I’m sitting at a Khaleeji airport and a very strange thing has happened. Strange to me anyway.
In a quiet lounge type place off to the side, a few minutes after I sat down, a man in his fifties came in and spread his janamaz and started praying. He was just praying your regular Sunni Zuhr prayer, minding his business. Another man comes in, rushes over to him, takes off his shoes and stands next to him. At first I thought, okay, so he’s just joining in in the prayer space.
But then suddenly the first man, the one that had been there from the start, begins to recite his Allahu Akbars loudly, like he’s leading. And the man next to him falls into that rhythm.
The man doing imamat shortens his prayer to 2 raka’at, because now he’s in jamaat prayer. He does salam. And the second man stands up and finishes the rest of his prayer that he’d missed because he joined in late.
Then they say their sunnat raka’at separately, as you do, and when they’re done, they chatting in Arabic, talking about what I assume is uncle chat. The second man isn’t old enough to be an uncle, but you know how men are.
The thing is: I didn’t know you could do that, or that people did that. And why would I? I’m a desi woman who’s learning congregational ritual life in her middle adulthood. But it seems to me what happened is an individual ritual moment of communion, in which one human is oriented to Allah, became a collective ritual moment, in which both are oriented to Allah, but also to each other. They are oriented in concert. One made room for the other, changed his orientation of share the space of prayer and to fundamentally shift his prayer, mid-prayer.
Which, when you think about it, is an oddly wonderful sort of sunnah. Rasul Allah ﷺ changed his qibla mid-prayer when God commanded in the middle of Asr that the qibla be shifted from Jerusalem to Makkah.