Written by Ehab Hasan
It’s that time of year again. Ramadan is here! It’s a beautiful time of year for Muslims all around the world. It’s time to tighten that belt and fast those long days. It’s a time to connect with Allah, even if you’ve fallen below your own bar for the last 11 months. Alhamdulillah, you made it to another Ramadan – when the gates of the hellfire are closed, the gates of paradise are open, and the devils are chained. The good deeds are multiplied by 70 or more, and in it is a night that is better than 1,000 months.
During the month of Ramadan, the Messenger of Allah used to urge the people to perform optional taraweeh prayer at night. He did not order them or make it obligatory on them. He said:
“Whosoever performs optional Taraweeh prayers at night during the month of Ramadan, with Faith and in the hope of receiving Allah’s reward, will have his past sins forgiven.” (Muslim)
Taraweeh can be tough sometimes. You want to make that connection with Allah, but the prayers can be long sometimes – standing for extended periods of time and sometimes not understanding the verses being recited. Well here are some ways we can all work on making that connection and finding that sweet taraweeh.
1. Eat a light iftar
So your stomach shrunk, but your eyes haven’t. You’re starving and the iftar looks great. Take it easy. Eat when you get back from prayer if you need to, but don’t overdo it before taraweeh.
2. Use the bathroom
Just like I tell my kids before we go out, use the bathroom even if you don’t think you have to. Especially because you should be drinking a good amount of water at iftar this time of year. Don’t let that disrupt your prayer.
3. Make a good wudu
Concentrate on your wudu. Think of your sins dripping as the water washes away. Sure, you’re rocking the leather socks and are ready to wipe, but try washing your feet anyway. And while you’re doing it, think of the One you’re about to meet.
4. Dress comfortably
Nobody’s saying you have to wear a thobe or shalwarkamees… but it doesn’t hurt to try it out every once in a while. Regardless, just make sure you’re comfortable (and modest) in whatever you decide to wear.
5. Smell nice
This is more for your taraweeh neighbors who just finished reading this article and are also searching for that sweet taraweeh. But the last thing you want to be thinking about is whether that stench is really you or the guy standing next to you. Brothers, the Prophet loved nice-smelling musk, and so should you.
6. Drink green tea
Drink green tea 30 minutes before taraweeh for a natural energy boost. The light caffeine will make you feel more alert. While it may not improve your Arabic, you will definitely have the feeling that its not the first time you heard these verses. (Please don’t start trying to correct the imam with your new boost of confidence and awareness.) It’ll also keep your breath fresh, and the person next to you will thank you for it.
7. Get to prayer early
Don’t be stressed about parking and whether or not you’ll get a good spot. Get in your zone before prayer starts. Do some pre-game warm-ups (sunnah) if there’s time. It’s unfortunate that we worry so little about Isha prayer and concentrate more on taraweeh. Remember that the obligatory prayer in its time is the best of deeds.
8. Take the grudge out of your heart
Yes, that sister that walked in at the same time as you told an auntie who told your best friend’s cousin who told your mom that you rolled through a four-way stop sign. It’s that time of year, so let it slide. Let go of your stress so you can concentrate.
“Let them forgive and overlook. Wouldn’t you love that Allah would forgive you?” (24:22)
9. Be aware of which chapters are being recited
If you’re not very familiar with the Quran yet, at least try to get the chapter title. Maybe ask the imam or the person following with his or her own Quran. You can even ask the organizers to post a schedule on their website. It’ll help you concentrate when you know which surah you’re on.
10. Review the verses if possible
Yes, we’re just laymen. But if you can review the verses and have an idea what they’re about before you go then you’re golden. I know, I know – time’s tight. But it had to be said. If there are short reminders at your masjid about the verses, then even better.
11. Memorize key words that shake the heart
If your Arabic isn’t good, or nonexistent, memorize a few common words that shake your heart and help you reflect – words like mercy (rahmah), Forgiver (ghafoor), believe (aminu), paradise (jannah), hell fire (jahannam), punishment (‘athab), and anything else that moves you.
12. Make dua’/ istaghfar before going
Stand before Allah with a pure heart. Ask that He open your heart to Him, that He protects you from an eye that doesn’t shed a tear and a heart that doesn’t ache. In His hands are all matters, so ask for His guidance and help to benefit from the taraweeh.
13. Sit close to the front if you can (brothers)
Don’t let the congregation distract you. Sitting in the front is the best for the brothers, and in the back rows for the sisters. I know you want that spot in the fifth row right under the ceiling fan, but you’re the first person at the masjid. Sit as close to the front as you can.
14. Stand near those who remind you of Allah
As long as you’re not trying to impress or show off to them, sometimes good friends or people you really respect can give you the spiritual high that you need to concentrate more in taraweeh. Try to be near them if you know that you’re only doing it for Allah’s sake.
15. Have heart softening discussion/ reflections before taraweeh
Talk about Islam on the way there – with someone in the car or on the phone. If you have no one to talk to, reflect a little, listen to a short lecture, and get yourself in the mood to stand before the Lord of the Worlds.
16. Remember death
Remember the destroyer of pleasures. Remember death. This will make concentrating that much easier.
“Among you are some who desire this world, and among you are some who desire the Hereafter” (3:152)
If you remember death, you will be of the latter.
17. Pray as if it’s your last prayer
This was the advice of the Prophet . If you can figure out how to do this make sure you let others know. It’s easier said than done, but if you can do it, then you’ve accomplished all you need to do.
18. Know that God is Greater
“Allahu akbar” is often translated as “God is Great”. It’s actually “God is Greater”. He’s greater than anything else you have on your mind. Anything that’s keeping you from concentrating. Like the battery in your smoke detector that needs to be changed, or what you’re going to have for suhoor. Allah is Greater than anything occupying your thoughts.
19. Leave the world (and your cell phone) behind
Stop thinking about school, work, troubles, Facebook, Twitter, replying to texts, emails, or anything else. Turn the ringer off… not vibrate so that when someone calls you can spend the next 10 minutes of prayer wondering who it could have been, only to find it was a wrong number. Turn the ringer completely off.
20. Reflect on your regrets and moments of closeness to Allah
Stand before Allah as a needy beggar. And ask Allah to give you. Remember what you’ve done, and be humble enough to ask Allah to forgive you. Only when you’re broken can you sincerely ask Allah to fix you. Those are some of the best moments of your life.
21. Concentrate on the message
Listen to the words as best as you can, and know that this is a message to you from the Lord of the Worlds. Know the depth of the Quran and how heavy it really is. Had it been revealed on a mountain it would have crumbled out of the fear and love of Allah. Yes, some recitations keep you more engaged than others. I’ll let you decide if you want to stick to your local masjid or go masjid hopping.
Now go get it! Enjoy this beautiful month. May Allah allow us all to find that sweet taraweeh, and may He grant us the most out of the blessed month of Ramadan.
Ehab Hassan is a Muslim youth activist and Islamic worker. He has served on several councils and boards of various Islamic organizations while concentrating much of his efforts in youth work over the past 15 years. He strives to motivate and connect with Muslim youth and families by delivering sermons, leading discussions, and organizing creative community activities. His passions lie in Islamic manners, family development, and sharing heart-softening stories, as he tries to get the world to feel something – because people can be so numb sometimes. By day, Ehab is a Mechanical Engineer and by night he is a family man trying to maintain his status as the world’s best dad. Ehab resides in Maryland with his wife and two young kids. Follow him on Twitter @ehababuayah.