Every year that Ramadan swings round the corner, and as I am standing in the Tarawih prayers, my thoughts invariably wander to the yesteryears of college.
What is it about standing in prayer that reminds me of college? Well Raleigh, NC (where I went to college) was a town with a small but vibrant Muslim population. During Ramadan, our Masjid (Islamic Association of Raleigh) had arrangements after Isha for Tarawih. Tarawih prayers were eight rakats, with a break after four during which someone or the other gave a short discourse on any topic of religious or societal importance.
I particularly remember my first two years in Raleigh, when Tarawih was lead by a visiting imam from Virginia called Muhammad Faqih. Brother Faqih was a young chap, under 30, who was blessed with one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard recite the Holy Quran. We didnt finish the Quran during Ramadan as is the trend in a lot of places. But instead we had long Rakats of slow and thoughtful recitation, long rukoos and sujoods. As we stood beind Brother Faqih, despite not understanding the Arabic, we were moved to tears on the parts we should be crying (on stories of previous nations that disobeyed Allah and were destroyed, mention of Heaven and Hell, and other such places).
So why is that experience remembered every year? It is maybe because here in Pakistanthe focus of Tarawih has shifted from a regular prayer of prolonged Qiyaam, Rukoo and Sujood to a bid to finish the Quran before the new moon is sighted. Today, we see people having 03 day, 05 day, 10 day, etc Tarawihs that are an insult to the very purpose of the prayer. The imam in order to recite the entrie Quran in 03 days is at Turbo mode and often it is impossible to decipher the words being recited (assuming any of the followers behind the imam or the imam himself know Arabic!). Suddenly the purpose has shifted to finishing the Quran and after 03 days the people head off to enjoy themselves, or to their businesses. However, the purpose is not the finishing of the Quran, it is the consistent act of praying 29 (or 30) days, reflecting on the text, and prostrating ourselves before our Creator in a bid to seek His Pleasure.
I sometimes regret that I never fully utilized the opportunity that Allah (SWT) gave me then, instead justifying missing prayers due to pressure from my assignments and classes, lack of transport to the Masjid, etc. Even after I began seeing life in a new light, I still missed the wonderful opportunity of those years.
In the past few years, Pakistan has seen a revival of Islamic thought and several organizations are now trying to get people to understand the Quran that is recited by having arrangments for explanation of the portions recited every 04 rakats to be translated and explained. However, this demands a considerable time commitment as this takes around 03 hours each night and most of us unfortunately are not willing to make this commitment.
I think as a first step, the major religious leaders should get together and ban any such Tarawih prayer where the recitation of the imam is so fast that the words blend into each other and often meanings are changed in the process. In addition, they should form the consensus that 03 day, 05 day, etc Tarawih are against the spirit of the prayer and discourage them on public platforms.
It is a long shot to ask but it is sorely needed as more and more of these Turbo sessions seem to be cropping up all over the city.
Now if you will excuse me I need to go back to re-living my memories…….