This is Day 28 of Hindtrospectives’ #MyMosqueMyStory series for Ramadan 2015
by Hazel Gómez
A beloved guest is starting to pack and say goodbye, leaving us yearning for the next visit, already planning what we’ll do differently once we welcome them into our homes again. During these last days and nights of Ramadan, many mosques around the world are full of people who have made the intention to perform i’tikaf, a form of spiritual seclusion within the mosque performed especially at the end of this blessed month. It’s a time for them to push forward and make the most of the days that remain with our guest, where hours are spent reading Qur’an, uttering praises of God, and praying deeply for what lies within the heart. What a wonderful opportunity to escape from the world and turn to the Most High without any distractions.
During this special time of year, it must be nice to be a man. Yes, you read that correctly – it must be nice to be a man. Because even though the tradition of i’tikaf in Ramadan goes back to the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) for both men and women, equal opportunity in today’s mosques is not always available.
After more than a decade of being Muslim, alHamdulillah, I hear the same frustrations whenever Ramadan is nearing its end – women praying that they could seclude themselves with other women in a sacred space, to have that time to focus without distractions. God, the Most High, the All-Hearing, All-Seeing knows each and every one of our personal struggles, and He’s answering those frustrations and prayers deep within the hearts of women who comprise more than half of the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world. My own eyes are witnessing the answered dua’a of these women. When I heard there was going to be an opportunity for me – a woman, a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter – to have a chance to push myself harder as Ramadan was coming to a close, to be in a space with women from across the U.S. and Canada, to gain inner strength from the Divine so I can try to be the best version of myself when interacting with the world, I prayed to God to open doors for me to attend such a gathering during the holiest of months.
Rabata is an organization dedicated to promoting positive cultural change through individual empowerment, spiritual upbringing of women by women, and the revival of the female voice in Islamic scholarship. As Ramadan approached, I learned that Rabata would host women to come and be a part of nightly women’s tarawih, lessons taught by Rabata founder, Shaykha (Anse) Tamara Gray, days filled with reading Qur’an while having Arabic and tajwid teachers available to help with your recitation, and time for dhikr, reflection, or other forms of personal worship. Reading about this “Daybreak Days” program that Rabata was hosting throughout the month, and not just the last ten days, had me searching for plane tickets, bus tickets, and rental car prices – I was determined to go.
As I was finalizing my plans to attend Daybreak Days, the questions and comments I received were troubling. They ranged from “Aren’t you going to miss your children?”, “Is your husband going to be okay alone with the kids?”, and “Wouldn’t it be better for you to pray at home?” to comments like, “You’re putting a burden on your family by leaving for four days.”
Let’s be honest, if I were a man, there would be no questions, no comments, but rather praise for taking the time to reconnect with the Divine. Yet, as a woman, I was being badgered and made to feel guilty for parting with my husband and children for four short days so I could focus on my relationship with God. No. I wasn’t being selfish, nor I was being hardheaded – I had every right to go. And as Allah kept opening doors for me, making everything so easy (including giving me a supportive husband), all I could say was alHamdulillah. After a couple of rides from Detroit to St. Paul, I stepped off the bus, my eyes lay upon the Mississippi River – and I couldn’t be happier.Anse Tamara’s warm embrace with a huge smile as she exclaimed “Ahlan wa sahlan!”, the colorful prayer rugs lined up perfectly, the walls hidden behind white bookshelves filled with Qur’ans, and books on Islamic law, social activism, women’s rights, and more. The Daybreak Global Bookstore, Rabata’s physical and virtual bookstore, was transformed into a sacred space for women to come together solely for the sake of Allah. Every night, local women and travelers would start filling up the space, getting to know one another, asking how each others’ Ramadan was going. The call to prayer for ‘isha would stop the chatter, purses moved to the side, water bottles closed, socked feet lined up, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with women from all walks of life, all ages. A serene silence fell upon the room. I stood just taking it all in, reciting my intention for ritual prayer. Then, “Allahu akbar.”
From ‘isha until fajr, the space was nonstop worship, either congregational or personal, an assortment of delicious food to eat, nonstop coffee and tea for those of us who needed boosts of energy. Daybreak felt like an angel magnet. Praying next to Anse during tarawih filled my eyes with tears of joy. Here I was standing right next to the person leading the tarawih prayer – her recitation of Qur’an so crisp in my left ear. There wasn’t any shoving, partitions, rancid odors emitting from God knows where. This was a dignified place of worship, a place where care was taken to treat women as they deserve, a lesson for all mosques to learn from.
After we all ate suhur and prayed fajr together, more and more women were saying their goodbye salams and wishing one another a blessed day of fasting ahead. The warm breeze outside was refreshing after a long night, the crescent moon bidding farewell as it made its way down the horizon. The drive back to the apartment was peaceful, watching the Mississippi hug the river banks. In the apartment, as the sun peaked over the horizon wishing the world a bright morning, we were wishing each other a good morning’s rest. We’d meet again at 2pm, head back to Daybreak for personal worship time, have the opportunity to talk to Anse, and browse the bookstore. And iftar, oh my, how fun and exciting was iftar at the apartment! Home cooked elaborate meals prepared by one of the other anses (teachers) and hosts.
That was my schedule for four days. I needed it. Personally, I needed to take the time to reconnect to the Divine this Ramadan without distractions. I needed to gain strength and energy to continue the good fight out there. Ramadan is a time to gain closeness to God, to make the Qur’an a part of our daily lives – because the rest of the 11 months, we’re hit left and right with life. I am grateful to Rabata, to Anse Tamara Gray, for the endless volunteers for providing a tranquil space where women could make the intention for i’tikaf, where tajwid and Arabic teachers could help with our Qur’an recitation, where women can benefit from female scholars. And as the month nears a close, I’m already looking forward to welcoming my beloved guest back again next year. Allah is truly the All-Aware, the Most Merciful, the Greatest.
Hazel Gómez is a community organizer, convert mentor, and avid reader of all things Muslims in America. Hailing from Chicago, she currently lives in Detroit, and is interested in the research and creation of an authentic Latino Muslim experience. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.