Ramadan in the long summer days is not easy. This is not said as a complaint, alhamdulillah. Rather, it is stated as a general observation. No matter how difficult Ramadan may seemingly be, we willingly embrace the challenge for a higher purpose. This enthusiasm, however, does not preclude making sure we are not making things more difficult than they need to be.
The long summer days present a number of challenges for the everyday Muslim with a family. Most of us dads are sleeping after isha/taraweeh (around 12:30-1:30am), waking up for suhoor at something like 4 am, possibly catching an hour of sleep before work, and then napping before iftar.
Add to the mix children who want to take part.
Sprinkle in an exhausted mom who is also fasting on top of that, and you’ve got a crazy fun situation.
I’m not highlighting these difficulties as a complaint. Alhamdulillah, the more challenging it is, the sweeter the reward. The crazier it is, the better the memories when we look back. But it is important to set the stage a little bit to add some context in understanding the challenges of your masjid’s congregation.
I’m going to highlight 3 issues that I feel cater to a small (and probably confrontational/vocal) minority of the masjid.
1. Iftar at the Masjid
This varies greatly from community to community. The first issue is the frequency of iftar at the masjid. Now some places, alhamdulillah, have an open iftar daily. That’s great.
Some places have iftar only on weekends, or selected days. The rationale behind this decision making is that the masjid will get dirty, it’s too expensive, and it’s too much work. Sorry, but why else do you fund raise all year for the wonderful services the masjid is supposed to provide?
There is a large percentage of our population that only frequents the masjid in this month. There is another segment of our population that doesn’t have a Muslim family to break fast with. There is yet another segment of our population that cannot afford to buy food but are too embarrassed to ask (and yes, they live near and around the rich suburban masjids as well). There’s a segment of the population who simply prefers meeting people at the masjid and making iftar in a large group.
The question to be raised is – did the people in charge of making the decision take all these factors into account when setting the masjid policy? Or was it set based on the wants and needs of a small handful?
That’s one issue. The second issue is the type of food. Families with young kids, and many younger families as well as many elders in general are trying to eat healthy – especially in Ramadan. Yet, when you go to the masjid, the vast majority of the time there is greasy, often spicy, heartburn inducing food being served. Kids get pizza – every time.
This doesn’t mean that we need to have Desi food or Arab food. It also doesn’t mean that we need to serve kale smoothies for iftar. It just means that the majority of your congregation probably doesn’t eat the same as you do, so try to pick a menu that appeals to a larger audience. Even with a small amount of dishes it is feasible. Replace the token (lettuce, carrot, onion, and ranch) salad with something that a person can eat as a meal (Chicken Caesar salad, Greek salad, etc.). Replace a salan or curry dish with a baked meat item. Have a vegetable dish that’s not cooked in grease. These are a couple of simple tweaks that will allow you to retain an overall ethnic flavor (if you wish) while still accommodating a wider audience.
2. Masjid Logistics
We’re already familiar with the issues regarding women’s prayer spaces. This is going to be more about the kids.
Newer masjids have introduced what they feel is an innovative and amazing solution. That is to put parents with kids in another room. This way, the people in the main hall can pray in peace. And the parents can pray in, well, a zoo. Okay maybe that’s too harsh. Perhaps it’s more appropriate if we call it praying in the time-out room. I’m all for creating a separate space for kids, but we need to have some boundaries.
Sisters accommodations are usually already small, then they force them to split out into a general space and a kids space. Here is what happens in the sister’s kids space. Moms with younger kids are forced to pray in there with their children because they’re too young to be left alone. Moms with older kids can’t stay in the larger area because the other sisters will yell at them. But they also don’t want to pray in the kids room because it’s a zoo. So they tell their kids to go in the kids room, while they stay in the main area. This turns the younger moms, who are trying their best to raise their iman by some iota and praying taraweeh (behind a broken speaker) into de facto babysitters. Instead of praying, they’re now breaking up fights, yelling at kids, and keeping them from slamming doors and running around. Well, as this happens, the people from the main area start complaining that there is too much noise and to keep it down. It culminates with the imam making an announcement on the mic for the parents to please control their kids. To really cap it off – most of the times there is not a kids area on the men’s side. It’s only on the sister’s side. So if a brother happens to bring a kid who makes even a peep, he’s told to send the kid over to the sister’s side.
