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80-20 Principle: 3 Ways Masjids Cater to a Small Minority At The Expense of the Congregation in Ramadan


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.

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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.

3. Taraweeh

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.

[authorbox authorid=”7″ title=”Written by “]

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Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters and Qalam Institute. He teaches Islamic seminars across the US including Khateeb Workshop and Fiqh of Social Media. He has served in varying administrative capacities for multiple national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow his work at



  1. Siraaj Muhammad

    July 3, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    Great article with a strange title (80/20 principle?) =P

    Was speaking to the imam of our masjid where they hold iftars regularly, one concern the board of our masjid was that because it’s a very small building to begin with, the only place to eat is the masjid floor itself and food odor becomes an issue. I suggested dry foods, but getting people to listen will be a challenge.

    Agreed about what you said on how they’re dealing with kids, I never speak up or complain about it, but I hate it when aunties are yelling at young mothers and kids as though this is what they were created to do in life. Beyond of course, just sending kids away.

    I’m making my decisions daily based on energy levels. Some nights, I do 8, some 20. At the community level, I think it makes sense to think in terms of weekdays and weekends, shortening the prayers on the weekdays (Sun – Thurs night) and extending them on weekends (Fri – Sat) night since most everyone can sleep in the next day.


    • Omar Usman

      July 3, 2014 at 3:22 PM

      LOL had another point expanding on that.. but deleted it in revision process.. still sounds cool so left it :P

      • 01marmar

        July 4, 2014 at 6:11 PM

        Salam Aleikum and Ramdan Kareem to all!
        Dear Brother Omar Usman..
        your article made me feel like I attend the most progressive masjid in the world!
        Alhamdudillah! Your article made me feel like I am part of a generation who takes things into their own hands because I see the solutions that we have implemented in our community.
        I want to share my thoughts with you because your article features challenges and I feel that it is important to recognize what is not working as well as to recognize what IS working and what IT TAKES to make things work in our communities.
        We live in Cincinnati, Ohio. I work for, which is a non-profit dedicated to developing communities through mentoring training and character development programs that support the infrastructures of each individual community. One of our products is The Ramadan Taraweh’s Children’s Enrichment Program (CEP).
        CEP’s are a revolutionary model of child engagement in the community during Ramadan to facilitate a spiritual atmosphere for those praying Taraweh while at the same time taking advantage of this blessed month to educate children and develop their love for Islam, our beloved prophet, their masjids and each other.
        How does it work? It’s quite simple, INSTEAD of offering a separate room or a baby sitter, we bring trained staff and instructors and a fun curriculum for 26-30 days of Ramadan to the masjid. Children are registered and they are given access to this program every night of Taraweh (in the case of the Clifton Masjid we are not offering the program on Wednesdays) This year’s curriculum is In The Footsteps of the Beloved and it explores the excellence in character of our beloved prophet. Every night we offer a supervised Isha prayer for the children ( we take them to the whole process of making wuduu and doing dikhr, a special imam is provided just for them), a different character trait of our beloved prophet is presented as the ultimate example for us to follow in each lesson, a craft, activity or game is offered and then at closing we dismiss children with an activities handout for parents to take home and review with the children. The program is offered for children ages 4-10.(Alhamdudillah just last night we had 50 children attend this program which lasts for the duration of the first 8 rakat, to give you an example of how popular the program is Alhamdudillah.)
        Alhamdudillah this is not our first rodeo. This is not the first year we offer this program and this is not the first year that the issue of cost has been raised. In order for us to make things happen we must charge a minimal price that either the community o the masjid absorbs. Having 8-12 staff a night to run the program, materials cost, and our time creating a meaningful curriculum comes with a price.
        Ironically, for all the benefit that this program brings (every night we have parents telling us how much their children want to come to the masjid, that their children learned stories, that they could finally pray in peace, etc.) it seems to be a difficult concept for a lot of people to understand that making a change IS A CHOICE THAT COMES WITH A SMALL price. In addition most people have a hard time wrapping their mind around the concept of CHILD EDUCATION AND FUN during taraweh rather than straight up zoolike babysitting.

