Here are a few things that I have learnt over the past few years of attending Taraweeh prayers, masha’Allah:
Tip number one: Do not fill your belly to bursting point at iftaar time! I’m sure you’ve heard that many times already, but it’s worth repeating; it’s that important to remember. If the masjid is too warm, you’ll get sleepy during Qiyam. If you go for all 20 rakaat, you’ll likely get a stitch! Would you eat a full meal an hour before swimming? The same logic applies here.
Tip number two: Try to avoid spicy/smelly foods at iftaar time. Instead, indulge your chilli and garlic tastebuds when you return home. Even if you brush your teeth real well before leaving for the masjid, your breath will still smell of digesting curry, and it’s simply not good manners to inflict others with that kinda hardship! Especially when they’re trying to worship Allah in peace.
Tip number three: Don’t sit or lie down after Iftaar. Get ready to leave for the mosque straight away, as otherwise you’ll just get lazier, and more tired as the seconds tick by. Also, leave the dishes and cleaning until you return home, because it’s just a waste of your precious time at that moment, and it will make you late to get that good spot in the front row!
Tip number four: Take someone with you to the mosque. Having company on your journey has many benefits: one, there is safety in numbers (especially important for sisters travelling late at night); second, if you’re car-pooling, you’ll get the reward of helping fellow Muslims in their worship (and of course, saving the environment); third, it may give you, or your companion, greater encouragement to fulfil the Sunnah of attending the Taraweeh prayers. Basically, it’s all good, insha’Allah!
Tip number five: Read an English translation of the Qur’an, bit by bit, every day. I, personally, do not know very much Arabic; just a few words that are oft-repeated in the Qur’an. Therefore, I tend to easily lose concentration during the recitation, and more importantly, I do not fully appreciate the wisdom, warnings, and lessons that are being shared with me through Allah’s words. IMO, that’s like, 70% of the value of Taraweeh lost, right there! Therefore, this year I decided to take a few minutes out in my day to read the English translation of the part of the Qur’an that I predict the imam will recite the same evening. I’ve asked around, and most imams usually get through a Juz n’ a bit per night, in their aim to complete the Qur’an by the 27th night.
So with this new plan in mind, for the first four nights of Ramadan, I simply read the translation, and went to the mosque empty-handed, and waited for random familiar words to jog my memory. Alhamdulillah, it worked around 50% of the time, and my concentration improved greatly as I intensely listened out for my ‘cues’. However, there were still chunks of recitation where my face was all screwed up in confusion, as I had little idea of what was being said. On the fifth night, I decided to take the translation with me, so I could read short passages during the breaks in between each prayer unit. Alhamdulillah, this drastically improved my rate of recall, and I felt I had a good idea of what was being recited about 90% of the time! Though, admittedly, it does depend on the speed of the reciter.
For best results, calmly read the entire portion that you think will be recited (or as much as you can) before arriving at the mosque. Then, during the rest breaks, speed-read through the few paragraphs that you predict will be recited in the following two rakat.
Of course, if you’re ‘in’ with the imam, you could simply ask him for the exact bits of the Qur’an that he will be covering each night – I don’t have that luxury, hence all the ‘predictions’. :)
If you’re already blessed with a working knowledge of Arabic, masha’Allah, then try to read the tafseer regularly instead, for a deeper appreciation of the recitation.
Tip number six: Save up some dua. Depending on how many rakat your mosque completes per night, you will have multiple opportunities to make dua during the blessed moments of sujood. Pick a few ‘faves’ and try to fit them in when you can.
Tip number seven: A special one for the laydeez. If you’re not in a state to pray Taraweeh due to menses or nifaas (post-childbirth bleeding), you can still benefit from the community spirit of worship, by sitting in a place away from the masallah (i.e., the place where people make sujood), with a copy of the English-Arabic Qur’an, and silently follow the imam as he recites. Make sure not to touch the words of Allah directly in an impure state – wear gloves, or use some other clean barrier to touch the pages.
Disclaimer: I am aware of differences of opinion in this matter, so please consult with your imam or other local knowledgeable person if you’re not sure. If you don’t wish to attend the masjid, then you can always watch an online transmission of the Taraweeh from Masjid-al-Haram in Makkah Mukarramah.
I haven’t been attending Taraweeh for very long, but I aim to make it my own Ramadan tradition, insha’Allah. Employing such small tips helps make the experience more productive and enjoyable. I invite the more seasoned Taraweeh-goers to add your own tips below, for the benefit of all. JazakumAllah khair in advance!
