting task increases a person’s self-control, reduces anger and aggression, and minimizes stress. Prayer gives us the perfect set of tools to deal with injustice. And so I began to repeat this prayer that the Prophet Muhammad taught us to combat injustice:
O Allah! I seek refuge in You from being over-powered by others, or that I would over-power others (unjustly), or that I should seduce or tyrannize others, or be oppressed by them; or that I be shown ignorance and vulgarity by others, or I be vulgar to them; or from going astray myself, or be misled by others.
As I completed this prayer, I was suddenly struck by its infinite wisdom. As expected, it included prayers against being overpowered, oppressed, treated with ignorance and disrespect, and being misled. But I did not expect the other half; I did not expect to be praying for protection against becoming a person who overpowers, tyrannizes, disrespects, or misleads others. It was a gentle reminder that the line between being the victim of injustice and becoming a perpetuator is very thin. In our feelings of anger and helplessness, it is easy to react and retaliate unjustly.
Legal challenges are being filed against Bill 62 as I type. As for me and other niqab-wearing Canadian women, we will continue to participate in society…whether that means riding the bus or working in a chocolate shop. Our existence is our resistance. And all the while, we will remember that prayer…for our Lord to help us deal with the injustice and bless us with clarity to never become one of the perpetuators.
Maryam Baksh is a new mother, and former student at University of British Columbia. She is a member of the Muslim community in Vancouver.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was published in the print edition of the TImes Colonist on Saturday, December 2, 2017