Having arrived late, I sat in the last row of a very crowded prayer hall. From the back, I could make out familiar figures of regular members of the congregation just from the designs on their telekungs. The very, very regular ones, usually the early birds, have secured their place in the front row; there were some new faces, students and visitors somewhere in the middle and the last few rows were mothers with their children, praying beside them.
Watching children as young as seven already doing the terawikh, I thought how lucky they are to have the opportunity to start so very young. I started my own journey not too long ago at a very late age. I offered all kinds of reasons for not doing so; no one to look after the children, work etc – all of which to me personally translated into shying away from the unknown and unexplored territory. I was scared that people in the congregation might judge me. I’d attend the usual Friday night prayers but never terawikh. I’d wait in the canteen of Malaysia Hall with the children while hubby did his prayers. But a few friends coaxed me and like last night, I found myself sitting in the back row. No way I was going to sit and pray in the front row and then lead others astray.
Nowadays, I am more confident as more and more I feel I belong, and more and more I feel the need to be nearer to Him.
With this handful of friends, I learnt and from what I learnt, I taught the children who tagged along. These are the handful of friends who have made the journey with me; they had started earlier and they have guided me. Last night looking at some of the children sitting obediently by their mothers’ side, reminded me so much of those times with my girls; coaxing and cajoling them, constantly answering questions of “how many more (rakaats)” after every prayer.
A mother swept her daughter’s hair from the forehead under the telekung – such familiar gestures and I turned to my now grown-up daughter sitting beside me, and I am still doing the same to her. She no longer asked “How many more” and no more the bored look as she is now a regular and part of the congregation.
Our son who as a young boy followed his father to pray with the men, is now our own bilal at home and sometimes leads our prayers.
The members of the congregation have become a part of the extended family for us. The banters, the jokes and the sharing and caring – many have been here as long as I have. We have seen many ustazs come and go, and currently we have a young and talented ustaz with many ideas and programmes to entertain us and feed our souls. But one constant factor, though, is our bilal. Imams/ustazs come and go, but our bilal remains the same and it is a kind of comforting factor listening to his call for prayers as well as his accompanying the imam during prayers.
Two nights ago, we had an azan competition. There were less contestants for the children’s category this year but it is still an encouraging sign. The winner is a boy I had seen since he was a baby. And indeed like all other parents present, his parents never left him behind but encouraged him to join in. Children like him grew up in this familiar surrounding. There’s no one to frown upon parents bringing children, except for one occasion when some self-righteous guy banished my son to the back row in a tone that humiliated him in front of other adults. But it is the kind of encouragement and tolerance amongst the adults that nurture and encourage the young ones to participate.
Every night after prayers, there’s the morey. More than the food, which are always sponsored by members of the congregation, it is also the camaraderie that exists that binds us all together. After morey, a few would stay back for the taddarus and next week we will all be there to witness the khatam Quran.
Last Saturday was my second Qiamulail for this Ramadan and Insyallah next week, we will meet again for the last one. I am grateful to Allah for giving me this realisation before it is too late, before ill health and age take over and make it difficult for me to serve Him.
Ustaz’s zikir munajad never failed to move me. We recite the powerful and melodious zikir together, feeling every word, every message. And personally, when it comes to Laa illaha illallah, al malikul hakkul mubinnn, Muhammadar rasulllah.. without fail, tears would be streaming from my eyes. This is the part of the zikir my husband used to recite to the children as they go to sleep.
God willing, I hope to continue on this journey, for there’s still a long way to go. I will take on this journey knowing that there’s a place for me there, even if I need to squeeze in a chair in the back row, and in ustaz’s words, be elevated in status, although our knees have failed us.