        Over the years the struggle for us was not that people did not want to have the program but that there was a lack of commitment to picking up the tab. Interestingly enough in this month of generosity decision makers had concerns about whether it was worth paying a small fee, or if we should offer it fisabillilah. Every year that went buy the avenues of funding the program changed, every year less and less there were objections to paying and more support from the decision makers. There was a period when some community people decided to do a similar program themselves (at that time Alhamdudillah we were engaged by other masjid so our program was offered somewhere else anyway). At the end of their trial these community members became greater supporters of having us run the program because they learned the hardship that comes with offering the program and the skill and $$ that it requires.
        A few days ago I hear from an organizer that these were the best $$ spent on iyde and CEP. I guess what I am pointing out is that every one in the community has a responsibility towards making their dreams come true and making their communities become what they wish them to be. If Allah SWT wills anything can happen. My partner’s children and my children are now all grown, they in fact are part of the staff for the program. When our children were young we wanted to have this kind of program and that’s why we started thinking about how to make it happen. It took some perseverance and some sacrifice Alhamdudillah, but inshallah we have a part of a dream that Allah SWT granted us. People can pray now at ease, children are happy, learning and loving to come to their masjid, inshallah may our intentions stay pure and we benefit for anything that we the children learn while with us… we are ALhamdudillah not yet exhausted but happy going home at 2ish in the morning to rest a little and get ready for the next CEP night!. Ramadan Mubarak!
        check us out at

  2. BNB

    July 3, 2014 at 5:39 PM

    As for the iftars, the flip side is that while everyone can use free food for 30 days, you can hardly ever find someone to help out with distribution and cleanup. It is easier to donate money these days, but put that money in a pile and it won’t run a masjid sitting there. Masajid need people’s time – and people don’t give it. There are usually a few dedicated maskeens that get crushed every day with those chores. And yes, technically the masjid could hire a company to provide this service at charge, but then people don’t donate that boat load of money in most masajids to have a 30 day food service. People get very upset when the Board talks about cutting down on the days of iftar if there is not enough help – and for a while would even get motivated and start helping out. But fact of the matter is that except for a minimal (and generally insufficient) number, most people lose persistence to do it for 30 days. Additionally, people lack general common sense when it comes to taking precautions and keeping the masjid clean (this lack is usually only apparent in the masjid, not at their homes). Fine examples of this: leaving half empty cups of rooh-afzah in prayer halls and against carpeted walls, leaving date seeds in window frames and floors. Throwing trash without changing out bags if they are full. Sticky spills that are not cleaned, etc. etc. But hey, who speaks for the evil Board members :) We want free food. Like REAL FREE food.

    • nh

      July 3, 2014 at 10:32 PM

      I’m with you. I think masjid iftars should only be encouraged for those truly in need and eating there should require helping out. A very large number of ppl go for free food that they don’t have to cook. These iftars suck boat loads of money that is sparse to begin with.

  3. Olivia

    July 3, 2014 at 7:08 PM

    Excellent point about masjid logistics with kids. I do not go to taraweeh with my kids, or I haven’t in years, and last year before I had my fourth child was the first time i did in years and let me tell you I was pretty sure the Afghani mafia was going to pay me a visit and lob tomatoes at my house :P

    Because our masjid is small, the classroom where the kids go isn’t so bad. I will never forget the last time I tried to pray with my kids way back in Chicago, where we had to pray in the basement and the carpets from the ifthar were still left out and we had to pray on them, with all the bits of food stuck in them. The kids were psychotic and one of them managed to start a fire in the microwave. Try having khushoo in that mess. Sadly parents have a different mentality when its suddenly the “kids” area. Seriously don’t come to pray taraweeh if you follow the opinion you can’t move in salah to control your kid and moreoever your kid is on a sugar high and has the manners of a monkey. The same can be said of the womens section in general when its a separate room. If people are not in the same room as the imam, they suddenly start chit-chatting bc theres no accountability. These of course are the same aunties who cant keep their traps shut at juma who expect children to blend in with the wall at taraweeh.

    Last year when I went it was a smaller masjid with just a handful of kids, but honestly the aunties there think its their Divine order to police the mothers who then are expected to police their children who are *in the classroom* into absolute silence. I tell them why do you come to the masjid if you don’t want to hear any noise? If you hearing the slightest peep, or God forbid a baby cry, ruins your salah, why aren’t you praying in silence in your bedroom? I don’t know how these women really have khushoo when I tell you their ears aren’t listening to the recitation but the slightest sound from a room down the hall with the door closed.

    And don’t get me started on how, as you said, there is no space for fathers to be with small kids, which means he can’t bring them or they go unsupervised. Is this some masculine scheme to insure the men’s section is always free of people under 10? And if women always have kids, who didnt rub two brain cells together and realize the women’s section needs to be big enough to hold both women AND the mass amounts of children they have? There’s just no way my 7 or 4 year old can go to the masjid with their dad while i stay home with the baby. Only my 9 year old goes with her dad bc she pray alone on the women’s side.

