Years ago, a friend of mine told me a story of an experience he had in his university’s MSA, and it still resonate with me today. I find it is a powerful example of one of the most deeply rooted problems in our community.
The MSA in question had a practice of holding a Leadership Training Program (LTP) for their incoming executive members once a year, and one of the sessions in that year’s LTP had a small-group discussion component. As my friend’s group was discussing their selected topic, the time for Asr came in. Immediately at the call to prayer, one of the members got up and with-out much resistance, the whole group decided to abandon the ongoing program and pray on their own outside the main hall.
When the larger group completed their session and headed towards the designated prayer area, the members of this group excused themselves, telling one of the organizers that they had prayed on their own.
She was furious, and reprimanded them for abandoning the main group and praying separately. She attempted to explain how their actions impacted the bigger group, but they didn’t see the issue.
Isn’t rushing to pray Asr a good thing?
This behaviour is not restricted to this story, but is in fact commonplace among members of our community. At another Islamic event, I watched an attendee ask one of the speakers a question after her lecture was over. When the adhan started, partway through her answer, he turned and walked away, leaving her confused and embarrassed at the nature of his behaviour.
These stories have an important lesson in common, the people involved were all showing a fundamental lack of understanding — for while those involved thought they were doing something good, they were actually exhibiting discourtesy that is condemned far more harshly in our religion than praying ten minutes after the adhan.
In Sahih Bukhari, the Prophet SAW is reported to have delayed prayer due to intense heat – and that was just a hot day! On the other hand, causing division in a group and showing disrespect to people of knowledge are unequivocally condemned. What happened to respect and manners?
All of this is symptomatic of a larger problem — we have begun to prioritize the outward acts of worship over the less visible or tangible aspects of character. When we teach and advise our youth, it is imperative that we not only tell them that the best of deeds is “prayer at their early times” (Bukhari) but also that “nothing is weightier on the Scale of Deeds than one’s good manners” (Bukhari).