Assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatulah…
My head turns to my right shoulder, giving peace and blessings to every person across the world, to the women sitting next to me in prayer, and to the angel who records my good deeds. It’s the end of the sunset prayer at the Al-Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque in Aqaba, and I am struck into absolute stillness.
It’s only a flash. A fleeting moment while giving salaams. But in that half second I taste the sweetness of imaan — a heavy, Divine presence comforting me, reassuring me, embracing me. Time slows, and the post-prayer chaos moves beyond me.
I complete the prayer and instead of raising my hands in du’a, I look down the opening of my nursing cover. Ivy looks back up at me and smiles. The chaos suddenly catches up to me and I register the din of women speaking softly, mobile phones ringing, and children running in and out of the women’s entrance gathering their shoes and dashing off into the dusk.
Reflecting on the prayer, I wonder what triggered this momentary gift. We were walking from the souk, taking a detour along the shore when the call to prayer rang out and greeted the rhythm meted out by the rolling waves. Ivy was nursing in her sling and the quick jog to the mosque sent her straight to sleep. During the commotion to join the line, she awoke and latched back on. I pointed to my nursing cover and deferred to the wisdom of my sister in law, mouthing, “Is this OK?” A shrug and a, “go for it,” was all I needed to hear.
Too often since Eryn was born, I’ve become separated from the serenity of prayer. I yearn for moments of solitude, stillness of mind, or even the opportunity to pray without fearing one of the kids will hurt themselves or make a terrible mess while I make only ritually permissible movements. Slowly, slowly I’ve felt my heart harden toward prayer. What’s the point when I skip a prayer due to exhaustion or miss praying in congregation with my family because one of the girls NEEDS only me? What’s the point when I’m told my reward is in taking care of my children? So I pray by rote — without reflection or feeling and take tissue out of my infant’s mouth while glaring at my three year old into behaving.
Nursing — something so incredibly natural and comforting to the both of us — gave me a brief opportunity to ground myself in prayer again.
Some may say that nursing during prayer interferes with one’s concentration, and therefore, nullifies the prayer. I wonder if this opinion also considers the mother’s room at the mosque — where children of all sorts cry, scream and pull on hijabs as they bounce off the walls while their mothers attempt to pray in “peace.” But I didn’t set out to challenge opinions or transgress the limits of prayer by performing some subversive act of breastfeeding. Subtly nursing Ivy during the prayer was simply freedom of expectations and a moment of clarity in a list of recent experiences, that led me to recognise and absorb more of God’s Presence in this world.
Two days prior I was touching petroglyphs that were made when Jesus (peace be upon him) was walking the earth. The week before I danced on light feet for two brides on the eve of their weddings. Yesterday, I carried Ivy up 800 steps to see Petra’s Monastery. My yearning for stillness was satiated in the deep desert where silence becomes oppressive. My morning prayer was accentuated with a full moon in the dawn sky and the taste of the Red Sea as Qur’an spilled from my lips. I am surrounded by awe. I am humbled, thankful for these privileges and mindful to find God in signs of nature, and in my softening heart. I cannot help but praise God in these moments.
And I cannot help but see the Divine in the face of my child.