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What It Looks Like to Pray at JFK

Tucked behind Terminal 4 is a chapel that caters to every Abrahamic faith.

by Bobby Viteri
08 November 2015, 2:00pm

It seems strange that you'd find religion in the middle of an airport—but hold on. Aren't airports spiritual voids, immense storage facilities of ennui and confusion and lost souls? Don't they feel everyone's throat with a sense of rising panic? Doesn't the near-future mild dystopia aesthetic make you feel like something undefinable has gone wrong in your life? Doesn't that make an airport the perfect place to find God?

According to PEW, more than half of the nation's "large hub airports" (airports that handle 1 percent or more of the nation's annual passenger boardings) have some sort of designated worship area—mostly Protestant and Catholic chapels, but a few scattered mosques and Jewish temples. New York's JFK Airport is one of the few that has a full complement of Abrahamic houses of worship, all tucked away behind the check-in at Terminal 4. There's Our Lady of the Skies Chapel (Catholic), Christ for the World Chapel (Protestant), and International Synagogue (Jewish), and JFK International Islamic Center (Muslim).

Apart from regularly scheduled masses and prayer gatherings, people come here as time allows—baggage handlers and TSA staffers trickle in during breaks, passengers stop by during layovers, nervous flyers make pit stops for a last-minute Hail Marys.

Imam Ahmet Yuceturk of JFK International Islamic Center told me the mosque is a necessity for Muslims. "Within the airport, or any facility, if the management doesn't provide a chapel, Muslims will still pray. It's that important to us. Our daily prayers are kind of like connecting your cell phone to the WiFi. It's getting that connection—connecting with God so you can remember your faith. It's not part-time.

"Just like there's bathrooms and food in every terminal, prayer is just as important," the imam added.

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