This is Day 17 of Hindtrospectives’ #MyMosqueMyStory series for Ramadan 2015
By Kinza Khan
One of my favorite parts of Ramadan is attending Taraweeh prayers – the nightly prayers in which the Imam recites the Quran every night in order to complete it by the end of the month. I’m not sure why this is my favorite part – maybe it’s because it reminds me of celebrating Ramadan as a child since I would go with my dad every night during Ramadan. Or maybe it’s because the community congregates and there is a spiritual bond between those who pray together. It could also be because the Quran recitation is so beautiful, especially when the Imam recites it so melodically. Listening to it automatically creates a sense of calmness – I don’t think it’s possible to be in a state of anger while listening to a beautiful Quran recitation. It might also be because Taraweeh is very unique to Ramadan: there are other days on which we can fast and even break fast with others, but Taraweeh only occurs during Ramadan. Taraweeh prayers always inspire me, whether it’s to tweet funny instances under #ThoughtsDuringTaraweeh tweets or to reflect and write.
When I miss Ramadan, my mind immediately goes to missing Taraweeh prayers. The mosques where I pray Taraweeh prayers every Ramadan each create a place in my heart and contribute to my overall Ramadan experience and, with that, my Ramadan nostalgia.
One mosque and community I miss every Ramadan is the one I attended as a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Imam was Egyptian and had a wonderful Quran recitation. But that’s not the only reason it was dear to me: The masjid community made students, who were essentially just temporary residents, feel as if in a second home. They invited us to Iftar every single evening, giving many students an opportunity to meet and form friendships. We used the masjid space for potlucks and gatherings, and many of us lived in the shabby apartments near it, making it easier to go at night and maybe even for the early morning Fajr prayer sometimes. Non-Muslim neighbors probably thought we were in some strange cult.
This masjid also had no divider between the men and the women. Everyone prayed in one large prayer area. Upon doing some research, I learned that back in the Prophet’s (pbuh) day, there was no separation between men and women: the structure of the mosque would be, from front to back respectively, men, boys, hermaphrodites, girls, and women. This layout makes the most sense to me, and allows me to feel connected to everyone in the prayer area including the imam, rather than just some women and children.
This is my first Ramadan in Schaumburg – a suburb Northwest of Chicago – to which I moved after getting married. It was very different from the many mosques I’d been to. Women are on the top floor and can view the imam and main prayer area, which I personally prefer because it’s hard to focus when you can’t see. Most attendees are Pakistani and Indian families who seem like they’ve been there a long time – it makes sense since it’s an older, developed suburb.I’ve had only a few experiences there and, attempting to have a positive and forgiving attitude in Ramadan, I took them as humbling experiences. These experiences consisted often of girls my age (or even younger) being rude, unwelcoming, and cliquey. On more than one occasion, I asked someone if I could sit somewhere or if there was some space, to which a girl rudely replied, “I guess” and turned away. I know not to judge a mosque by only a couple attendees, because even my previous masjids had their fair share of “mean girls.” The difference was, the “mean girls” cliques back in my old mosques wouldn’t even bother with me.
In my previous mosque at home, people knew who I was. Not to sound like I’m bragging, but somehow this did help. I didn’t realize it made a difference until I got to this mosque and noticed the stark contrast in treatment. Back in my old mosque in Naperville where my parents lived, there were many more youth and I knew most of them. They knew me: they knew who my parents were and often our parents were friends with each other; they knew that if the girls were talking loudly in the back while we were praying, I would likely be that person who goes to ask them to be quiet or move to a different area; they knew I was older than I looked and that I was a lawyer who was always trying to give the younger school advice, career advice, and even marriage advice (which was often more venting than advice). Some people from my old community even told me that I intimidated them – I’m not sure why, but to be honest I didn’t mind it.
All of this didn’t become apparent to me until I came to this new mosque and realized that not knowing me may make a difference in the way people acted towards me. It shouldn’t be the case at all, but unfortunately it may be the reality. These were only a couple experiences, but they were my first impressions. My husband didn’t seem to have much interaction with anyone in the men’s side positive or negative. I’m not sure if this was a gender thing, an age thing, a “newcomer” thing, or whether it was just an isolated experience. It made me realize how much a masjid’s atmosphere and its people impact its welcoming nature, and how much it changes the Taraweeh experience.
I had two choices on how to react: either I would be turned off from this mosque and stop attending or I would continue to attend and just deal. But I also realize that to change a game you have to join it, so the best option was probably stay and be more welcoming towards others in the mosque, at least to compensate for the premature mean girls clan or maybe even “lead by example.” It’s too easy to isolate oneself from the community upon a negative experience, and it occurs too often. In my opinion, it only makes the situation worse. In a mosque, a safe space, the default standard needs to be treat everyone with the utmost respect and this standard needs to be fostered in its culture. One way we can do that as individuals is not to leave a mosque or write a huge rant on Facebook the second things get rough, but rather become part of the community with an aim to change it. Masjid announcements can and should also include announcements reminding people to welcome the newcomers and meet people they haven’t met before – with all the announcements on their list already, I’m sure they can squeeze this in somewhere in between fundraising and telling us the proper way to double park. Our communities are our responsibilities, and the only way to keep the spirit of Taraweeh alive and to keep our communities thriving is to, at the least, do our part.
Kinza is a young lawyer in Chicago. She is passionate about civil rights, child welfare, and international human rights. Her Twitter handle is @KinzaK89