MANCHESTER – Most nights of the year, you will find me in my bed, asleep, by 11pm. Finished, wiped out, by the days’ lists and concerns. Like unappreciated worker bees, our materialistic culture has us constantly clutching for out-of-reach conclusions to daily struggles. We are in a loop, a time warp, where tomorrows ‘to do’ list must always be longer and more unmanageable than the previous day, to keep us ‘motivated’.
How, in this cycle, can Ramadan, a 30-day boot camp for the body, mind and soul, flip our lives upside down without replacing the controlled chaos – with outright mayhem?
Barely a week into the Muslim month of fasting, one of the answers presents itself.
The word comes from the Arabic root ‘raaha,’ meaning to rest, relax, to use as recreation. Which seems odd, as the night prayer it refers to, means that after 19 hours without water or food (UK), many thousands of mums, grandparents, grumpy teens, and tired dads, stand for at least another hour in prayer, rarely getting home before midnight.
The ‘rest’ referred to in the word taraweeh, applies to the gratefully received pauses coming between each four circuits of prayer. The bending, bowing and prostrations, on a full stomach no less, is briefly stopped. Here, water is gulped down by thirsty worshippers.
In the short pause, as the imam catches his breathe, the cheery salutes to neighbors and friends bubble up in the women’s prayer area, not-praying teen girls allow themselves to giggle more freely.
Then we are hastily shushed as the imam announces ‘Allahu Akbar’ through the speakers.
Shameela Islam-Zulfiqar is one of the most active people I have ever met. She makes you think of the truism – if you want something done ask a busy person. Shameela is a medical doctor and a ‘woman of many hijabs’.
Along with being a married working mother, she raises many thousands of pounds for good causes. Doesn’t Taraweeh drain her already overstretched mental and physical resources. She tells AboutIslam:
“Taraweeh is a beautiful experience to connect to God and do this with my community. Our entire family works around an organized routine to breakfast, clear up and get out on time to get to the Center. I’ve been praying taraweeh at the British Muslim Heritage Center (Manchester) for around 5 years. The Qur’an recitation is soul touching. We all come back on a spiritual high and elated! “
“The Companions of the Prophet (P.B.U.H) and their pious successors used to stand for very long periods in these prayers. Qur’anic sections, or ‘Juz’ read in two of the four prayer circuits, many pages of recitation, requiring great focus and concentration from all present.
“Today, the masjid I attend, Didsbury, Manchester, takes a gentler line (especially during these summer, fasting days). The 8 rakat (circuit) is brief. Even so, looking along the five rows of women ahead of me (the men’s hall is much fuller), I wonder, why do we do it? After all, Taraweeh prayers are not ‘fard,’ obligatory on us. It is a preferred option practiced by the Prophet peace be upon him and his friends and followers. We could – and many do – stay home and simply eat until fajr time.”
Maryam, 18, is a full time student. She attends the extra Ramadan prayers at Eccles Mosque, near Oldham. Maryam tells AboutIslam.net that taraweeh is an essential element of this holy month.
“It’s always been part of the Ramadan experience for me. I always attended even if I’m not praying. The people are lovely, everyone give hugs and salaams. The imams who recite have beautiful recitation and one of them does the best witr dua in my opinion,” she said.
Dr Shameela, finds the time in praying at night, does not leave her more exhausted. It improves her spiritual outlook.
“Peace, tranquility, closeness to God, and calm in the serenity of this connection. The concentration and khushu in prayer during this time is unparalleled. No people around you needing attention, no phone, no distractions. Just you and Him – to pour your heart out to.”
Imagine, just five hours available to eat, tidy away, attend an hour’s night prayer, come home, pray some more, cook and eat again. Pray at dawn. Read Qur’an.
That’s the problem with our life of ‘lists’. On paper, the blessings that happen between our endless array of material tasks vanish between the lines. Dunya, this world, with all its beauty, becomes a series of rushed imperatives, with no hint of existential connectivity.
Taraweeh is the antidote to rush. It is hush. Rest. A wireless connection to the ease which Ramadan brings to the believer.
Don’t add this special night prayer to your ‘list’. Just go along and trust that the energy for this and all your tasks, will like your sight, hearing, the love of your children and the blessing of Islam, will be granted by the Most Merciful.