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.