Friday Sermon: Including Women in the Masjid
“…there are too many of our masajid that are unwelcoming to women. In some masajid, women are allocated the smelly basement or a tight boiler room. In other masajid, there is an absence of programs that can serve their needs. And then there are masjid that are plagued with belligerent attendees that receive women with harshness.
The Messenger of Allah said , “Do not prevent your women from the masajid.” Preventing women from accessing masajid is not just when a husband keeps her in, it’s also when the masjid keeps her out…”
On Praying : Why Bother?
By Siddiq Bazarwala
Why do Muslims pray so often? Why is there such a heavy emphasis on worshipping Allah ? Why does Allah need people to worship and praise him all the time?
These are among some of the most frequent questions often raised by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
This was the case during the early years of Islam when the religion first emerged; as well as during the Islamic Golden Age between the eighth and twelfth centuries for almost 400 hundred years when Christian Europe was comparatively in the dark ages while the Arab world became an intellectual center for science, philosophy, medicine and education. This was also the case before and after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922.
Put another way, from the time when there were less than half a dozen Muslims supporting Prophet Muhammad almost 1500 years ago, to the over 1.6 billion Muslims today, whether Muslim-majority countries were economically weak, emerging or strong, the role of prayer in a Muslim’s life has been central.
From the air we breathe, to the water we have access to, to the food, comfort and abundance we enjoy, as well as the good health we take for granted around the clock. Without Allah’s protection and blessing, Muslims believe we have absolutely nothing.
Fundamentally, Muslims believe that everything in this universe is created by and controlled by the Almighty God, Allah . From the daily rising of the sun, to the direction of each of the waves in the ocean, to the blood flow in every vein of every living thing, to every atom-sized development in the tiniest of micro-organisms, to everything that happens in earth and outside earth within the universe, known and unknown to mankind today.
This is the power of God, Allah . He is not and does not need to be everywhere but can see everything from above the heavens. Not only is He is the source of energy of every living being but elements far beyond the imagination of science and mankind today are within His control, within the tiniest part of the palm of His metaphorical hands, somewhat like a small finger ring in a vast desert (Earth vis-à-vis Allah).
This is why – practicing Muslims pray to show their gratefulness to Allah by acknowledging Him in their prayers. The act of praying is also like a tap on the shoulder to remind us Muslims to get rid of our arrogance and submit to Allah who alone has the power over absolutely everything.
This is especially true since practicing Muslims believe everything would stop in an instant, if He decides to take His blessings away, or if He decides to bless part of His mankind with what He gives to some and takes from others – so that Muslims that have, can try and share with those that do not have just as much or nearly enough.
Monetary wealth is however just one example. Some consider children to be the greatest form of wealth – while others may consider physical mobility, not living in a war zone, recovering from a fatal disease, etc., as further examples of what may be indicators of wealth.
The entire purpose of praying therefore, is to express a small token of thanks for all the innumerable bounties bestowed by the Creator, Allah – even for those that do not have enough to eat, clothes and shelter for their children or living in a state of persecution, etc., A practicing Muslim however destitute, never forgets to pray to thank Allah – for everything he has, and not whinge about all he doesn’t have. For a true, practicing Muslim believes that Allah is the only source that will help create avenues for relief – physical, mental and spiritual.
There are many among us fortunate enough not to be living in a war zone or not having challenges feeding and clothing our children, and having easy access to schools, hospitals, electricity, clean water, a full-time job with relative comfort, etc. Yet we spend our days drifting from one task to the other, immersing ourselves in the routine of our lives, from the time we wake up in the morning till the last minute before we fall asleep, failing to prioritize prayers over our daily lives.
What most of us remain unaware of is the act of prayer at regular intervals actually helps us pace ourselves from the “slave pits” lifestyle we humans are increasingly getting used to; i.e. waking up at 7am in the morning in order to make it to work on time, forever impressing our insatiable bosses in this world – and not so much impressing the boss-in-this-world-and-the-next, who sees and knows everything.
The rationale behind the creation of these so-called “speed-stoppers” through these regular prayer intervals is to enable Muslims to take stock, review and prioritize what is important and what isn’t. Similar to a gym, yoga, meditation, coffee or lunch break, which we often use to recharge ourselves, the act of praying is in fact the best form of reinvigoration there is. Like a relaxing resort holiday, unless you try it you will never know what it feels like.
