Because of the requirement that Muslims pray at five specified points during the day, many Muslim Americans find themselves praying in unusual locations as they go about their daily lives. Sana Ullah, a graduate student in photography at George Washington University, has memories of some of the various places that she has prayed throughout her life. In 2015, she began documenting these places in a photo series, called “Places You’ll Pray.” She has taken several photos of Muslim Americans in the various prayer locations, and many of these photos are accompanied by personal stories and reflections from the subjects. A gallery of her photos can be viewed on Sana’s website. Sana also solicits photos from Muslims all over the world, and these images can be viewed under the hashtag #PlacesYoullPray or on Sana’s Instagram page.
The American images show Muslims praying in public spaces, such as parks, the beach, shopping malls, museums, libraries, and at highway rest areas. There are also images at notable American landmarks, such as the Grand Canyon, Universal Studios in Orlando, the Washington monument in DC and Central Park in New York.
Many of these photos are visually beautiful, as they show Muslims in an act of spiritual worship in the midst of stunning scenery. Other photos that highlight urban areas or suburban shopping centers are more banal and gritty, but these photos still emphasize the pious act of praying. Some of the images are more light-hearted and showcase the ingenuity of Muslims who find unlikely spaces to pray.
Overall, it would be a mistake to ignore the deeper political message within these images, especially in light of recent xenophobic rhetoric that argues that Muslims are foreign to the American way of life. By praying in these public space, the participants in these photos are claiming a physical space in the American landscape. More and more Muslims are hesitant to pray in public or to do anything to identify themselves as Muslims out of fear of harassment or attack, but this photo series is a way of asserting that Muslims have every right to practice their religion in American public spaces.
As Sana Ullah said in an article, “It’s kind of like, ‘Hear us now; look at us. Whatever you feel against Muslims, it’s not affecting us, and we’re still going to practice, we’re still going to do what we do.’ I guess to encourage people it’s OK. It’s OK to be Muslim.”
It is a defiant attitude in this current atmosphere of fear and hate for Muslims to not only pray in public but to document how they are claiming these spaces. These images also offer a positive portrayal of the deep faith of Muslims while defying the terrorist trope. As Ullah told Buzzfeed, “(The) majority of Muslims are not the evil that hurts this world and its people on it, but rather Muslims (are) constantly taught to love it sincerely and find peace within themselves five times a day.” These images highlight the positive values that Muslims bring to America and the rightful place of Muslims within the American landscape.