    • Nesreen.

      July 13, 2014 at 3:23 PM

      Thanks Olivia, this reflects everything I feel about interacting with Muslims at mosques. If I didn’t genuinely enjoy the experience of taraweeh during Ramadan at mosques, or just being inside a mosque to be honest, I wouldn’t even bother going to the mosque at all,. Sometimes, the way many Muslim men and women act and treat others just puts me off going anywhere where Muslims gather.

      What’s sad about it all is that when these issues are pitched, they are usually just dismissed as petty problems that women just have to deal with, “because the ummah, dear sister, has more serious issues to deal with, so please, kindly, if you may, sort out your priorities”.

      “Is this some masculine scheme to insure the men’s section is always free of people under 10? ” Haha, love this.
      Why some Muslim dads choose to be around their kids ONLY when they’re happy, fed, clean and well-behaved, and supposedly ‘can’t’ take care of their kids during taraweeh, is beyond me.

  4. Shahin munshi

    July 4, 2014 at 2:56 AM

    Alhumdulillah we have 2.5 here at Memphis Islamic Center! Kids room could use work but I know we just don’t have space! :)

  5. Omar Usman

    July 4, 2014 at 6:16 PM

    01marmar – that is truly awesome! I love how funding became less and less of an issue after people saw the value of it.

    re: iftar – our mentalities are jsut different. investing in daily iftar is more than about feeding people, its about creating a community and strengthening the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood. have some faith that doing these acts will bring more barakah in the community. as for manpower, in masjids that have regular ifars, you often see people volunteering daily that you otherwise dont see throughout the year. do the work for a higher purpose and Allah (swt) will provide. making decisions based on a scarcity mentality will always lead to failure.

  6. Hafizain

    July 5, 2014 at 5:08 PM

    There are so many problems with these “solutions” (especially the Taraweeh solution) I can’t even begin to address them. Like wow lol

  7. Isa

    July 6, 2014 at 3:19 AM

    Reading the article and the replies, the issues come down to a leadership problem. All masjids I have seen are organized as either a membership collective or as a private waqf. Both systems tend to fail on two key points : 1. they do not engage the community in consultation (shura) and 2. They do not establish a service-program organization (unity). As a consequence, the many problems outlined here arise.

    1. Meals SHURA— try polling the people. I wonder if healthier options are wanted. People who gave been fasting tend to want rich, high energy foods. UNITY— ask every adult to be responsible to clean their area and the area of their children. Consider organizing work parties (rotate or fixed, assign or get sign-ups) for set-up, service, clean-up. These activities need Amir’s. While your at it, consider recycling, or better yet, everyone bring their own reusable tableware. Make it fun….

    2. Child care. SHURA— try discussing problem instead of ignoring. Use discussion to find solutions and encourage better parenting and patience all around. UNITY— ask every adult male or female to take charge of their kids. Ask a couple of men to gather the teen boys together to supervisor them. Women/teen girls. Often there are lectures— do the kids have topics they want? Infants and toddlers belong with mom, but a mothers could pool resources so half or a third of the moms watch the kids on alternating nights. Other solutions include paying a few teen girls. The CEP is a good idea.

    3. Program. SHURA/UNITY— are we afraid talking about controversies makes them worse? I live in a community where 8 and 20 could go either way with equal satisfaction. There are ways to make people happy, and IT CAN BE EXPLORED

    Salams and Mabruk!

  8. linda

    July 6, 2014 at 2:01 PM

    im sorry but I don’t agree with this article when it comes to the logistics part. When it comes down to it, children are a blessing bestowed upon some of us by Allah (swt) but they can also be a fitnah. It is really sad to see that a lot of muslim children nowadays do not have the correct manners and ettiquettes which is very apparent in the masjids.

    Whoever has been blessed with children needs to ensure that they take FULL responsibility for them because when children misbehave and turn the masjid into a zoo, this is due to a lack of discipline and parenting. I have seen kids misbehaving in masjids and their mums are just sitting there on their iphones allowing their kids to run riot. Fathers must also take responsibility for their lack of parenting. I know this may sound harsh but as a revert I can tell you that even non muslims e.g. Christians teach their children to behave a certain way at church because it is a place of WORSHIP!

