Prayer amid the office machines



In the bustle and clamor of a Manhattan workday, thousands of New Yorkers take time out from their jobs to pray with one another, often in unlikely places...

At Cuisine of Pakistan, a fast-food restaurant on Ninth Avenue, taxi drivers, merchants and at least one uniformed traffic officer gather every day at lunchtime in the narrow space between the rear booths. They take off their shoes, spread rugs on the tile floor, turn toward Mecca and, while diners linger over mutton curry, recite the opening chapter of the Koran, then bow, kneel and prostrate themselves.

"We don't think too much about what is around us," said Altaff Shah, 53, a civil engineer who often drops in at the restaurant. "We have a direct meeting with the Creator."

These not-so-secret prayer places are honeycombed throughout the canyons of Midtown and Wall Street, offering convenient workday refuges for people who feel obliged to pray several times a day. They seem to have mushroomed in recent years as more companies have adjusted to the religious needs of their employees and as the Internet has spread word of where these sanctuaries are…

If Muslims want a place more tranquil than Cuisine of Pakistan, which on Fridays is brimming with more than 100 men led by an imam, they can try the prosaic office of a Muslim organization on West 44th Street. (In Islam too, group worship confers a greater reward, though a group can be as small as two.)…

But observant Muslims, who must pray five times a day, and observant Jews, who pray three, have a far smaller selection of houses of worship near their jobs, and walking to those that are available might take a prohibitive amount of time...

Still, for some prayer spots there are additional benefits to being the host for prayer services. While profit was not the reason he invited worshipers to his restaurant seven years ago, Umar Darr, the owner of Cuisine of Pakistan, acknowledged that holding the daily service "gives us a blessing."

"Having the prayer here," he said, "my business is going good."

 


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