Some questions therefore to ask those of us who aren’t yet regular with our prayers, are: What are you afraid of? What is keeping you from taking that leap of faith? What if you are right and in the afterlife there is no God and therefore there’s no point of praying and giving your mind and body a chance to reboot, but then, what if you are wrong and there is a God, Allah , in the afterlife? How will you justify ignoring His signs, miracles, books as well as blessings he has bestowed upon you, with not an iota of gratitude from you?
It may also be worth asking how it is that we can be forever thankful to a person who has helped us somewhere along our lives, however fail to find less than 40-60 minutes in a day to thank Allah , the ultimate Provider of everything, who gives us as much as He does? Everything that is, from beautiful children, to job opportunities, to food on the table, physical mobility, health and access to proper education, etc., or all of the above and more?
The Trick To Praying Well
This of course does not however mean that a person that outwardly prays (i.e., physical movement of the body as part of the prayer) is less likely to sin or is a better person -especially if he seemingly completes his prayers and yet fails to concentrate in his prayers if his mind just as regularly is distracted elsewhere while praying.
Although prayer is a form of repentance and should be offered with a true desire to amend one’s character, this is perhaps the single hardest challenge when it comes to the act of praying. Most people pray with their tongues and less so with their hearts, when it desperately needs to be the other way round. In fact, praying without proper concentration is like sending spam emails to Allah , and we all know where spam ends up. The junk folder, ignored for eternity.
Making the effort to understand what is recited in Arabic during the entire act of praying no doubt helps enhance the ability to concentrate in your prayers. This is without an iota of doubt, guaranteed.
Another creative way to ensure you concentrate is to perform your prayers after convincing yourself that this might just be the very last prayer of your life (since death may occur any time and is beyond anyone’s control) therefore it may be best to use the final prayer as an opportunity to submit to Allah , by seeking his forgiveness, repenting for past sins, and pledging to become a better person -a mental trick that is impossible to fail.
But why does Allah , the most Gracious and the most Merciful need us insignificant beings to pray to Him? Why can’t He just keep giving? Why can’t we keep shamelessly taking from His treasure of blessings? Why pray for forgiveness and safe passage away from hell when we can all go to heaven? Why can’t heaven be filled up with both good and bad people who were honest and just, as well as evil and unfair?
Why should we feel sorry for having done wrong? Why repent and pledge to reform? Why pray at all? Why practice thanksgiving five times a day for all the blessings we take for granted twenty-four hours a day? Why should we influence our children into believing that there is someone high up in the skies watching us and therefore it is best they behave themselves even when their parents are not around? In fact, should we only obey the law when the police are around or regardless of whether they are around?
The irony that is often lost on most people (Muslims and non-Muslims alike) is that Allah , the Master of the universe – does not need man’s prayer because He has zero needs. Instead, the act of prayer is for the sole benefit of intelligent people that partake in it. People that are grateful for all the bounties we have and not constantly whining for all that we don’t have.
Therefore it is important you understand there can be no better way of hedging your bets in this life and the next, except through regular full-concentration based disciplined prayers, without which (in the private opinion of the author) we are no more like an utterly ungrateful, unappreciative and ignorant child.
Siddiq Bazarwala, is the founder of Ordinary Muslim Productions, whose goal is to act as a catalyst so that millions of Muslims will rise up to the challenge and become eloquent activists for themselves and their faith. He is author of the book, Q&A with an Islamophobe that features some of the most vile, widely debunked, and yet variedly repeated Islamophobic comments by renowned Islamophobes and anti-Muslim hate groups in an easy-to-reference Q&A format. He has written columns for Newsweek, SCMP and US-based Islamic Monthly.
An Open Letter to the “Religious” Regarding Acceptance
Alḥamdulillah, we are currently living through and experiencing the last ten nights of Ramadān. One of these nights is Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Power, a night that is better than a thousand months. The Prophet ﷺ told us,
Whoever stands in prayer on the night of power with faith and expecting reward, then all of their previous sins will be forgiven.”
This is meant to be a very spiritual time of the year, where a person increases their acts of worship and devotion, trying to build a stronger connection with their Lord and Creator.
However, I have to admit for the past few nights there has been a certain heaviness in my heart that is preventing me from feeling the full potential of these blessed nights, and is causing me to be distracted and bothered. This heaviness I’m feeling is the attitude of “religious” people towards our imams, scholars, and religious institutions, for decisions they have made based on sound knowledge, understanding, consultation, dua, and sincerity. I know I should be stronger and let people say and think whatever they want. I should, as they say, let the haters hate. But this is an issue that needs to be dealt with head on, in a very direct and clear manner, if we want to move forward as a minority Muslim community in America.