    Subhanallah how can we be muslims, worshipping Allah alone upon the straight path yet our muslim children have no respect for the masjid nor do they understand its high status and cannot differentiate how to behave when in a masjid or playground?????
    Also dear sister Olivia, don’t take this the wrong way but no one is supposed to go to the masjid with the intention to hear any “noise” except for the recitation of the quran. If sisters’ kids make so much noise where they distract other worshippers then it is the parents of these children who will be held accountable. If children are misbehaving and distracting worshippers then don’t come to the masjid, you can pray taraweeh at home and you can have peace and quiet there because your children can be put to bed. Im sorry but you cannot expect worshippers with no kids to stay at home and leave the masjid for those worshippers who have kids who don’t understand how to behave in the masjid.

    I am a young revert sister with no muslim family and I couldn’t gain the same benefits praying taraweeh at home as I could praying in the masjid for two main reasons:
    1) I am limited in my memorisation of the quran and…
    2) I have no peace and quiet at home living with non believers, if I pray through the night out loud or even recite quran during the day I get abused and oppressed.

    I hope you keep this in mind, especially the last point because for some muslims the masjid is a SERIOUS life saver for their eemaan, without the masjid I have no refuge nor do I have anywhere to worship Allah in peace and there are many others out there just like me so please love for you brother what you love for yourself and take others into considerstion. No one is complaining about young babies crying but children above toddler age running around, screaming, shouting, fighting is EXTREMELY distracting.

    May Allah increase us all in eemaan this month and shower us with his mercy and save our necks from the hellfire and grant us and our families jannah amen.

    The masjids must be used for worship as that is their intended purpose:

    “And [He revealed] that the masjids are for Allah , so do not invoke with Allah anyone”
    Surah Jinn (72), ayah 18

  9. Amina

    July 6, 2014 at 3:26 PM

    I stopped going to the masjid with my kids because sadly they’re not welcoming to children, just now I was told our local masjid didn’t want toddlers there, I don’t understand this, how do they expect the kids to grow to love the masjid if they won’t even allow them there. I can understand being upset with teens and older kids because they’re not behaving right but toddlers don’t understand. Its very sad. All churches have area for kids and babysitters that get paid by the church and it doesn’t cost the parents a penny, the masajids can afford this but they don’t want to because they don’t see kids are being important part of the community sadly. They have a lot of money they collect from the community yet they won’t provide this basic need.

  10. kr156

    July 6, 2014 at 5:55 PM

    Let me begin by saying that I thoroughly, completely 100% agree with the first two issues (and proposed solutions) that you have brought up. Bravo. Hats/Kufis off. Fist pump. Job well done, Mashallah.

    However, there are serious problems with the third issue that you have raised as well as the proposed solution. Attending Taraweeh is a sunnah, it’s not obligatory that everyone attends. Even attending Isha prayers is not obligatory upon women and children (of course, we should do our best to ensure that masjids have adequate, well-lit, well-ventilated, good-acoustic, aesthetically-pleasing and inviting prayers spaces for our sisters, that’s an issue for another time).

    A masjid has to facilitate the practice of fard ‘ibadat within the community because that’s what those put in authority of the masjid will be held accountable upon. So a masjid is responsible for ensuring that those who want to pray the 5 prayers, for example, have the ability to do so. However, when it comes to the Sunnah, the masjid should not whimsically change positions based on convenience at certain times of the year. A flip-flopping between 8 and 20 rak’ahs demonstrates that a masjid practices convenience rather than established practice. This is not to open the door of 8 rak’ahs vs 20 rak’ahs, but when a masjid restricts itself to 8 rak’ahs, what of the sizeable number of attendees that want to pray 20 rak’ahs as the historical Muslim community has done over the centuries? It’s one thing if a masjid has always been an 8 rak’ah masjid, then people know that if they want to pray 20, you find another masjid. But when there’s more flip-flopping then a politician on 8 vs 20 at Masjid X, this creates confusion among people. When you have a 20 rak’ah taraweeh, it allows those who want to pray 4/8/12/etc to pray as much as they want and then leave when they want. By going to an 8 rak’ah in the summer, the masjid that used to pray 20 rak’ahs has deprived those who want to pray 20 of the barakah of all 20 rak’ahs.

    The masjid also should facilitate people’s access to barakah. Completing the Qur’an in Taraweeh is a wonderful and underrated barakah that we should appreciate because the historical Muslim community did so. It is more rewarding than listening to speeches and tafseers in Ramadan. The idea of spreading out the recitation into Fajr/Qiyam has not been the practice of the historical Muslim community. The Companions established that the Qur’an was to be completed during taraweeh. Many attendees attend taraweeh knowing that at least they can hear the Qur’an once during the month of Ramadan simply by attending taraweeh. To use Fajr/Qiyam for the recitation deprives these people of that, since many people attend one masjid for taraweeh (easier parking, more melodious recitation, etc) and another for Fajr (closer to home, etc). And now by including the recitation in Qiyam, we are further reducing the number of people that can heroically make it to all Fajr/Isha/Taraweeh/Qiyam at a single masjid in order to have the barakah of listening to one entire recitation!

