Friday, July 27, 2012

Ramadan Taraweeh: A 14-century legacy

What captures me most during the Holy Month of Ramadan is the Taraweeh.
These are special prayers featuring recitations of the Qur'an after 'Isha (the last evening prayer).
From the Arabic word meaning rest and relax, the Taraweeh are long prayers, sometimes lasting over an hour. They are performed at the mosque, where the congregation prays and listens to passages from the Qur'an.
After each cycle -- standing, bowing, prostrating -- one sits for a period of rest before continuing, hence the name rest prayer or Taraweeh.
About a thirtieth of the Qur'an is recited each evening so that by the end of the blessed month, the entire Holy Book would have been completed.
Attending Taraweeh in congregation at the mosque after 'Isha is recommended but non-compulsory. They are a very popular and anticipated feature of the day.
Tradition says the Prophet Mohammad [PBUH] initially prayed the Taraweeh in congregation for three consecutive nights but discontinued this practice out of fear that it would be made mandatory, rather than Sunnah.
According to a hadith:
The Prophet [PBUH] took a room made of date palm leaves mats in the mosque. Allah's Apostle prayed in it for a few nights till the people gathered (to pray the night prayer, Taraweeh, behind him). Then on the fourth night the people did not hear his voice and they thought he had slept, so some of them started humming hoping he might come out.
The Prophet then said,
"You continued doing what I saw you doing till I was afraid that this (Taraweeh prayer) might be enjoined on you, and if it were enjoined on you, you would not continue performing it. Therefore, O people! Perform your prayers at your homes, for the best prayer of a person is what is performed at his home except the compulsory (congregational) prayer." [Sahih Bukhari -- Volume 9, Book 92, Number 393, narrated by Zaid ibn Thabit. Also see Hadith No. 229, Vol. 3 and Hadith No. 134, Vol. 8]
Under the second caliphate of Omar ibn al-Khattab, praying the Taraweeh in congregation was reinstated. A hadith by Sahih Bukhari, narrated by Abu Huraira states:
Allah's Apostle said, "Whoever prayed at night the whole month of Ramadan out of sincere Faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven." Ibn Shihab (a sub-narrator) said, "Allah's Apostle died and the people continued observing that (i.e. Nawafil offered individually, not in congregation), and it remained as it was during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and in the early days of Omar's Caliphate." Abderrahman bin Abdulqari said, "I went out in the company of Omar ibn al-Khattab one night in Ramadan to the mosque and found the people praying in different groups, a man praying alone or a man praying with a little group behind him. So, Omar said, 'In my opinion I would better collect these (people) under the leadership of one qari (reciter, to pray in congregation)'. So, he made up his mind to congregate them behind Ubai bin Ka'ab. Then on another night I went again in his company and the people were praying behind their qari. On that, Omar remarked, 'What an excellent bid'a (innovation in religion) this is; but the prayer which they do not perform, but sleep at its time is better than the one they are offering.' He meant the prayer in the last part of the night. (In those days) people used to pray in the early part of the night."
Cars in front of a mosque in Umm Suqeim during Taraweeh
In Dubai this fasting month, all the mosques are packed with men, women and children participating in the nightly prayers. There are often dates, juices and water on offer, usually donated to the congregation by neighbors or patrons of the mosque.
The Ramadan night only starts after the Taraweeh, when at around 10 p.m. Dubai time, people head to visit their families and friends, join majlis gatherings, make their way to the malls, or head to Ramadan tents and restaurants in order to pass time until Suhur (the meal consumed before daybreak and the beginning of the fast).
Listening to the Taraweeh in my garden
I live right next to a mosque and rush home after work at 9 p.m., sit out in the garden to join in these prayers and try to connect as much as possible.
Although my Arabic is not good enough to follow all the recitations, it is still a time to pray, reflect, give thanks and participate.