by Habeeba Husain
One of my earliest memories of Ramadan is going with my family to the prayer space across the street from my house to participate in special prayers that take place during Ramadan nights called Taraweeh. As a seven-year-old, I would squeeze in between the taller women next to me and try to make it through the entire twenty cycles of prayer, listening to the imam, or as we called him Hafiz Sahab, recite faster than usual. Unfortunately, I have come to the realization I was probably that kid who was moving around way too much and perhaps distracting the adult worshippers.
During Taraweeh prayers, mosques attract a large crowd of Muslims looking to spend their Ramadan nights wisely in worship. Taraweeh begins after the night prayer (Isha) and is prayed in congregation in the mosque. It can also be prayed individually at home. In these summer months, breaking fast is often a bit rushed in order to make it to prayer on time. There are twenty cycles of prayer, usually performed in sets of two. In many mosques, the leader (imam) of Taraweeh is someone who memorized the entire Quran. He recites about one part (juz) of the Quran nightly to complete all thirty parts before the conclusion of the month. The cycles of Taraweeh last much longer than your five daily prayers due to the lengthy amounts of Quran being recited. The prayer’s duration is anywhere from one to two hours, depending on how the mosque conducts things. It definitely can be a challenge—both spiritually to stay engaged and even physically to stand for longer amounts of time in prayer than we are used to during the rest of the year.
I have been fortunate to experience many different Taraweeh prayers. The space across from my home was unable to hold all the congregants as the community grew and resorted to renting out spaces in churches or hotel ballrooms. That was most of my early childhood. As I grew older and Ramadan moved into the summer months, my parents and I would trek up to thirty-five minutes away to be able to pray in an actual mosque to hear the recitation of one of our favorite local reciters. My dad had recently retired and my mom worked at a school, so the summer time was perfect for us to explore, even though it meant reaching back home at 1:00 AM, just a couple hours before the predawn meal!
It was at the thirty-five minute away mosque I first witnessed people next to me crying in their prayer. The imam had this amazing knack for repeating certain verses that packed a real punch. If you happened to be getting a little tired, the repetition of familiar verses woke you up. I have limited understanding of Arabic, but he would repeat those verses that were often quoted elsewhere—during Friday prayers, in well-known supplications, or even on images online that served as spiritual pick-me-ups. If you are paying attention, the verses do hit you. If not for the meaning, the beautiful recitation does it.
Upon completing the Taraweeh prayers, a person experiences a sense of accomplishment. Two hours really is not that much time in the grand scheme of things, but because of the challenge involved following a day of fasting you just feel good after its completion! We pray Allah accepts all our fasts, Taraweeh prayers, and other prayers during this blessed month and make us attentive and sincere in all our worship.