    The idea that we should shorten the taraweeh to make time for a khatirah is perhaps the most problematic suggestion because it suggests that we should sacrifice a sunnah for the sake of a nafl. It’s good to have a khatirah, no doubt, but not at the expense of sacrificing a greater rewardable act of worship. On an exam, one doesn’t do the extra credit questions before the actual test questions.

    The word taraweeh itself means “rests (plural)”. It’s supposed to be difficult and lengthy and thus there are rests that are built into it so that the imam/congregation can rest. The Qur’an is a long book (mashallah), it can’t be cranked out with proper tajweed in a short amount of time. Taraweeh isn’t meant to be a one hour P90X spiritual workout and you’re done. It takes time — when taraweeh was done by the Companions in Makkah, they would make tawaf during the 4 rak’ah breaks! — and we should appreciate the deliberate pace of that time. Too much of our lives revolve around making everything more efficient and regimented. Ramadan is about letting go our desires, including our admittedly modern need to control time artificially. Praying 20 rak’ahs usually takes a little over 90 minutes (based on personal experiences as well as speaking with other huffaz). To try to squeeze everything into 60 minutes to save 30 minutes by sacrificing these elements is problematic, especially if this were done in major masjids. Certainly, in places where the night is very short (such as in London, UK, as in the answer given by Mufti Ibn Adam, Isha starts at 11:10 and Sahoor ends at 2:45), consideration may be given to not reciting the entire Qur’an, but there is still enough time for a vast majority of masjids in the continental US to do a moderately-paced taraweeh that allows for a khatm. We shouldn’t change the historical practice of the Muslims just because we’re unable to do it; if we can’t do it, alhamdulillah, no problem, but the practice should remain because it’s an identity symbol for the Muslim community.

    (Alternatively, if Ramadan is too tough here in the summer, the earth of Allah is vast…admittedly, this is a bit of a straw man argument).

    The principle of 80-20 that was the theme of this post shouldn’t imply that we swing the pendulum to the extreme and deprive that 20 percent (usually closer to around 40% in most masjids when it comes to taraweeh) the opportunity to pray all 20 and listen to the Qur’an being recited once in taraweeh because a bunch of people are tired or have to go to work. Those who are tired or have other obligations can leave at any time, they are not being forced to stay for all 20 (as in the case of being forced to eat greasy food or masjid logistics). But we shouldn’t deprive the sizeable number of those who wish to practice the historical practice of the Muslims, especially when their wanting to practice this doesn’t negatively affect the other majority.

    To conclude, I highly enjoyed the first two issues and giving practical solutions for each. However, and with due respect, perhaps you may wish to reconsider the import of the third issue and its proposed solutions, and how that matters to Muslims.

    –Kamran M. Riaz

    • Omar Usman

      July 6, 2014 at 7:43 PM

      salam.. KR always look forward to your feedback :)

      I actually don’t really disagree with you all that much. Let me clarify 2 quick points before getting to the crux of mine-

      1) I’m not advocating taraweeh be cut short in favor of a khatirah. i should have worded that more clearly, i was trying to make a point of balancing what the congregation wants. i meant that most places already have a khatirah of varying length, 15 is a good way to still have one w/o compromising taraweeh too much.

      2) im not advocating flip flopping, realistically to do one policy for summer and one for winter means “flip-flopping” every 10 years or so :)

      Lastly the crux of what im saying falls on this-

      The average congregant knows and looks forward to the reward of praying with the imam until the imam finishes. as far as im aware (and i may be wrong) this is the most explicit sacred text in regards to actual reward/barakah of praying at night in Ramadan.

      I was praying at a masjid the other night that does 20. There were close to 15+ rows for the first 8 rakat, and the khatirah. As soon as the 9th rakat of taraweeh started, they were down to 1.5 rows. This means only at best, 10% of the congregation is really being served by longer taraweeh, while 90% is unable to complete recitation with the imam.

      Now someone might say these 90% are lazy, and they wouldn’t pray with the imam anyways, but i dont think that’s the case, and thats just based on personal experience. A lot of those that left, did so, because they had no choice if they were going to survive the next day.

