Today’s Ramadan guest post is by a woman I greatly admire, Fatima Ashraf. I had the pleasure of meeting her through Melibee speaker, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin. Fatima reflects on the joys and challenges of her first Ramadan as a mother.
This is my first Ramadan being a wife and a mother and to be honest, it ain’t easy. I’m not used to waking up before dawn to make a healthy, hydrating pre-fast meal for more than just myself. I’m not used to doing it on 3 hours of sleep because my motherly duties have me waking every few hours to feed, comfort, sing, or change diapers. I’m definitely not used to being afraid to go to the mosque because of how my baby boy will be received by the community if he gets cranky, tired, or curious during prayers.
You see, Ramadan is the month where Muslims fast, for many reasons, one of which is to commemorate the revelation of the Holy Quran to the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). Therefore, after breaking the fast, Muslims gather to pray special prayers called “Taraweah” (pronounced ta-rah-wee-ah) which are specific to the month of Ramadan. Each night we stand for hours listening to beautiful recitation of the Holy Quran in order to finish the entire book over the 30 days.
Growing up, praying Taraweah was non-negotiable in my family. My mother and father went to the mosque and prayed for hours every night and had the same expectation for my sisters and me. They were never heavy handed, always emphasizing the rewards of this long, nighttime prayer. “You’ll get blessings upon blessings.” “You can ask Allah for anything.” “You will become more disciplined.” “You will be pleasing your Creator.” “Your friends will be there.” “You can take breaks.” “You’re participating in something that millions around the world are doing together.” So for 28 years consecutively, no matter what, during Ramadan, I prayed Taraweah Every. Single. Night. It felt great. It was rejuvenating. Even though my understanding of Arabic isn’t the strongest, I felt very connected and grounded spiritually from repeating this prayer for 30 nights consecutively. Oh and the night the Quran was completed was incredible. I, along with hundreds of others in the congregation, would feel accomplished, relieved, happy.
Then I got married. And then I had a baby.
My husband is not a routine Taraweah goer so it’s harder for me to feel motivated. But he makes a good point. It’s difficult to maintain concentration during those long prayers. It’s hard when your understanding of Arabic is not strong and you can’t fully appreciate the words being recited. It’s even harder when there are kids running wild and every other announcement from the Imam is “parents, control your children.” He is very concerned about our baby disrupting others’ prayer, and now, so am I.
But when I think back to all those years where I went to Taraweah religiously, there were kids running around. Yea, it was noisy. Yea, I wished parents would control their kids a bit more. But it was all part of the experience. Besides, what better place to be for a bunch of Muslim kids than the mosque? Furthermore, my own discipline to go to Taraweah, but more than that, to be a frequent mosque-goer in general and to maintain strong ties with my Muslim community, all came as a result of going to the mosque from a very young age. So I was never of the thought that one shouldn’t bring their wild kids to the mosque. In fact, I believe the wilder they are, the more they should be there because their childhood experiences of fun with friends at the mosque just might be what keeps them on a disciplined, righteous path as adults.
My deepest desire today, as a mom during Ramadan, is to take my toddler to Taraweah, to be able to partake in prayer, and to not face the wrath of angry adults if the little one decides to crawl around. It is my responsibility to take him outside the prayer area if he’s making noise and I will gladly do this. But I do not welcome the side eye and do not want to hear “keep your kids at home” because God willing, I expect my son to grow into a man who cares about Ramadan, prayer, the mosque, Islam, and Muslims.
So parents, please control your kids at the mosque. But do not stop bringing them. Adults, if you’re so upset by kids making noise at the mosque, reexamine your desires for the future of Islam. Having young ones at the mosque might cause momentary disruptions but could be the key to ensuring a strong, solid Muslim identity for years to come.
About the Author: Fatima Ashraf is former senior policy advisor for health and education to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City. Currently, in her new role as mom, she is committed to feeding her family and running her household in a health conscious, zero-waste way. Her faith motivates her to be an activist for social justice and to represent the interests of working class people of color (she is of South Asian descent.) Fatima is mom to Ismael, 10 months, and wife to Ibrahim, author and organizer.