Praise be to Allah for giving us the blessing of Islam. Praise be to Allah for allowing us to experience one more Ramadan. One more chance for Repentance. One more chance for Forgiveness. Welcome O Guest! Welcome Old friend! I have missed you. Welcome…
This first day of Ramadan (or rather I should say ‘first night’ since the Islamic calendar starts in the evening ) began hot and humid, as have been the days previously. I’ve been hanging out in my sister’s old room, the only one up here that has A/C! until I’m too tired or it’s cooled down a bit at night to go back to mine. So this morning it was hot and sticky as usual and I headed to Jum’ah in a town nearby. As I left it was quite sunny. As soon as I got on the highway and started driving, I saw these dark black clouds straight ahead of me. The air cooled and dimmed and the drops started to fall. By the time I arrived it was raining proper.
Summer rain here in upstate NY is different than rain I’ve experienced elsewhere. It’s like an almost light drizzle, sheets of straight rain that keep on coming and seem endless. And then inexplicably it just dries up, the clouds part and the sun pops out. So I had to park a million miles away as usual and hitched up my long grey maxi dress and headed towards the basement of the university armory where we usually have our Jumahs. The rain feels good and light and while most of the Jumah goers seemed a little damp they looked happy to be there. As soon as I walked in I noticed three rows of women which is usually our full capacity and it was still 10 minutes to go before Khutbah time!
I found a spot and waited. After the Adhan, the Shaikh started the Khutbah. Unfortunately the speakers weren’t working! Luckily, a brother came who knew what he was doing and fixed them up a bit. The Khutbah was mostly about making this fasting more of an inner spiritual exercise against the Nafs, than an outward one about food. In Ramadan, we should just let it all go, to the extent where we might even have some rights, like if someone did some injustice to us, we should tell them “inni saa’im” and let it go. We should forgive, even those things done against us, and internalize our fasting.
I thought about that then and am thinking about it now. I really do want to let go of all the hurt feelings and mistakes of the past. It’s hard for me to forget when someone’s hurt my feelings though. I wish I could be a non-sensitive person where things didn’t bother me as much. Like the close friend of mine while growing up who never invited me to her Nikah, or the time I was supposed to have lunch with someone and she never showed up, or the bro who proposed while insulting me a la Mr. Collins style (what a story that one is!) Why do I keep so many of all these petty things with me? I mean who cares right. We’re all marching on this journey, on this Caravan to Eternity and all these grudges and remembrances of injustices of the past are just weighing me down and keeping me behind. Can’t I throw them off the side and leave them behind me? Can’t I forgive and forget? Can’t I meet people with a smiling face with no thought to the past? Is it enough to forgive and not forget, or must we forget, because if we still remember, have we really forgiven? Forgetting without forgiving seems like a workable method, but yet I must forgive to earn Allah’s Forgiveness.
While in these thoughts and listening, the Khutbah progressed and we could hear the storm’s mayhem outside. Thunder and lighting and huge booms that seemed like it hit right next to the armory. The lights flickered once or twice but Alhamdulllah held. The Khutbah was over and walking towards the entrance I saw tons of people just lingering and then noticed in front of them: a sheet of rain. No wonder no one was moving! I headed to the front and thought…well they do it in Bollywood movies right? So I walked right out into the rain with nothing and casually strolled to my car; the cool water sliding down my face and arms. It actually felt nice and cleansing. As if while we were inside the world raged and stormed and when we came out the straight, endless rain was making sure we were purified.
As soon as I got in my car the rain stopped! (Of course! ) I headed home and got ready for the evening’s Taraweeh prayer. This year our Ramadan miracle came early and everyone (just about) in the world and all our local Mosques were starting fast on the same day.
The Mosque I decided to go to in the evening is the one closest to my house – the inner city Masjid. Now you might ask why I go there, as have others before you! Growing up we were pretty much middle class but when most other families started moving to the suburbs, for some reason we never did. We still live in the city per se but more in the uptown area. I don’t know why, but this Mosque feels like my roots, like as if I was someone who lived in the ghetto and made it big and was trying to come back. It just feels like this is where the real Muslims are, where the revolution starts, on the ground where things are happening. This is the Mosque the Prophet (s) would have come to teach in. The people here (not to insult them) are probably among the poorest and most oppressed. They have the most problems. Among them are many sick people with things like diabetes and broken knees and various illnesses. There are women struggling with many kids, those trying to learn English, recent immigrants, converts, African Americans, Sudanis, Somalis, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, families of Muslim men who are in jail. They may not have grand Arabic skills or a famous Shaikh or marble walls or sparkling chandeliers but they are the real thing.
There’s things I’ve seen here and people I’ve met that I never would have anywhere else. I once met a woman who was a member of Malcolm X’s original Mosque and she told us in her own words how Malcolm was, the people she met and stories from those days. I met an Afghani woman once who just had triplets! I met a woman who fell down her stairs and broke her back. She came every day to Taraweeh with her back in a brace! I met a sister who is 89 and has a Southern accent, she has gout and takes the bus from the nursing home to come to the Mosque for Iftars every day. She brings crafts for the kids to do like making Ramadan cards. I met a sprightly elderly Sudani lady who lives around the corner and comes for EVERY Jama’ prayer in the Masjid. She knows her Pakistani neighbors so well she’s even learnt some Urdu from them. One time I heard her speak to them and was so stunned, she winked at me and told me she knew how to speak my ‘Hindustani’ too! Yes, even the Hafiz that leads the prayers here is amazing. He is also blind.
Now you just can’t get that anywhere and I’ve been to Mosques around the world and can testify. It may be the best kept secret that an Iftar at an inner city American Masjid is as interesting as walking into a cafe in Casablanca in the 30s. Just as mysterious, with many shady characters, each one with their own story, you never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll experience. And don’t worry there’s no guy with a patch and a parrot on his shoulder either! 8) You may have to watch your purse a little more closely, but these are the people Allah will save. The uncle with the Jaguar or the doctor who hurries outside when their beeper goes off at the other Mosques, hmm all good of course. I’ll still go to other Mosques, but raising my hands for the Witr Dua with the wife of the custodian of the Mosque on one side and the young daughter of a Muslim prisoner (unjustly) on the other, I feel like if it is somewhere, it is here Allah would answer my prayers.