      My bottom line point is simply this – I’m not saying my solution is right, or your solution is right, or anyone else’s. What i AM saying, is that masajid need to take the congregation’s needs into account when making any of these decisions. If your masjid has a 40% retention for 20 rakat at 90 minutes, then maybe that solution is fine there. But if a masjid has 5-10% retention, then maybe it calls for a bit of re-evaluation.

      Given what is actually happening on the ground, I see that the vast majority being deprived is the one who wants to pray with the imam all night but is unable to. It may differ from masjid to masjid and city to city. Each community should at the least critically assess what it’s doing and how it’s serving their congregation.

      Again, it might not be a one-size fits all. Maybe we need a youth taraweeh, working professionals taraweeh, and a regular taraweeh :)

  11. Omar Usman

    July 6, 2014 at 7:31 PM

    Re: Kids – it’s amazing how different perspectives are based on whether someone has young kids or not. just food for thought :)

  12. ZAI

    July 6, 2014 at 10:35 PM

    Thank you for the article.
    Well articulated concise points and good ideas presented.

    Re: kids in the masjid, both extreme sides of the issue need to find a middle ground.
    It isn’t fair to tell women to stay home and deprive them of tarawih because of
    children in general…not every masjid has child care facilities(though we really should replicate
    the success some newer masjids have had with this through better financial planning, including
    setting up more reliable revenue sources for our masjids). Seriously, a kid crying here
    or there, or a few misbehaving every few minutes is not the end of the world. Chill out.

    On the other hand, crying infants or occasional misbehavior aside…some of our kids
    are REALLY disruptive CONSISTENTLY. I’ve seen kids…usually the same ones…
    fighting, yelling, running everywhere, etc. without any intervention at
    some masjids. THAT is too much to ask other congregants to tolerate. Sorry, but that
    is outright wahshi behavior and the parents are NOT even trying. It ain’t cute or funny. Discipline
    the kid or find something for them to do like playing Mario Kart on a silenced Ninetendo 3DS
    …and if one can’t or won’t, then stay home or take turns with husband/wife alternating

  13. M.S.

    July 7, 2014 at 4:29 PM

    Salaamu aleykum:

    When I saw the “80-20” reference, I was thinking this was going to be an article based on the Pareto principle that said something like 80% of the outcomes come from 20% of the inputs. (I thought the article was going to be expose the 80% of masjid-issues in Ramadan coming from 20% of people. Now that would have been a nice read. But I digress.)


    On the matter of the Iftar, I think br. Omar has some very good points especially on the nutrition part – I will get to that later inshaAllah.

    However, on the matters of providing the ifar dinner itself (including the arrangement of food deliveries, paying for the food and some of the cleaning issues), I don’t think it is entirely the masjid managers or administrators fault if people notice shortcomings in those areas. I am not a masjid administrator myself, but I have seen the hardship masjid staff at my local masjid have to deal with providing the iftar dinner on a daily basis. It is mind boggling the crowds that show up sometimes, and it hurts me to say this but there seems to be a barbaric nature that overtakes some people when they see they are getting free food. It is unfortunate and really sad to see people, who have faith, and are striving towards attaining the mercy, forgiveness & pleasure of Allah, leave their homes and come to a house of Worship, and/or other community center, just to misbehave, leave uneaten or half-eaten food, leave trash everywhere, misuse facilities and unleash their absurd manners onto others. (I will not even get into the issue of manners of some people’s children. Not the toddlers, the older ones.) The scenes before, during and after a typical iftar dinner sometimes resemble a war-zone, and we have to lay majority of the blame on the customers. Maybe the administrators can share some blame for poor management but one has to ask, where is the akhlaq and where are the muslims with good akhlaq? Walaahi, this is something that has to start from one’s home before it is manifested at the masjid iftar dinner tables.

    As far the nutrition goes, I think br. Omar also makes a very good point on the menu. However, the reality on the ground is that it is expensive to try to feed healthy food to lots & lots of people. My local masjid made a promise to not fundraise for iftar on the first weekend….by day 5 or 6 of Ramadan, they broke the promise and were soliciting funds for iftar. Kind of embarrassing but I don’t think they had a choice because the crowds were more than what they were anticipating. I also know of another masjid a while back that used to fund-raise every night after Maghrib prayers, just so they could make the bill for next days’ iftar. Most iftar attendees who ate at that masjid were non-contributors, so it fell on the masjid administrators to try to feed hundreds & hundreds of people on a shoe-string budget. I am thinking those mediocre budgets can only allow for so much variety. So, my best suggestion is for someone (or a group of friends) to make it a daily routine to donate fruits or a veggie platter to the iftar dinner line-up. You may not be able to feed everyone but at least you may share something nutritious with someone, and who knows, maybe you may alter the mindset of a few people, once they see the value of adding more healthier fruit & veggies to their diets. But overall, I think it is a lost cause to try to fight the tasteless iceberg lettuce and greasy carb-filled iftar culture.

