The city had practically gone to sleep. Managers had closed their stores. The restaurants were empty. The late night TV shows had ended. Those that had stayed up well past midnight were drowsy in their beds.
And in the midst of this utter darkness and silence, lights flickered on in a house. The sounds of doors opening and closing and running water were heard. Not long after, a person, fully dressed, came out of his house and made his way to a strange building located advantageously in the middle of the neighborhood. A voice in a foreign language soon erupted from the building. As if on call, lights flickered on in a couple of houses. Soon they were joined by a dozen more. And once again the sounds of doors opening and closing and running water were heard. People made their way to their front gates, started the tedious process of unlocking and walked towards the strange building. Some walked a couple of feet. Others walked a quarter of a mile. But nonetheless, they all had the same anticipation in their footsteps: to reach the building quickly. And still others made the effort to start their cars, waste their precious petrol and set out towards the same destination.
At exactly 25 minutes past the time the strange voice was heard, the people in the building lined up in rows as if they were on the battlefield all behind a leader. Once they were all in place, the man in the front of the congregation rose up his arms and folded them across his chest. And the people behind him did exactly the same, exactly the same way he did it. He once again started in a foreign language unknown to the vast majority of his followers. Nevertheless they listened and followed his every movement. For the next 12 minutes, he made strange movements sitting down, bowing forward and getting up and prostrating towards an unknown being, his followers imitating him perfectly. And then finally, he turned his head towards the right and left. And once again, his followers followed in unison their director. And then he raised his hands up as if he was holding an invisible container from the bottom and once again started chanting in a strange language. When he finished, he wiped his hands on his face. His followers understood the rituals were over and made their way back to their houses.
Who were these people? They differed in clothing, height, hairstyle (some had beards, others didn’t), accent, and lifestyle. They consisted of the rich and poor, the millionaires and their servants, the businessmen and the garbage collectors. They consisted of the old and young, the teenagers and octogenarians, the grandparents and grandchildren, the children and the parents. They consisted of the senators and illegals, the mayors and simple citizens. But no matter what social class, political class or age group they were part of they all gathered in unison and formed straight rows so close to each other that the shoulders of one person would the shoulders of the other.
Successful indeed are the believers. Those who offer their Salat (prayers) with all solemnity and full submissiveness. (Surah Mu’minun: 1-2)They were the strangers… Everyday they would follow the same procedure and then go back to their homes and wake up once again with the rest of the neighborhood to continue their lives as usual. They always came no matter what the circumstances were. They would come in summer and winter, spring and fall. They never relaxed. They would come when it was raining, when it was hot or cold. They would come in the midst of a flood or through the peak of a storm. They all recognized each other and knew who was of them and who wasn’t. They formed a group that transcended all mortally-drawn lines of society and felt a special feeling of brotherhood whenever they would meet each other. “Another stranger, just like me.”
"Islam began as something strange, and it shall return to being something strange, so give glad tidings to the strangers." (Muslim)