Ramadan begins in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) the same way Ramadan elsewhere began for me–waiting for Fajr, and resting my head on the dining table with a belly full of water.
It used to make me sick chugging 3 to 4 glasses of water during sahoor. I usually fixated on the minute hand of the wall clock as I drowned myself in more water. I ate and drank as much as I could before the adhan. Imagine a bear preparing for winter hibernation in the early hours of the morning. In some case, it kind of feels like it.
Of course, as you age you become more relaxed during Ramadan. You get older and you realize the real treat is staying up the whole night to eat.
Unfortunately, when I was younger I was not allowed to stay up at night. So, to compensate for missing a whole night of feast, I rewarded myself with snacks after Taraweeh (night prayers during Ramadan). I was only 10 years old.
Taraweeh prayers usually take an hour to two hours every night. It’s up to the Imam (head of the mosque) to choose the length of the prayer. Once they have decided they usually stick with it year, after year, after year and so on. You get the point.
My family used to scout the mosques that performed shorter Taraweeh prayers (for our sakes, the kids). Luckily, the mosque right in front of our home was one of them. And then there was another mosque by the beach. Another one near the grocery store. And another near a school. In short, we tried them all. It’s what Muslims call “Mosque-hopping.”
Nowadays, my Muslim peers judge a mosque by the iftar treats the mosque provides. I mean, we were college students back then. We had little money, and in a festive mood. What would you do? That’s what I thought so too.
Back to the time when I was 10, my least favorite part attending the Taraweeh prayers was dragging my bloated self to the mosque. With every ruku or sujood I made, I was deathly afraid of letting out my iftar’s final breath–flatulence.
Not to mention, after every sujood you make you rest your head on the ground a little longer until you no longer want to get up. You just wanted to sleep.
Aside from the brief struggles during my prayers, everything else I remembered with much fondness.
For instance, My mom and I would meet the same women in the mosque each year. They hailed from other Arab countries, India, Pakistan, and parts of Africa. When we saw each other our smiles beamed with recognition, but for some reason, we never saw each other beyond the mosque. Our relationship with these women was tied down to the Taraweeh we prayed together every year. We start it and we finish it together at the end of 30 days.
When one of us don’t make it to the prayer, we make sure to ask them how they are feeling the next day. And sometimes it gets a little sad when you don’t see their faces again the following year. “Have they moved away?” “Did something happen to them?” In the case of the elderly, some people just bluntly ask, “Is she ‘still with us?'” By us, they meant among the living.
Which reminds of a funny story, no not about death. This time it’s about life.
There was a woman who always came for Taraweeh every year. And every year she was nursing a newborn baby. She was always smiling at everybody while her growing brood surrounded her.
For what seemed like 4 or 5 consecutive years she was bringing in a new child. By the time I left Saudi Arabia for college, her oldest daughter was at least 12 years old and the youngest, you guessed it, was a newborn baby. May God bless her, and maybe tell her husband to slow down too.
You might be curious now, what did the younger children do in the mosque while their mothers and older sisters prayed? They ran around–silently (if that seemed impossible, the kids made it possible). Why? Or else the grandmas at the mosque would tower over them and rant to their mothers about disciplining their kids. “No, thank you.”
My mom and I referred to these grandmas, a gang or sisterhood. They always stuck together, nodding their heads in acknowledgment of their friends when their legs were too weak to greet them personally. They always gave a hearty laugh, or in case of prayers, a deeply concerning row of coughing fits which made everybody nervous in their heels.
The Taraweeh Grandmas (the sisterhood) were never really mean or nasty. But, may God help you if you turned off the air conditioning because it was freezing cold. The Taraweeh Grandmas will come after your freezing behinds while wielding the special folding chairs that they use for prayers to support them.
I’m just kidding, the Taraweeh Grandmas would only stand up and ask loudly, “Who is the person who turned off the ‘aircon?’”
And the person would have to stand up with their head hung low as they walk towards the aircon to turn it back on. That was our version of the “Walk of shame.” Everybody stared at you.
Where are the men you ask? They’re in another section of the mosque. They probably have their own stories to tell, but my brother once told me that he saw a kid take a chair from one of the elderly men during prayers. Thankfully, he managed to slow down his imminent fall and still continued praying like nothing happened. I guess the men’s section needed the Taraweeh Grandmas to keep the kids in check.
However, best among my fondest of memories was holding my mother’s hand as we walked to the mosque and back home after the prayers. We would recall the events inside the mosque and laugh about it. My mom was a natural with people so she normally had 2 or 3 phone numbers from one of the moms or grandmas. In fact, we got to visit some of them in their homes and they eventually became our friends over the years.
Ramadan is truly a wonderful time for family, and making new friends and praying together with them. What was your experience during Ramadan as a young child? Share your story here! Comment below!