It was our second day in India and we were visiting one of the worst slum colonies in New Delhi where the only available water is delivered in tankers once a day. As we waited for a delivery to arrive, we filmed men, women and children picking through the trash of Delhi's more fortunate. We were filming the "town square" of the slum - a few shops, a cobbler, and a vegetable stand. People were coming and going, laden with piles of trash to be sorted through, the valuable bits removed and sold. It was filthy and the smell of rubbish, feces, and burning plastic filled the air.
I had noticed that the majority of the population of this slum was Muslim, and with the midday prayer approaching, I was curious where they would go to pray. To my surprise, the mosque was right in front of me - a shack next to one of the small shops, with a few faucets nearby for people to perform ‘wadu’ before prayer. Rugs were carried over from a nearby building and rolled out across the square while men and boys gathered, removed their shoes and prepared for prayer. In a matter of minutes the square was transformed and something changed. It was no longer a dirty slum filled with the smells and sounds of poverty, but a house of prayer. The smells and sounds were still there – burning plastic, children picking through piles of rubbish, and open sewers flowing next to a young woman washing dishes – all common scenes in the slums of Indian mega cities. Yet, the whole atmosphere had changed and the attention had turned toward God.
As the call for prayer was issued and the square filled with kneeling men, I felt a sense of awe for the power of prayer and its capacity to transform. To me, the atmosphere felt similar to other more glamorous mosques and houses of worship I had visited. The real power I was feeling didn’t come from the building, but from the sincere prayers of those bowing towards God.
At the end of prayer, the rugs were quickly rolled away, the shops reopened and life returned to normal, as if nothing had happened. But, in those few moments when the attention was turned toward the sacred, I witnessed a real prayer of the heart.