A few years ago a group of scholars, after discussions, research, and consultations with other scholars, decided to adopt the position of global moon sighting, a valid legal opinion, for deciding the beginning and end of Ramadan. This led to accusations within the community of leniency in matters of religion, pandering to the majority, deviancy, and other baseless, unfortunate claims. Similarly, this year we started fasting based off reports of highly respected and trusted individuals who sighted the crescent with the use optical aids. Using optical aids to sight the crescent is a valid legal position. Despite that, we still heard similar remarks and statements from a certain segment of the community.
Along the same lines, this year, at the Institute of Knowledge, we decided to organize an all female tarāwīḥ for our female students who have completed their memorization of the Quran. The permissibility of having an all female congregation led by a female is a valid legal position. However, since this is something new and unfamiliar, we again started hearing critical types of statements and remarks. The hurtful part is that these concerns were never brought up to us directly.
It is extremely important for us, especially our “religious” community members, to understand that within Islamic Jurisprudence there are a number of issues in which there are valid, accepted differences of opinion. Valid differences of opinion in secondary religious matters have always existed. They existed among the companions during the time of the Prophet ﷺ, they exist now, and they will exist until the end of times. There are differences of opinion among the various schools of jurisprudence and even within them. Pick up any book of Ḥanafī fiqh and you will find a number of examples where Abū Yūsuf and Muḥammad disagreed with their teacher Abū Ḥanīfah .
Issues in which there are valid differences of opinion are classified as mujtahad fīh, meaning a matter subject to interpretation. These are issues that are open to interpretation and allow for scholarly difference. A mujtahad fīh issue is any issue that does not have a definitive proof. Imam al-Ghazālī defines it as, “every legal ruling that doesn’t have a definitive proof.” Since they are open to interpretation there will obviously be differences of opinion. For example, according to the Shāfiʿī position, a person should raise their hands to their shoulders when starting prayer. According to the Ḥanafī position, a person should raise their hands to their ears. There are differences regarding how to hold one’s hands in prayer, the ruling of reciting Surah al-Fātiḥah, reciting behind the Imām, saying āmīn out loud, and the list goes on and on.
Issues of Islamic Jurisprudence aren’t as black and white as people make them out to be. As a matter of fact, they are very complex and require the expertise of scholars to comb through the Quran and aḥadīth, search for relevant texts, then use the rules of the Arabic Language, principles of fiqh, and their understanding to extrapolate and derive rulings. In addition, they look at the conclusions of previous scholars and experts, and understand their arguments and reasoning for those particular conclusions. It’s possible that two scholars will have the same verse in front of them but because of their different principles and methodologies, will arrive at two opposite conclusions. Basically, fiqh is much more complex and nuanced than we think. Whoever tells you otherwise is being academically dishonest or is ignorant.
Adab Al-Ikhtilāf, the manners or ethics of disagreement, is unfortunately something that is greatly lacking in our communities. This is a subject that should be studied by all students of knowledge, scholars, imams, activists’, callers, and the general public. Issues in which there are valid differences of opinion should be dealt with a great level of tolerance and understanding. Just because someone follows a different opinion than ours or one that we are unfamiliar with doesn’t automatically make them wrong, lenient, or somehow a deviant who’s destroying the religion.
Unfortunately, that’s the attitude of a segment of the so-called “religious” community. If we see someone doing something we disagree with we automatically start judging them. If a scholar looks a certain way or dresses a certain way we automatically start judging them. I have noticed a lot of students of knowledge, graduates from traditional madāris, and graduates from Islamic Universities catching heat from “religious” individuals for not practicing certain acts classified as al-sunan al-zawā’id or for dressing a certain way (primarily wearing what we endearingly refer to as “pant/shirt”). Since ikhtilāf in these matters are allowed, we must show tolerance in such issues. This means that we shouldn’t label the opinion of others which may be different, but valid, as deviant, an innovation, blasphemous, or creating fitnah. Rather we’re supposed to have an attitude of acceptance and inclusiveness.
No one should be rebuked, reprimanded, scolded, corrected, advised, or yelled at for following a valid difference of opinion. The Shāfiʿī’s developed a beautiful saying, “Issues of ijtihād are not rejected with force, and it is not allowed for anyone to force people to follow their opinion regarding them. Rather they should discuss them using scholarly proofs. If one opinion appears correct to a person, he should follow it, and whoever follows the opposite opinion then there’s no blame on him.”
