Monday, August 23, 2010

Different Ways of Celebrating Ramadhan...

After going halfway through Ramadhan, I asked myself if the bountious month should only be filled by solemn religious activitiesbeside the culinary extravaganza and gluttonous indulgence. That wading through the crowded stalls of Pasar Ramadhan to select your favorite delicatessnce for breakfasting can be fun, is acceptable enough. But must the tahlil, the prayer sessions and the quran recitals ( tradarus) be such solemn occasions that would turn the young away? Must all religious activitities be so solemn and boring?

I've attended the ramadhan rutuals in at least three mosques so far and found that the solemnity (or boredom) ratings differ.
The most boring is where breakfasting in the mosque itself is a rare occasion and activities begin with the Maghrib prayer. The quranic recitals in the prayer could be very long and tedious, delivered in a mumbly monotone. In another mosque the surahs selected were short but recited three times in one rak'at ( surah al-Ikhlas). The do'a was again preceeded by a seemingly endless repetition of certain surah or lines from a surah, that one really feels exhausted when the real do'a was read, again in a mumbly monotone.

The tarawih prayer is the heaviest obligation to fulfil. Some mosques perform 20+3 raka'ats, while some carry out just 8+3 raka'ats, each raka'at varying in length from a minute or less to 3-5 minutes. The length depends on the surah chosen to be recited in each raka'at. As important as the length of each raka'at is in determining its pleasantness or otherwise to the people praying, the delivery of the surah can make a lot of difference. A slow, monotonous and repetitious recital could literally wear a person out while a spirited, alternating high-octave and low-octave rendering can keep one's ears and eyes wide open.An imam with a wonderful reading style and eloquence can really make a difference in regard to whether you enjoy the tarawih or must just be resigned to follow the routine.

What to me makes the most difference is being able to follow the meaning of the recitals. Unless one is proficient in Arabic, to just be able to catch the drift and understand the subject each recital deals with would be good enough to keep ones ears focussed on the recital. To understand just some oft-repeated phrases or sentences would not be enough to give us a clue as to what the verses mean.

Where the Imam reads from the short Mecca verses that we normally recite in everyday prayers, understanding is quite easy but
holding our interest on the well-known subject gets difficult as we move along from rak'at to rak'at into the night. But where the Imam reads from the beginning of the al-Quran to the end like a book, the monotonous recital can really put on to sleep, unless one tries to grapple with the meaning of each verse by picking up some of the familiar terms and phrases. This requires one to read and understand the verses to be recited by the Imam well in advance. I've been doing this and i find the tawarih becomes a real reendorsement of the faith with the full meaning of the verses coming through the eloquent and melodious recital of the Imam. Subhanallah. But unfortunately, the Imam sometimes skipped some verses for some reasons and I also found that a new Imam started reading from a different surah, thus throwing me totally out of my readiness to hear and assimilate the meaning of the surah. On such occasions I could only check back on what he has recited as far as I can remember and understand what he has recited after the prayers. This takes a lot of time, which I needed to prepare for the next prayer assuming that the Imam will continue from where he had stopped the previous night.

I write all these details aware of the fact that few will read them because they have never really tried to follow the recitals of the al-Quran by the Imam during tarawih prayers. I've for many years in the passed just listened to the Imam without trying to understand the verses that he was reciting. All I can say now is that Ramadhan can mean a totally different thing if you can follow what the Imam recites from the al-Quran during the tarawih prayers. And to help the makmum (followers) to be able to so, Imams should (a) inform the followers what verses he will recite in the forthcoming prayers (b) do not skip chapter and verse as he feels appropriate and (c) try to talk about the verses he will recite to make the followers more ready for them. I just feel that making the makmum understand the al-quran is more important now than being able to recite the verses with all the right pronunciation and melody. Whether the Imam on duty gives this emphasis or not in the entirety of the Ramadhan month of celebration, will determine the way it is celebrated (or just obediently followed) by themukmin (followers) in the community.

