I have childhood memories of the late night praying routine towards the end of the holy month of Ramadan, especially the last three sacred nights. I may have been a teenager at the time, but the memories from the distant past are crystal clear even to date. I have replayed those memories and flashbacks in my head every Ramadan for so many years, including now.
After fasting the whole day, it is incredibly hard to stay up all night in prayer. It takes strength we don’t have and determination that easily wears off. After about an hour or so, you are done!
It is only by the grace of Allah that one is given the desire and the strength to actually withstand the difficulty of going through the day hungry and thirsty. There’s simply no other way one would be functioning without His help and mercy. The idea that this kind of prayer was modeled by our beloved Prophet, peace be upon him, was what kept us going then and does the same now.
I distinctly remember the dimly lit area outside our bedrooms, a wall to wall carpeted square space having a wooden buffet sitting under the kitchen window adorned by many items. I lovingly recall an offwhite telephone set (which must be totally obsolete now!). I also remember how instantly our velvet, deep-coloured prayer mats brightened up the rather dull looking brown carpet. I have no trouble recalling the sweet scent akin to that place, the upright long standing in prayer shoulder to shoulder, staring upon silence and reciting small prayers under our breath as well as the floating peace that occasionally got interrupted by a tiny barking sound of a lone dog. This and many other details are but a blink away from my mind’s eye…
A sheet of paper would be tucked under our prayer rugs. A neatly cut out square piece of paper that religiously collected our glances every 10 minutes. This sheet was undoubtedly the highlight of the night. There were a few untiring attempts at things like:
1- The table we drew on had a paper that was designed with 100 checkboxes (not one more not one less!). Strictly 100. They were meant to be checked off one by one with each unit of prayer. We’d challenge ourselves to read up to 100 raka’ts (units) of prayer in just a few hours.
2- The pen used for marking and ticking off was the best among its pencil box companions. As if the poor stationary too was going to engage in some sort of competition where it’s dexterity and swiftness was to be tested!
3- A half-filled jug of water that we shared to keep hydrated in between our prayer intervals.
4- My favourite part was the unannounced & random slots of mini-breaks; chatting briefly about stuff whilst seated on our prayer mats and the very visible patches of light that windowed through from the lamp in the kitchen onto the somber designs of our mats.
Within the first two hours of praying, the momentum stayed on track (although, internally we’d be struggling to stay alert!). Strangely, each time a brief exchange of concern to complete 100 nafls (prayer) would improve our motivation dramatically as if the chat had served as chicken soup for the very tired body and soul. Immediately we would go back to our knees in awe and praise of the holy night.
It makes me smile to recall how after finishing every unit of prayer when I sat down, I had the urge to pray for my academic success; to secure a top position(s) and all that. How very simple and only-academic life used to be! I don’t remember praying for anything else but generally and genuinely for my family. I’m grateful to God for keeping me obediently prompted to pray for their well being even to date.
Looking back into the light of my memory, I fondly recall that almost always we would manage to tick off the last box that read 100. With our bodies sore to the core, hearts filled with relief and eyes soaked in sleep, we would then wait for sehree (early morning breakfast ritual for the next day/fast). Sometimes, I just wish we would have been given the ability to, once in a while, take a step back into our past and relive some days.
Aside from simply reminiscing, a recollection of those nights leads to some nugget of wisdom that I hope holds meaning and truth for you, inshAllah:
1- When we hold someone dear to us, we praise them. But mere verbal praise means nothing. As they say, ‘actions speak louder than words’. Allah requires us to actually live our claim of love for Him through actions, it cannot be contained in our hearts alone. The most wonderful opening chapter of the holy Quran starts off by praising Allah. Hence, praise and acknowledgement being the theme of the whole prayer. It doesn’t apply to Allah alone, but it applies to worldly relationships; praise, acknowledgment, sacrifice. Ramadan is divinely designed to be a month of setting resolutions — a blessed lunar period in which Allah magnified all acts of worship, that of and by their very nature, facilitate and even mandate both physical and spiritual changes at personal and communal levels.
2- Praise involves sacrifice. Giving up something you love for someone you love. Giving up your ego. Giving up sleep to stay up nights. Giving up time to reach out and be there for someone in need. Giving up money for the sake of charity. Anything that costs us time, effort, and energy is a sacrifice in and of itself. The amount of sacrifice we are ready to do is reciprocal to our love for that very entity. Given this understanding of the aspirations of the believer, the main focus of this life should entail the ultimate objective of our meeting with Allah— that is to become God-fearing; and what better time to strive to achieve taqwa (piety) than during Ramadan? Clearly this life is but a period granted to prepare oneself for the inevitable meeting with Allah in the Hereafter and Ramadan is what allows us to practice that each year.
“Your goal in the end is towards Allah.” [6:164]
3- Prayer is not limited to a box-check or a to-do list accomplished a sort of a phenomenon. It is a process that requires consistency and purity of intention. It is just like sowing a seed; watering and caring for it regularly and watching it grow, bear fruit, and benefit not just oneself but those around us. Prayer is like the gift of Allah’s nearness and love. My usta’ad (teacher) once said, “Zikr (remembrance) without Firk (deep reflection) isn’t complete; it holds no taste for you to savour.”
The message is clear: every time we pray, we are required to constantly assess our love for the Creator and for His Prophet.
Could the weakness of our love for them be the reason why we see so many Muslims today yet so few believers? Might this be why our prayers are merely checked boxes? Are our hearts filled with love deeply ingrained and our days filled with Godlessness?
My dear sisters and brothers; we may be thousands of miles apart geographically and belong to different cultures and time zones. Perhaps some of us pray by crying out loud or some of us pour our heart out only through a soft whisper emerging from the deepest core of our heart. Despite our differences and distances, we have this one thing in common — the language and the sound of prayer. It is universal. It is one.
Isn’t it that wherever and whenever a prayer is made, it makes one feel grounded and anchored in the belief that God, glorified and exalted is He, is capable of answering it? Once we internalise this, rest assured we will be given what we want or something much much better than what we asked for. He will most likely give it to us in a way that we would never have imagined. Ameen ya rabb’ ul Aalameen.
Have a blessed remaining Ramadan, may Allah accept your actions and fasts.