As a matter of fact when it comes to these types of issues we’re supposed to let people practice what they’ve learned as long as it’s a valid opinion. Sufyan Al-Thawri said, “If you see someone doing something that’s disagreed upon and you have another opinion, don’t stop him.” As Imām Mālik remarked, “If you try to change them from what they are familiar with to something they’re not familiar with, they will consider that disbelief.”
Part of Adab Al-Ikhtilaf is praying behind others who may follow a different opinion than your own. For example, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with praying behind someone who follows the opinion of wiping over their socks, bleeding doesn’t break wudhu, or reciting from the mushaf during tarāwīh. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this and has been the practice of scholars throughout history. There’s a beautiful booklet written by Imām ibn Hazm dealing specifically with this topic.
This lack of adab and tolerance from the “religious” and their attitude towards imams, scholars, and Islamic institutions for adopting and following valid positions they are unfamiliar with is extremely disheartening and hurtful. I mean, do they really think that someone who has spent anywhere from six to twelve or even more years of their life studying Islam, who has dedicated their lives to the service of Islam, is going to intentionally do something that is wrong or impermissible? Do they really think that they’re going to intentionally misguide the community? However, they are not entirely at fault because they may not know any better. Perhaps they haven’t been exposed to the diversity of fiqh and are only familiar with what they have been taught. They may even be doing so out of some sort of misplaced effort to uphold the truth or honor tradition.They may sincerely believe by speaking out they are engaging in some sort of nahy ʿan al-munkar (prohibiting evil). A large part of the blame for this type of approach and attitude lies on the shoulders of some of our scholars and graduates who perpetuate this sort of intolerance and narrow-mindedness. As people of knowledge who have studied and are aware of these finer details of fiqh, it is important for them to be academically honest. How is it that they have studied for so long and are considered to be scholars, ulema, and imams, and haven’t learned how to deal with valid differences of opinion in a fair and balanced manner?
I came across an important principle while reading through Mufti Taqi Usmani’s transcribed lecture notes on Jāmiʿ al-Tirmidhī under the section of abwāb al-libās. The principle he highlights is:
الإنكار على غير منكر، منكر بنفسه.
A loose translation would be, “Censuring a matter that is not impermissible is impermissible itself.”
It’s time for us as a community to mature and move above and beyond these debates through education. The Muslim community in America is very diverse and this diversity is represented through our scholars and imams. We have scholars and graduates who have studied at different Islamic institutions, seminaries, and universities throughout the Muslim world. Some studied at Azhar, some in Madinah, some in Dār al-ʿUlūm, some in Syria, some in Yemen, some in Mauritania, and several other reputable places.
If you know anything about these institutes they have vastly different approaches towards Islamic Law and different ways of understanding texts of the Quran and Sunnah. All of these institutions are products of their environment; they were dealing with different realities religiously, socially, politically, and economically. Graduates who have studied at these different places have also adopted some of these different approaches and understandings. We’re entitled to our own opinions, as long as they’re valid. We can argue in favor of them and defend them till we’re red in the face, but at the end of the day we should all still be able to sit down and talk to each other. We have to have mutual love, respect, and understanding. Love, respect, brotherhood, and unity are far more important than our own individual differences of opinion.
This diversity of opinions shouldn’t lead to disunity. Unity and conformity are two separate things. Islam requires us to have unity amongst ourselves, not conformity. May Allah ﷻ guide our hearts to what is correct, bring our hearts together, and unite our community.
 Muslim, k. Ṣalāh al-musāfirīn wa qaṣrihā, b. Al-targhīb fī qiyām ramadān wa huwa al-tarāwīḥ
 The use of optical aids to sight the moon is a valid position within the scope of fiqh. I will address the issue in a separate article after Ramadān.
 This will also be addressed in a separate article after Ramadān.
 إن مسائل الاجتهادية لا تنكر باليد، و ليس لأحد أن يلزم الناس باتباعه فيها، و لكن يتكلم فيها بالحجج العلمية، فمن تبين له صحة أحد القولين تبعه، و من قلد أهل القول الآخر فلا إنكار عليه
 عن الإمام سفيان الثوري أنه قال، “إذا رأيت الرجل يعمل العمل الذي قد اختلف فيه و أنت ترى غيره فلا تنهه”.
 عن الإمام مالك، “إن ذهبت تحولهم مما يعرفون إلى ما لا يعرفون رأوا ذلك كفرا.”
Shaykh Furhan Zubairi serves as the Director of Religious Education at the Institute of Knowledge in Diamond Bar, CA. He regularly delivers khutbahs and lectures at various Islamic Centers and events in southern California.