The emphasis of prayers in ramadhan should be to understand the al-Quran, for with such understanding all the injuntions of Allah will be become clearer and more precise. The various interpretations of the al-Quran made by various Imams had made things rather hazy. Only listening to the original words of Allah, as recited by the angelic voice of a good Imam will bring back the thrill of revelation into the hearts of the Muslims.


kaykuala said...

Akhi Norzah,
You’ve brought it to a new level. Your understanding of Arabic and pre-revision of the surah prior to the actual recital must have been very satisfying that it rekindles a critical assessment. Many are not able to appreciate it as much but only the melodious tone of the good Imam if he is one could possibly save the day.

However on the physical side, even as early as the 5th day, the good turnout of the 1st day ( a full house) was reduced and could only garner 6 safs or less.

The monotonous melody may be contributary or was it just lack of interest, it being sunat! ( or lack of understanding of obligations despite it being a sunat)

norzah said...

Thank you for reading through the boring analysis,
Akhi Kaykuala. Only those who had experienced what I did - the misery listening to a quranic recital that you can't understand even one whole sentence - would appreciate what I'm trying to say and suggest.
There has been a change of Imam in my place and he is reciting the al-quran without even referring to it to indicate from which surah he is reading. I have yet to ask him for he has not given any indication and I haven't succeeded in tracing the part he is reciting from. No one seems to care about this, and the tarawih attendance is dwindling. So is my understanding of what he is reciting since it's very fast and with less clarity.
I do hope that someone will pick up on the conditions for a better understand of the al-quran through the tarawih prayers as I suggested.

norzah said...

Akhi Kaykuaala, selesai Subuh pagi tadi saya pun telah bertanya kepada Imam tempatan kita dari Surah mana ayat-ayat yg dibaca waktu sembahyang Tarawih malam tadi dipetik dan dari numbur berapa kepada numbur berapa. Dia sendiri tidak pasti dan tidak ada seorang pun yang ikut perbincangan itu pasti.

It's very clear that no one really follows closely what was read. I had suggested that the Imam announces in advance what chapter and verse of the al-quran he will recite so that the makmum can prepare themselves to follow or read up the translation later. Our Imam agrees to take up the suggestion.

I'll be away for 2 days and will inform you of the result later, if you care to know.

Al-Manar said...

Dear Norzah
I share a lot of what you views. To expect an imam to advise what surah he would be reading may not be seen as necessary by many. For a start I just wonder how many really understand is read. For a start the reading itself has to be clear instead of continuous mumbling.

I have been to not less than seven mosques and surau so far and am sad to say I have not been happy. So much so I resort to doing tarawih at home a couple of times. I do not mind a long surah if it is read with gusto as we hear how the imam of Masjidil Haram does. Otherwise I wuld rather have short ones to prevent my mind from roaming about.

There is so much to say about Tarawih prayers.

norzah said...

Thanks for the revelation on how you really feel on the tarawih the way it's now conducted by some of our Imams, Akhi Pakcik Al-Manar. I've done my Isya' and Tarawih at the Masjid Badar Bukit Puchong last nightand was very happy with the way they were done. Before the Tarawih a short tazkirah was given to review the essential aspects of Fasting in Ramadhan.The recital of the surahs was beautiful, short and sweet.
Since I didn't know and could not identify the chapter and verse read, I could only understand some parts, with the minimal of understand as I had complained about. Again, no announcement was made of the chapter and verse to be recited like in all other places, most probably because no one cares to know.
I'll be going back to our own madrasah this evening and will check on what transpired after Friday night when I raised rthe issue. The problem, Akhi Pakcik, is that we have not complained about the fast mumbling recitals of some Imams, intent on covering longer passages rather than making the meaning clear through his tonal expressions or any earlier or later briefing. No one complains because it's considered unethical to complain about an Imam, even 'berdosa'. So, we have just kept quiet because that's better than saying something bad accoding to the hadith. Result, some prefer to do the Tarawih alone at home, contrary to the multiple objectives of the jemaah prayer. And the hadith does say that just listening to a quranic recital is good enough to earn some 'pahala' . This I think had caused our society to be happy with just "sami'na wa ata'na" tanpa sebarang pemahaman. When will we change?