Salat and Society

Nabihah Maqbool, a Muslim student at MU, speaks about the impact politics has on her personal prayer life, or salat.
Friday, June 20, 2008 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:07 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 9, 2008
Nabihah Maqbool prays, one of five times daily, at the Islamic Center of Central Missouri downtown.

Questions about the economy, health care and the environment have taken center stage in thus far in the presidential campaign. Religion hasn’t been overlooked; in April, Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama addressed faith and social justice during a Compassion Forum at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. The forum helped bring religion to the nation’s attention as part of the presidential campaign. During the forum, the Democratic candidates talked openly about their faith and the role religion plays in everyday life in America. Today the Missourian continues an occasional conversation on the topic with Columbians.

Q: Describe the turning point when you decided to put religion at the top of your life.

Nabihah Maqbool




Sophomore dual major in political science and biology. Maqbool plans on either attending medical school going to graduate school in policy-making.


Originally from New York City, Maqbool moved to Columbia for four years and then moved to St. Louis. She is currently a student at MU and lives in Columbia. Her parents were both born in Karachi, Pakistan. She has visited Pakistan and India along with her family who continually travel back and forth.


Research Assistant, University of Missouri Medical School, MU Student


Maqbool is the Treasurer and Public Relations Officer for the Muslim Students Organization at MU, advocacy coordinator for STAND Mizzou, a student anti-genocide coalition and a council member of the student minority leadership organization, FourFront. She also volunteers at Boone Hospital Center as well as mentors for the Stand by Me program and Girl Power. She is also a member of the MU Pre Med society.

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A: I think it was when I moved. When I graduated from high school and started going to college, I became a lot more introspective. I started thinking about how I wanted to live my life. Generally, what my priorities were going to be. It forced me to confront everything I had been taught and either accept it, tweak it or reject it. And I looked at all the aspects of my religion, and there was a point where I independently accepted it. I mean, like my first Ramadan away from home, you know you fast for 30 days for that month, if I wasn’t fasting it’s not like someone would catch me and tell me that I wasn’t following one of the pillars of the religion. It was me independently doing it. ... I think that may have been the point where I just embraced it without anyone asking me to or anyone supervising me or advising me at all. It was great knowing that I had made this decision for myself.

Q: Does your faith translate into your compassion for others?

A: I hope so. I mean everything that I’ve learned in Islam is that you respect human life, you respect every individual regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, social position, gender, anything. So I feel like the teachings from my faith definitely translate into my political passions.

Q: What is it about Islam that appeals to you?

A: It’s a way of life. It’s not just something you turn to when you’re in trouble or that you think about once a week. It’s something that guides you through every single aspect of your life — from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep. And the general principles are universally recommended. It’s peace, it’s brotherhood, it’s friendship. And thinking about how to better yourself. How to better your world. How to respect those around you. All those values I think are just so important to me.

Q: How important a part of your life would you consider prayer?

A: Islam does actually have specific ways in which you pray. You pray five times a day according to times of the sun. That’s called salat. And that’s one of the five pillars of our faith. But, in addition to that, there’s so many additional things that you can choose to do. Like when you wake up, you can say a prayer of thankfulness. Before you go to sleep, you say little phrases from the Quran — quotations from the book — and eventually everyone hopes to memorize some amount of it. ... Another aspect is that you can ask or talk to God without having to use those phrases necessarily. After every prayer, I will do an additional prayer in English, in my head or in a whisper, asking for all the little things that I want. Whereas prayer covers the main things, like the first prayer that you read. The first part is praising God and the second part is asking for his guidance and health in everything that you do. But in addition to that I ask for little things afterwards, I’ll be like, “Please make sure I get an A on my animal physiology exam,” or “I hope blah blah blah bill, like the Patriot Act, doesn’t get renewed” or something along those lines. Or I can ask for help for other people like if someone I know is ill. I can pray that they get better. It’s just a feeling that God is omnipresent and he knows everything that you’re thinking. We don’t need a connector. We don’t need a priest or someone to link us to God. Each one of us knows that we have that relationship with him.