We’ve got an older generation who complains all year that younger people aren’t involved. Then when the younger families show up in Ramadan, they don’t want to be disturbed or have any part of it.
I think the time-out room is a terrible idea, even as more and more masjids see this as a sophisticated solution. I personally cannot stand praying in those rooms, and refuse to go in there with my kids. It is impossible to pray when the kids are in a confined space all yelling and screaming and jumping around and beating each other up. Call me old school, but I think parents should pray with their kids in the main hall and, you know, parent them. How else are they going to learn?
At the same time, as much as we want to have undisturbed prayers, the congregation needs to learn to ease up on this issue. Many people act as if they pray 365 days a year with pristine khushoo’ and one baby crying in the 14th rakat of taraweeh is going to destroy it’s delicate balance.
An even better option is to build masjids with a youth lounge, let the youth hold their own taraweeh, and then have their own activities. It’s not just that we need to stop favoring needs of the small minority – maybe it’s finally recognizing that there is not a one size fits all solution. We need multiple solutions.
Most people I know this year are debating whether to even pray taraweeh or not. This is due simply to the schedule factor. Take a look at who is left in the masjid for the last 2 rakat of taraweeh compared to the first 2 rakat.
Let’s ignore for a second whether 8 is preferred or 20 is preferred. The real question to ask is – how best can we serve our congregation? How can we best set up our process to allow them to pray isha in the masjid, pray taraweeh with the imam, and still be able to make it back for fajr in the masjid in the morning? How can we make sure taraweeh is an enjoyable experience?
Instead of going through the various options and problems (many of which I think are obvious), I’ll put my proposed solution. I’m sure many will disagree with it, or even find it heretical, but that’s ok. Let’s at least get a discussion going because what we have now is not working.
For summer Ramadans: Pray 8 rakat taraweeh. Recite at a normal pace like you would in Maghrib or Isha. Don’t go so fast so that no one can enjoy it, or rush the rest of the prayer so much that no one can squeeze in dua in sujood.
Spread out your completion of the Qur’an. By that I mean don’t complete it in taraweeh only, but utilize Fajr, and Isha as well. You can also add Qiyam in the last 10 nights to help finish on time. This significantly eases the burden and allows for a 15 minute khatirah after 4 or 8 rakat. You can read a little bit extra on weekends if needed as well. But this would allow someone who has work the next morning to be able to pray peacefully, with serenity, and in a reasonable amount of time. It also enables them, more importantly, to get the reward of praying with the imam instead of having to figure out how many rakat they need to sacrifice every night just to survive (and wake up for fajr).
This makes it very reasonable to pray Isha, taraweeh, and witr within one hour (or even less – especially if you make up for time with longer Qiyam in the last 10 nights).
For winter Ramadans: Pray 20 rakat taraweeh (unless the majority of your congregation prefers 8). Complete the Qur’an only in taraweeh, and have a khatirah after 8 rakat.
Too often we try to pick one solution (usually however a board member used to do it “back home”) and enforce that over the whole month no matter what. We should be a little bit more flexible.
The concern of the average congregant is to enjoy the prayer, hear a nice recitation, feel the peace of prayer, make dua, get a short reminder, and still be ready for the next day. Instead, we cater to the 3 people who are belligerently hardcore about 8 vs. 20, who complain about the taraweeh not being fast enough, or the khatirah being too long or short. We cater to the 5 people who have the freedom and flexibility to pray until 1 am because they don’t have work the next morning.
We deprive 98% of the congregation from completing the prayer with the imam to cater to 2% of the crowd. The hadith mentions the reward for praying with the imam until he finishes—even though it is Sunnah to complete the Quran there is ample scholarly support to have ‘an amount recited that will not burden people or lead them to stay away from the congregation’ (here is another general fatwa) .
Facilitate what brings the most reward to the people in a way that is easy for them.
The bottom line is a shift in mindset. It’s talking to the congregation to see what they want, what they need, what their pain points are, and then figuring out how best to serve them.
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