    As far the Taraweeh prayers goes, if one cannot manage staying up and completing a full Taraweeh, it maybe be better to leave early, so one does not miss the Fajr prayers the next day. Praying the 8 or the 20 rakahs are both valid, and no Imam or masjid posse should be too surprised that people may favor one Taraweeh flavor over another. No one needs to get heart-burn over that, it is a Sunnah prayer. However, the 2 rakahs of Fajr prayers are obligatory, no one should miss that prayer to prove a point to others of the importance of their school of thought on Taraweeh prayers. (It would be awesome to one day see a fajr prayer with a packed masjid, like the 2 opening rakahs of the first night of Taraweeh.)

    May Allah accept our fast, forgive our sins, shower us with His mercy in this month, and grant us an entry into paradise from the door of Ar-Rayyan.

    Wa salaamu aleykum

  14. Aali Khan

    July 11, 2014 at 8:08 PM

    I dont agree with Iftar/food at masjid daily point at all. Unless its a bare minimum iftar of dates, drink , and any other appetizer people choose to bring in. Anything more than that including huge dinners and massive emphasis on food is a real distortion of the purpose of the masjid. The masjid is a place of prayer and ibadah and community congregation around the motivation of Islam. Sadly most people use the it just to freeload on food. It becomes the prime consumption of the masjid in ramadan for people to just eat free food and takes away from the point of ramadan and the masjid itself which is for ibadah not to feed well off people free food. Also not to mention we are talkign abt hundred if not in the thousand plus range daily for these iftar dinners! Thats thousands of dollars over a month worth of donation that could have gone to a better cause then feeding people who for the most part can afford to be fed. The ironic part is every city has its poor population, but you wont see many of them at these iftar dinners, its usually the people who least need free food the frequent these and ultimately its distracts away from the primary primary purpose. IBADAH.

  15. ssiam

    July 13, 2014 at 1:28 AM

    I stopped actively going to masajid when my daughter was born, specifically because of the distraction I endured while attending prior to being a mother.

    I’m a revert, so I have plenty of experience about how churches do things. They have a “nursery” area where very young children are taken to play and not distract the worshippers. Older children go to “children’s church”, where they get kid-friendly lessons.

    It’s frustrating on several accounts at masajid:

    1) Women are expected to take care of the children. Usually, even men who come alone with children will drop their kids off on the ladies side to either be looked after or to play with the kids. This adds unnecessary distraction for women who are there to focus on their emaan and pray.

    2) A masjid is a place of worship. Unless there is a specific community function (iftar, BBQ, kids’ festival) happening, I don’t know why mothers try to bring all of their kids there all the time. We are given permission – even encouraged – to pray at home; children are one of these reasons. It is not fair to the single or non-parent women who come to focus on their faith to be distracted by noisy children running around, screaming, climbing on them and interrupting their salah.

    3) Children are a blessing from Allah, alhumdulillah; however, they are still children. How many of us can pray one prayer at home without being bothered or slightly distracted by our children – especially the young ones? It’s also unfair to them to take them to a place where they must be quiet and reverent, but they don’t even understand why.

    4) Logistically speaking, there is usually no space for children in masajid where women are only allotted a room – or a partitioned area. Unless the masjid has a separate space for parents with children (for BOTH men and women), it should be discouraged to bring young children to the masjid because of Points 3 and 4.

    5) Most young children do not understand the purpose of what we are doing at masajid. They can prostrate and mimic their elders, but most do not comprehend the acts of reverence and worship. This is why Allah does not command children to fast, to offer salat, etc. They are not mature of mind – much less body. So, try as we may to get them to settled down and be quiet, it’s very difficult.

    After being irritated, interrupted and distracted for years at my local masajid, I made the decision to not take my daughter to the masjid until she was old enough to behave and act appropriately. The one time I caved (when we visited my sis-in-law in Jordan) and took her for isha’a during Ramadan, my fears were fulfilled, and we left before tarawih began. Not because she was an obnoxious child running around. But because she was 3 1/2, and she was disturbing me. And if she was disturbing me, I know she was bothering others.