Q: You said that you pray about things that are national issues, such as the Patriot Act. Can you be more specific?

A: I’ve been taught to pray about whatever I want. But I do pray about things that I do feel are going on. I would never want the U.S. government to take part in torturing in CIA black sites and unfortunately that does happen. So no matter how powerless I’ll feel — writing letters doesn’t work, contacting representatives doesn’t work and I just see fear taking over the country — at least I can take some solace in that fact that I can pray to God. And I understand that God ultimately is in charge and has power over all things. So I shouldn’t stress out and think it’s going to crumble; I should just have faith that whatever is happening he’ll take care of and he’ll heed my prayer in the best way possible.

Q: If you see an issue on TV or you read a news article, what is it about it that makes you want to pray about it?

A: Well, I mean, my particular issues are currently with human rights abuses. There is a verse that goes, “If a man saves one man’s life, it’s as if he has saved all humanity and if a man is to kill one man, it is as if he has killed all humanity.” So these are fundamental and universal human rights that I feel should be universally applied and respected for every single individual. And when I see such gross violations based on a fear of ambiguous ideas like (the idea of) a terrorist and, you know, seeing all these innocent people, even U.S. documentaries — “Taxi to the Dark Side” was showing over the True/False Film Festival — and it was just showing the horror of committing these crimes. And it makes me so sad. And, like I said, I feel really powerless about it a lot of the time, but I feel like prayer is part of trying to fix the problem, too.

Q: Are there any specific incidents that you have prayed about?

A: After seeing Abu Ghraib — that was horrifying and unbelievable. And I mean every time — there are tons of stories about people who’ve been renditioned to black sites and been tortured in different places and returned home broken men. And it’s depressing. It’s like, where else can you turn but to God?

Q: Do you see any things that you are encouraged by?

A: When I see people coming together at a grass-roots stance. In particular, there’s a National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Just seeing that people of all faiths can recognize the violations of humanity that are going on and try to organize around it. It’s like everything and every person can recognize what’s wrong with that. That gives me some hope that there are people who won’t just be terrified into doing things that are wrong and they’ll stand up for what they know in their religion, and whatever personal morality that killing, or torturing or harming people without justification, without evidence, is just terrible.

Q: You’ve emphasized the grass-roots level. The political process, in particular, do you think that it’s able to address some of these issues?

A: Absolutely. Although our government is set up so as to work in a slower manner, especially for America — its political clout in the world, its international standing, its reputation, the way people model after it. It doesn’t have to be a slow process when enough people, both at the government level and as citizens, speak out about something that’s wrong and something that needs to be changed. I have a lot of faith in our political process and our government.

Q: Being a first-generation American citizen, does that have an effect on the political issues that you pay attention to?

A: I guess that did maybe draw me into it, but I feel like any instance where people are being — I can reach out to anyone. Like I’m in STAND and that started out as a movement to stop genocide in Darfur. I feel like I may not have any relatives or personal connections there, but they’re human beings and they deserve just as much attention as anyone here does. So like the attention given to — I don’t know — like the amount of time people put into things like Facebook, I mean, you can spend a little bit of your time writing a couple letters to your senators and make a huge difference.

Q: Do you think political issues will take up more of a role in your prayer life as we get closer to the election?

A: I don’t know how much I’m praying about — I’ll tell you that in 2004, I was really praying that the Republicans wouldn’t get the White House again. I don’t know so much this year because I don’t feel like the campaign poses such a candidate I’m against. Four years ago, I was pretty concerned. I was praying on election day for the results to go one way or another.

Q: Are there any issues in the campaign that you see as being consistent with the issues you care about?

A: Stopping the Iraq war. This is totally personal, and I don’t speak for anyone besides myself ­— but the results of the war. I remember the day it started — being at home and my whole family gathered around the television — and thinking that nothing good will come of this. And this many years later, nothing good has come of this. Millions of people are displaced. Hundreds of thousands are dead. And I just hope that whoever is in power over the next four years will have the political fortitude to try to reverse the damage that’s being done and try to find a solution. Because at this point, it looks like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

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