By Reshma, New Age Islam
10 October 2020
It was many, many years ago, when I was working in an office. My job entailed meeting companies to discuss advertising campaigns. Our office was a really homely place. Just a handful of people worked there. We worked as friends, and no one bossed over the others.
I can still recall my first day in the office. By God’s grace, I had, by this time, begun doing the five times Namaz or prayer regularly. My colleagues in the office were Hindus and Christians, and I was the only Muslim. My worry was how and where in my new workplace I would be able to offer the mid-afternoon (Zohar) and early evening (Asr) Namaz. Going home to offer the prayers was not possible—it was quite a distance away.
After the formalities of welcoming me into the office were over, I approached my senior whom I was to report to, Mr. Joseph. I had butterflies zooming around in my stomach, but I managed to muster the courage to ask him if I could offer my Zohar Namaz in the office during the lunch break, and, later in the day, the Asr prayer too. I explained that I did not want to disturb anyone and that if he had any objection to my praying in the office, he could let me know.
I was overwhelmed, immensely relieved and enormously grateful for Joseph’s response. He said that I could pray in the office and that if anyone in the office commented on it or said something about it to me, I should inform him.
Thanking Joseph profusely, I began to scout around for a quiet, private space in the office where I could offer my prayers. I managed to find an unused storeroom, which seemed ideal for the purpose.
By this time I had met a colleague, whom I shall call Hemant. He seemed a kind, soft-spoken person, and I felt instinctively connected with him. I told him that Joseph had permitted me to offer my prayers in the office and that I would use the storeroom for this as it was vacant and my praying there would not disturb others. Spontaneously, Hemant got up from his seat and said that he would clean the storeroom as it was very dusty. Despite my telling him that I would do it, Hemant went about cleaning the room himself. I was overwhelmed by his kind gesture!
I had a good time working at this place. I was there for around a year or so. After l left, I lost touch with my colleagues and moved into a different field of work.
Then, one day, more than a decade later, as I was browsing through the newspaper, my eyes fell on the obituary column. I was shocked to see a picture of Joseph there, with an announcement that he had passed away. He was in his late 40s then, if I am right. His funeral service was to be held in a church later that day.
My mind travelled back to my days in the office. I was filled with memories of Joseph’s kindness towards me. I recalled his respect for my prayers as well as his concern for my professional growth. I desperately wanted to go to the church and be part of the prayers for Joseph.
I tried to recall if I was still in touch with any old common colleagues whom I could go to the funeral service with, but there were none. I had never attended a Christian funeral service in my life, and I had no idea what happened on such occasions. I was confused. Could I just walk in? Would I need to introduce myself?
I wasn’t busy that day, and so I had no valid excuse not to attend a dear colleague’s funeral service. But all sorts of mixed feelings and thoughts began swirling about in my head. The day passed by and I did not go for the service.
But my conscience pricked me. A feeling of guilt weighed heavily on my heart for some days. For all his kindness towards me when he was alive, couldn’t I have at least attended a prayer service for Joseph when he had just died? After all, I owed a huge debt to him for being so kind as to permit me to pray in the office. Couldn’t I have reciprocated his kindness in this regard at least by attending his funeral prayer?
I felt sad that I had not offered my due respects to Joseph by being there, in the church, that day.
When I think of it now, I recognise Joseph’s kindness as well as Hemant’s humility and humaneness as exemplifying lived spirituality, which transcends all boundaries of caste, creed and community. In the light of their example of lived spirituality, when I think of my not having attended Joseph’s funeral that day, I must ask myself, “Where was—and is—my own lived spirituality?”
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