The first time she’s compelled to go to MSA is not the fondue party.
It’s not the fondue party, or the Eid banquet, or any of the other events they hosted all throughout her first two semesters. She goes to them, sure, because they sound like they’d be good for her and because her friends are going, and there’s free food and free motivation and good speakers, but there isn’t anything that really drives her to go to the meetings or the events outside of some half-hearted allegiance to the only club for which her parents will actually let her stay out late.
That, of course, changes.
It changes during Islam Awareness Week, when classes are over, right, so it’s time to head home and pray ‘asr with fresh wu’du and collapse in bed for a nap before dinner, but just as she’s heading toward the parking lot behind the RSC, her phone buzzes in her hand and she looks down to the fateful message—Bubble tea? :)—and who is she to say no to an offer as seductive as that?
She can already taste the boba in her mouth when she replies and they agree to meet on the corner of College Ave and Hamilton; when they head up to Easton and the tiny little shop hidden before NJ Books, she decides to try a new flavor, strawberry-kiwi instead of hiding behind the safety of mango, and after a bit of a struggle, Leila even agrees to let her friend—Saba—pay for her, the cherry on the top of what’s shaping up to be a pretty nice afternoon. Their drinks paid for and tasted and deemed thoroughly refreshing, Leila and Saba head outside, where it’s a blessedly nice April day after the coldest winter they’ve had to brave, and the two of them walk back to the RSC, together this time, chatting about whatever it is that’s going on in their lives—finals, term papers, that mutual friend of theirs’ that’s graduating this year; it’s pleasant, typical conversation that’s more-or-less come up every day for the past few weeks.
It’s during a break in their conversation, when both of them have stopped in front of ABP to sip at their tea, that Saba brings it up.
“So,” comes the question, “did you go yet?”, and she gestures with her shoulder to the steps across the street, where a poster advertising Islam Awareness Week hangs invitingly over Brower Commons.
Leila shakes her head. “No, I haven’t been over here all week.” Because, hey, she’s a commuter, and she’s not coming any earlier than she has to, and otherwise her breaks are spent in the library doing readings. “You?”
“No,” Saba admits. “I’ve been pretty busy.”
“Oh, right. Papers and stuff?”
“Mhm,” Saba says. She’s finished her drink by now, and drops it in the trash a few feet away from them before clicking the lock screen on her phone to check the time. “You know they’re doing prayer here?”
Leila didn’t. She glances in the direction of the parking lot.
“It’d be nice to pray in jamaat on campus…”
“Yeah,” says Leila, fiddling with the straw of her emptied cup. She doesn’t want to throw it out yet; maybe if she sucks at it some more, extra juice will magically appear. “But I don’t think I have wu’du, so I wanted to pray at home, ” and, um, yeah, sorry, but that’s kind of a deal breaker, no matter how awkward it is to refuse. She’s made ablution on campus before, of course, but if she goes home now she’ll definitely still have time to pray more comfortably…
“Oh, point,” says Saba, and to Leila’s relief she’s smiling. “But I do! So I think I’m going to check it out. See you tomorrow?”
“Insha’Allah,” agrees Leila, and they say their salaam, and Leila turns to head back home, shouldering her backpack, which somehow seems to have gotten lighter; she really does want to pray at home, you know, honestly feels like it’ll be better for her that way, but there’s something weird sitting in her stomach, anyway—did she just say ‘no’ to ‘come pray with us’—but, you know, whatever, it’s better for her to pray in private anyway, right, it’s, like, you know—
—That’s when it changes.
It’s when she’s taking out her keys and making sure she has her wallet when it happens, when she hears it, hears the adhan—and, whoa, hey, when was the last time she heard the adhan like that, out in the street and over the microphone, an actual person proclaiming it in real time and beckoning forth everyone in the area to join the congregation, an actual call to prayer rather than alarm clock?
She turns back to Brower Commons and Saba’s retreating figure, feels the tug in her gut to stand in line with her sisters, under her breath repeats the words after the muadhin, and that is when she realizes—today, she is compelled to go to MSA.
How can she turn her back now, step into her car, turn on the radio, delay her prayer and drive all the way home, after she’d explicitly been called to worship here?
“Wait!” she shouts, rushing to Saba before she crosses the street. “Wait! I’m—I’ll be right back, watch my stuff?”