When I Thought The Imam Erred

Imam leading the congregation of worshipers

Imam leading a congregation of worshipers

I wonder what to explain of the last 10 nights of Ramadan, whether as a countdown to commencement of Eid, or to the end of Ramadan. It depends on whether your heart will be stricken with a gentle grief of bidding adieu to the most blessed month of the year, or welcome celebrations of feast and joy as your gift for giving up earthly desires.

A similar choice of perspective occurred in my mind on the last night of Ramadan for several years.

As a background – Muslims are encouraged to begin and complete the recitation of the Holy Qur’an in the month, apart from the daily recitations that are prescribed.  Imams (the one who leads the player in the mosque) begin their recitation from memory in prayers and continue it in extended prayers in the evenings. In the last 10 Ramadans the prayers are also performed in the depths of night.

Memorizing the entire book in its Arabic language is undoubtedly a feat, and there’s little surprise that the ones who perfect this to memory with practice adding their touch of mesmerizing reading techniques get the sobriquet of leading hundreds and thousands of worshipers behind them. Just for the numbers – there are about 6236 verses that span a total of 114 chapters in the book to memorize.

However great a merit that is to the Imams, I was convinced for a long time the Imam of the mosque I visited for night prayers in Ramadan had got his calculations wrong. Instead of ending the last night with the last chapter of the book, he always overshot the number of chapters recited, unable to match it with the number of rounds (Rakat) of prayers at night. Such that when it was the last round of prayer on the last night of Ramadan, he failed to end perfectly on the 114th chapter, and instead began the first chapter of the Qur’an – in a way starting the Qur’an again. It’s obviously no big deal, but for someone who would like the Imam’s calculation to be as spellbinding as his recitation, I concluded that the Imam had made an error.

It’s not before I seriously gave this seeming error a thought. How would a man who has committed a voluminous book to memory repeat the same mistake over so many Ramadans? Truly, there was wisdom to be derived which I hope, in all my humility, I did.

The Imam’s deliberate attempt to mismatch the number of verses with the round of prayers was his way of welcoming the next Ramadan. By starting the first verses of the book, he tries to spill the blessings of that night into the one that we would have to wait for another year. It is a reminder from the learned leader of the congregation that there’s very little to be content from this year of Ramadan and that we should always hope we get to welcome the next one with as much dedication, if not more. It also seems to be like passing the baton to us of sorts, that the Imam has completed the Qur’an that he was entrusted with, and now it’s our responsibility to continue reading the book throughout the remainder of the year . The Imam has helped us start the first few verses, so we may respect it and continue it from there the very next day and continue till the next holy month where we are reminded of what the Imam left us with, again.

If there is a kernel of doubt in our minds about Ramadan being more than just giving up food, water and other desires, then banish them. For surely, there are things beyond what the stomach can digest that leaves us in deep thoughts and introspection, much like these moments when I thought the Imam erred.

Armchair Cleric

Mac

In an article I read in one of the dailies, I noticed another instance of capitalism making inroads into religion. While I don’t wish to be seen as a wannabe doomsayer, it could help to caution at the sight of bad idea germinating in someone’s mind. While instances of Ramadan becoming commercial are rife, these views came from ‘clerics’ in the region.

It was opined that working hours during Ramadan need not be reduced for those who work from enclosed offices as they are in an environment conducive to longer time of work even in fasting conditions (Islamic countries have reduced working hours for Muslims and Non-Muslims alike during the holy month). Clerics said productivity during Ramadan instead increases during the month, and the physical toil of salaried employees in offices was far less in comparison to the wage earners who work in the open. The article also carried financial figures to indicate the loss in revenue due to reduced hours.

While their justification may be right, and pointing out the exertion of outdoor workers to be more certainly is, they have missed one of the essential reasons for reduced hours. Infusing the articles with numerical measurement of loss accrued to organisation gets my frustration first, and then some sympathy if there’s any left.

One of the wisdoms for reduced hours of working during the month is that Muslims can spend more time in prayer and worship, or rest during the time to prepare for prayers they may be involved later in the day.

Working for the organisation’s goals is a commitment one lives by almost throughout the year and providing for some private and spiritual time for a month every year may in fact work in the organisation’s favour. Spiritually rejuvenated employee can hit the ground running by the end of Ramadan. Ramadan also is an opportunity to iron out the creases that blemish ones personality and an employee who makes the most of the extra time off can become a better team member.

The importance of strongly objecting to any ideas of regular times during Ramadan is to ensure that the clout of such clerical thought does not materialize into reality. It is not naive to say that anything lucrative and ‘profitable’ meets little resistance and is always ready to be implemented.

There are some things money cannot and should not buy. Some extra time spent in worship is certainly one of them.

Packaging Ramadan – ‘The Stream’ discussion on Al Jazeera on commercialism in Ramadan – (7:00 has my video comment on air and 13:10 carries my tweet discussion by the panel of the show)