Tuesday, March 1

Twenty Years of Jummah

I can't exactly remember when, but there came a point in sixth form (so aged around 16-17) where I fell into an almost obsessive pattern to attend Jummah, the weekly Friday congregational prayer that Muslims are strongly encouraged to attend. Now, I'd be the first to say that however strong the recommendation is, it's not a matter of life or death, and no one will go to hell for missing a week. It was just one of those streaks which, as it got longer, became harder to break.

I managed to keep it up all through my academic studies, and past my graduation in the autumn of 2001. That five year (or so) streak was already pretty decent, so it was upsetting when it finally broke - ironically because my flight to Saudi for Hajj was leaving just after noon on a Friday. If there was ever a reason, that was probably it, although in hindsight I think it would have been more than possible to arrange an ad-hoc congregation at the gate or whatever. The following week's Jummah was also missed, as we were in transit to Arafat. That wasn't too bad as my streak was technically zero anyway.

Despite having to start again, my zeal to attend Jummah hadn't diminished - if anything it had gotten stronger. And so it started again, the first Friday after Arafat, which by my calculations fell on the 1st of March. Praise be to God and with his help, I have been able to attend Jummah every week since.

That's not to say it hasn't been precarious. Multi-night hospitalisations came and went, mercifully falling between Fridays. Most recently, COVID lockdowns had been a massive scare, mitigated only by kind neighbours humouring me with socially distanced prayers and blessedly dry weather. Its probably the closest I've come to having this streak broken.

The most consistent inconsistency however has been during travel. Two which spring to mind are during a skiing trip to Courchevel and a week away in Santorini. The former was simply done DIY, as there were enough on the trip to make a congregation. The latter was a little more tricky as there were only two interested parties on the trip - however after making friends with a dodgy DVD street selling Afghani, we managed to whip up a posse, proving once again how doors will be opened for you if you search them out.

It's not just academic stubbornness that drives me to seek out Jummah. Meeting fellow Muslims itself is a culturally valuable exercise - particularly abroad. Seoul, Ambodifototra (on the island of Nosy Boraha, off the coast of Madagascar main), Bali, Phnom Penh and Arequipa are all congregations that I have very fond and exciting memories of - some have been practical too when I had been lucky enough to have been fed on multiple occasions, usually in the places where Muslims made a tiny minority. Isfahan gave me the opportunity to join a state congregation in majority Shia Iran. The mosque in Rio was found at the end of a massive mystery. Warsaw and Split were both tiny self-conscious affairs, Las Vegas hilarious just for the contrast.

There's plenty more, from China, to the obvious picks in the Middle East and even those more vanilla ones in Pakistan (both Karachi and further afield) and here in the UK. An awareness of Jummah and it's facilitation is now an embedded part of any planning process I have, regardless of the scope - amusingly I will only visit the Galapogas and other far flung islands in a troupe of other Muslims, only to ensure I have a congregation on tap. If anyone is interested, let me know.

So yes, twenty years and over 400 Jummahs later I'm left wondering what the future holds. A part of me was aiming to relax a bit and stop counting after hitting such an arbitrary landmark, but I already know that's not going to happen.

Of course ultimately every opportunity to offer Jummah is a blessing, and those are for which I give thanks rather than take credit. I can only pray that those blessings continue till the end.