On Saturday afternoon I was waiting for someone at the London Kings Cross St. Pancras Station. It was time to pray, and my guest was late, so I started to search for a prayer or quiet room in the station, as they have in the London Heathrow airport. When I saw that none of the signs direct to a prayer room, I searched for a person who I could ask, a member of staff who may know a place to pray. I walked around for over 20 minutes, probably, looking for someone to ask. I saw staff members, but none who I suspected would know. At one point I turned around to find behind me a brown member of Eurostar staff with a short, gray beard. He was talking on his mobile, but I interrupted him with my facial expression and stare, which indicated I had a question for him. He put the phone down momentarily. Excuse me, I said. Is there a place where I can pray? I did not necessarily look Muslim, especially since I was not wearing my hijab. He paused for a moment, assumedly to overcome the unexpectedness of my question. I did not assume that he was Muslim, but I had a feeling that he might know. There was a prayer room, but they closed it, he replied. But I will show you a place that you can pray. He did not scold me for not wearing hijab, and I was deeply grateful for that - I felt uncomfortable already for leaving it at home, having worn it all week to work. I followed the man, as he continued the conversation on his mobile. He halted the conversation another moment to ask me if I prayer mat, and at that time I assured him I had a cloth to pray on, and my prayer clothes. Eventually we arrived in a corner by a Staff Only door. It was not a separate room, but he said it was a quiet place, and no one would bother me there. He also showed me the direction to pray, and then I knew that he himself had probably prayed in the same place. I thanked him, and as he turned to leave he said "Allah bless you." I felt part of a wider community of Muslims, who pray and fast in unity. Staff came in an out of that door, and people were passing in the main corridor of the station, but no one disturbed me, and I felt happy to have found someone to help me, and to have prayed on time. I am grateful for the function of prayer as a reminder of Allah in Islam. I am thankful for the sense of urgency to pray.
When you wear hijab, it's as if you have an automatic set of friends, an automatic community. On the street, I'm greeting strangers, because we're all Muslim! We know that we share much in common, by just being able to recognise each other. It happens at work with new staff, and in shops anywhere I go. Immediately we see the common hijab, or a distinct beard, and we know that we have support at hand, if we need it. At a time in my life when I'm feeling quite unstable and suffering great loss, having a smile brought to my face by the sense of community that I have wearing hijab goes a long way.
Last night coming home from work, the train was full, as usual. I was not surprised that there were no seats. But as the train took off, a man got up from his seat and welcomed me to it. I feel this man recognised my hijab, and felt respect for me. Perhaps he felt more a connection to me on a religious basis. I will never know if he would have done it otherwise. But the man was Indian, and I did not know whether he was Muslim. When he called to order a taxi and said his name was "Vishnu," I recognised that he was actually a Hindu man. I'm sure he is well-acquainted with Muslims, as Hindus and Muslims and Christians live side by side in India.
I felt so honoured to have a seat, and for it to have been offered to me so generously. Usually men just let women, even elderly ones, stand up clasping a rail somewhere to stay on their feet, while they sit comfortably. I was very, very grateful to the respect that this man showed me. I thanked him again when I was leaving the train, and he offered a small smile, as if it was nothing. Not to me.