Just days ago, on Jan. 30, 2023, 400 Muslims gathered to pray in a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, which sits along the border of Afghanistan. Unsuspecting worshipers raised their hands and recited Allahu Akbar, marking the very beginning of the ritual prayer known as Salaah. At that instant, a bomb was detonated. Over 100 people have been slain. Dozens more remain critically injured. The terrorist group Taliban has claimed responsibility. 

While grieving after the latest terrorist attack at a mosque full of praying Muslims in the country of my parents’ birth, I placed myself in the shoes of people who have been slain while in the vulnerable and sacred act of prayer. By reading this, I hope you will take this walk with me and take a deeper look at how an attack on one of us is an attack on us all.

Putting myself in their shoes.
They bowed. They knelt. But they never rose.

The Holy Quran instructs Muslims to perform ritual prayer, or Salaah, five times a day.

On Fridays, the holy day of the week for Muslims, I join my sisters and brothers in community prayer at my local masjid (Arabic for “mosque”).  Some Fridays, I find myself praying for the departed souls who stood in this very position of peace and vulnerable submission to the Creator just a few days ago — when their lives were abruptly cut short by an act of despicable hatred and violence.

I have stood here and contemplated this many times before. I recall the 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand massacre very well.

Just as they did, just as the first Muslim sisters and brothers have done for 1,400 years, I stand shoulder to shoulder with the sisters of my community.

We’re not just numbers like the death tolls thrown around haphazardly in headlines.

We are nuanced. Daughters, mothers, granddaughters and grandmothers, wives, aunts, nieces, sisters, friends. In another area of the masjid are my brothers, the fathers, husbands, nephews, sons, and grandsons. Together we share a large prayer rug covering the expanse of the masjid floor.
Upon that rug, we bow, kneel, prostrate, and rise in tandem.
The call to prayer is made, the adhaan. We respond by making intentions under our breath for this prayer that we dedicate to the Most High.
Allahu Akbar,” we say, hands lifted up in both praise and surrender to the Almighty, beside our ears. We drop our hands.
We begin Salaah by placing our hands on our hearts, where our deepest intentions and desires live, and praise the Most Merciful, the Lord of the worlds, the Owner of the Day of Resurrection.
We proclaim from our hearts our faith in and reliance on God for help in every matter.
We ask God to guide us to the path of love and kindness, righteousness and sisterhood and brotherhood like all of our prophets preached, (ranging from but not limited to) Prophet Adam to Prophet Abraham, to Prophet Enoch to Prophet Ishmael, to Prophet Lot and Prophet Jonas, to Prophet Solomon and Prophet David, to Prophet Jesus and to Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon them all).
We ask God to help us navigate life by way of the righteous path, and to not go astray.
Ameen,” we all say. Ameen, like Amen, is an affirmation. “Indeed!”

This is my heart’s line-by-line translation of Surah al-Fatiha, which literally means “the opening,” or “the key,” as some translate it. These comprise the opening verses of Salaah (Muslim ritual prayer), and are also the opening verses of the Quran. They simultaneously prelude and sum up the gist of the Holy Book, and one could say, of our entire existence as Muslims. As humans.

We begin everything, including this prayer, with “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem.”

It means “In the name of God, the most beneficent, the ever beneficent.” Of all the names given to describe God in Islam, there is one that is used more frequently than any other: “Ar Rahman,” the most beneficent, benevolent, gracious, compassionate, merciful. The second most frequently used name to describe God is “Ar Raheem,” the ever-beneficent, -benevolent, -gracious, -compassionate, -merciful. In fact, it’s recited before the recitation of all other verses. God is described to Muslims with this trait more than any other traits. Similarly, the Book teaches Muslims to encompass traits of compassion, graciousness, empathy, and kindness. Not perfection. Pure intention. Concern for the greater good of humanity. And love.

So much so that the Arabic word for heart (“qalb”) stems from a root word (“q-l-b”) that means “that which constantly keeps changing direction.”