    As she is nearly 7, the time is fast-approaching for her to begin participating in daily salat on a regular basis. Yet, even at 6 1/2 years old, she still isn’t 100% mature enough to understand the reverence and purpose of prayer. We teach her about Islam, she takes Islamia, Arabic and tajweed courses at school, and she is very vocal about curiosities and appreciations within our beautiful religion. However, in the end, she is still 6 1/2. And I’m still not ready to take her to the masjid with me to offer prayers.

    Once she can allow me to get through 2 rakah without calling my name, tapping me on the shoulder or running all around me, then I’ll contemplate introducing her to a new arena of practicing Islam. Until then, I am content to pray at home, teach her about Islam and our duties, and encourage her to act appropriately in regard to observance of salah.

    I mean to offer all of my insights and personal reflections only as such – personal reflections. I am not trying to pass judgment on anybody, or any parent. I’m merely sharing my reasons for avoiding the masjid with my child. May Allah grant us all peace and barakat, and may He allow us to convene for His sake and the sake of worshipping Him alone. Ameen.

    • 01marmar

      July 13, 2014 at 12:34 PM

      Salam aleikum Rahmatullah Wabarakatuh Dear Sister.
      I appreciate all the points that you made especially as I am a convert as well, and because I am a convert and had the same gut reactions and objections at some time towards children behaving in a distracting manner, I humbly offer you a coouple of thoughts on the matter. I came to realize that child rearing in the middleEast as well as in the Asian countries reflects the 7 7 7 prophetic principle in a degree that for Westerners is intolerable precisely because our church experience was different. The 7 7 7 principle basically is one by which parents are to play with their children til the age of 7 then educate them for the next 7 and become their friends in the next 7.
      I don’t believe that either the Western or Easter system is better, but I believe that there value and truth to seek from any part of the prophetic model. The realization that I came to is that if we felt that there were challenges with children in the masjid, getting rid of children or simply closing the door to the “infractor” mothers who in some degree or another had interest in attending the masjid was not a long term viable or wise solution because our job as a community is not to close doors on people who have the least degree on interest of coming to masjid. Our job is to create a new culture that reflects the respect that we want for the prayer and welcoming to all members. SAW is the best in exemplifying tolerance. We find examples like when the Sahaba were angry at the man who urinated in the masjid but SAW dealt with him in the best of manners.
      I want to emphasize that I would much prefer to have a quiet atmosphere at the masjid but that I feel very strongly that it is not my place or anyone’s place to prevent people with an ounce of initiative to come to masjid from coming and that it is my responsibility to work first on my focus on the prayer and on my nafs (to this Im reminded of the sahaba who had an arrow and needed to have it removed and he told the person who was gonna remove it that he should wait until he staarted his Salah because in this state of Salah he never noticed anything because his focus was on Allah) I am not like him at all unfortunately, but these are my models that help me understand that perhaps sometimes I should be cautions because I don’t know how I will be called to account if I become the reason of someone staying away or going away from the masjid or from their community or from Islam.
      Finally Alhamdudillah we live in America and even with obstacles in our way we can transform our communities to something balanced through hard work, Perhaps becoming the person who struggles for a separate space for mothers and classes and space for children can be a wonderful struggle for someone in your community that takes them straight to Janah al Firdous.
      All good comes from Allah and all mistakes in this note are mine, please forgive me if anyone is offended by anything I say, I remind myself first and i was not with any ill intent but in the Spirit of this beautiful Blessed month

      • 01marmar

        July 13, 2014 at 2:31 PM

        And on the second point I would like to add two beautiful stories that represent the amazing beautiful wisdom of the Muslim scholars of the past. A student of knowledge had traveled long to find a famed scholar. After a long and difficult journey he had arrived excitedly to ask the scholar various questions specific to practices in the town where the student came from; to which the scholar every time responded that he did not know. The student of knowledge was bebafled and so he mentioned it to the scholar who answered that he did not know because he had never been in that area and that he could not make a fatua on a place and culture that he did not know. The second story is about another scholar who during Ramadan had traveled to a town and arrived at magrib with his students. He laid down for a bit and woke up to find that his students had engaged in argumentation with the locals over the issue of whether the Taraweh should be prayed in 8 or 20 rakat. When the people saw the scholar they asked for his decision as he was going to lead the taraweh. The scholar answered that there would NOT be taraweh that night because Taraweh is SUnnah and Unity in the community is Fard and that since the Fard in unity had been broken there was no need for the sunnah that night.
        The masjid traditionally has not been only a place of worship but a place of unity and a place for people to engage with each other and feel at home. In our model of Islam we should never lose sight that SAW arrived and built masjids to make them the center of Islamic LIFE and UNITY for our UMAH not sterile buildings void of life.

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