The heart is central to human existence, to our intentions, to our thoughts, and to our actions. Flawed and ever-changing as it may be. That’s the beauty of humanity as God intended it.

I find compelling proof of God’s intended imperfection of human nature in this story about Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him), who is regarded by all Muslims to be perfection personified.

The blessed Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was known to recite a prayer daily that translated essentially to mean, “God, You have made the heart in a way that it constantly changes direction. Keep my heart’s direction pointed towards You, and never let it stray.” If the most perfect Muslim considered it even possible for his own heart to lose its course (which it, of course, never did), what, then, of us? Does it not speak volumes about the nature of all humankind? The mercy and love of the Most High, God?
On the prayer rug, we place our hands on our humble hearts together as a community as we share our hopes and dreams during this collective yet individual act of devotion and worship.
Though Muslims find God to be everywhere and in everything, we turn in one direction together. We face the direction of the Holy Ka’aba in Mecca, a central point for the early days of Islam and earlier religions, touched by many prophets such as Prophet Abraham. We bend at the waist and place our hands on our knees, just as the Quran mentions that trees, stars, and our other fellow living creations bow with the current, whispering words of love and gratitude into wind, water, and space.
We rise together and lift our hands into the vast, shared expanse of sky and we proclaim, “Allahu Akbar.” “God is the most High, the greatest Great.” But the actual translation for the Arabic “Akbar” can’t be contained in the word “great.” It more accurately means greater than greater than great, higher than higher than high. Essentially, it means to convey that God is Everything.

We kneel on the floor, and humbly lower our foreheads to the earth together.

The earth that gives us and all Earthly life sustenance, support, and shelter. The earth from whose every corner God is said to have pulled clay to mold humans. The earth to which one day this clay will reunite.
With forehead touching the floor, we close our eyes and imagine that we are bowing at the “feet” of God, at God’s throne, blinding and eye-opening and all-encompassing and love-filling Light that God is.

Our Salaah continues as we sit on our knees on our shared prayer rug and recite more verses.

We repeat lines from a conversation that are said to be echoes of a conversation that took place once in Heaven between the Angels, the blessed Prophet and God. In it, we send blessings and peace to God, the prophets and their families, the angels, and all living beings in God’s universe. We lift our right index finger together and testify together to the Oneness of God, and that the blessed Prophet Muhammad was God’s final Messenger.
Lastly, we ask for blessings for our parents, children, and loved ones.
We close the prayer by sending peace and blessings to the angel scribes on either shoulder, and to our neighbors alongside whom we pray.
Beneath the prayer rugs upon which we bow, prostrate, and rise in tandem is the earth we sow, reap, walk, and return to together.
Above the minarets inside which we gather together to pray, plead, thank, and hope together are the heavens that sustain us, inspire us, bewilder us, and unbind us.

We bow together. We kneel together. We prostrate together. We rise together.

This is humanity. One big community.
There is no they. There is no “other.” We are all Us.
When one of us is down, we lift one another up.

As I pray today, I remember those who stood in this same position, bowed as I do, knelt as I do, but never rose.

Today, I rise.
Together, we rise.

Ya Allah / Dear God,
Please bless the souls of the innocent people whose lives have been taken through acts of violence, hate, and terrorism.
Please bless the loved ones left behind to grieve them, and give solace and comfort to their broken hearts.
Please help love win. Make hate end.
No more senseless acts of violence and hate.

Inna lillahi wa inna illaihi rajeeyun. / To God we belong and Unto God we must return.


If anyone would ever like to experience Friday Muslim prayer, or to attend one of our two “Eid” prayers a year (the Muslim religious holidays), please reach out to me. I would LOVE to take you and show you firsthand.
I would also love to experience your way of worship if you’d like to explain and show me what it means to you. 

Have feedback?
Pray tell! I’d love to hear from you. Email me at: ayeshaGT@virginiainterfaithcenter.org