Tears after Taraweeh

As soon as I had turned my face to the left to end my prayer for the final time, I buried my face into my hands, leaned forward and started to cry.

Luckily, this position looked as if I was in a moment of intense prayer, so I don’t think the women around me noticed that I was sobbing. And while I was asking God to make me stronger, I also needed a few moments to let out an immense amount of emotion.

Then I realized that I had to exit the building by walking by a bunch of Uncles, so I dried my tears away with my hijab, sucked in a few deep breaths, packed up my prayer rug and walked out. I used my 12-minute drive to wring out any last remaining tears, and felt much better by the time I arrived home.

The night prayers had started off really well for the first 8 parts. It was when the women shuffled around for the remaining 12 that things went downhill for me.

I have a very specific set up that helps me get through 2 hours of prayers each night. I have a thick blanket under my prayer rug to act as a buffer against the gym floor and my boney knees; and my prayer rug. Let me reiterate this point...my prayer rug. The small rectangular space these two create is the physical, emotional and spiritual haven I use to bow down to Allah over the course of the night. It’s a space that is sacred to each worshipper and should be one of peace and comfort.

Both Muslim men and women are encouraged to pray close to one another, yet still leave enough room to not bother those on either side to you. Last night, I was standing next to a 13-year old-ish girl, whose mother was praying besides her. For some reason, the mother had decided that one prayer rug was enough for two people. Her daughter ended up being shoved onto my prayer rug, relegating me to half of it. She couldn’t keep still during the recitations and kept shuffling her feet around a lot; her elbow protruded into my left side; and she barely gave me enough room to lay my forehead to the ground during prostrations. Meanwhile, the lady on my right side had a hard time sitting with her legs underneath her, so she’d have to swing them out to the side during seated portions of the prayer. So she was leaning against me too. All this, combined with a very hot gym with poor ventilation, fatigue and muscle soreness from a day of fasting, and being shoved off my prayer mat by a teenage girl...I was frustrated. During a brief break, I asked the ladies to my left to please shuffle down a little. They agreed and did so, but then five minutes later, the girl was once against pushing into me and I was forced off my mat and onto the non-cushioned gym floor that was the space between myself and the lady next to me. 

No matter what I tried, I couldn’t stop focusing on how uncomfortable I was. I tried to remember stories from the Prophet’s (Peace Be Upon Him) time and the patience and compassion he showed to complete strangers. I tried to focus on the prayer recitation but then realized that my right leg and hip were sore because I was doing this Matrix-like leaning to the right to compensate for the teenage girl pushing into me from the left. Then I saw the girl starting to pick away at my rug during our brief seated intermission between prayer sets. There was nothing developmentally wrong with her (this is my therapy side coming out), except she couldn’t seem to respect another person’s property and space. How would she like it if I started pulling off the sequins from her shiny hijab? I really don’t know why I didn’t say anything. There was barely any time between prayer sets and I was sure her mom wouldn’t take kindly to me lecturing her daughter. And I was exhausted and not thinking clearly.

Having to endure an hour of this was challenging, hence the reason I broke down when I could. Call me selfish, but it was challenging. I contemplated pulling the mom aside and talking to her about her daughter’s lack of awareness of personal space, but I knew I couldn’t do this without breaking down emotionally. There could have been other reasons for my heightened sensitivity last night...perhaps it was the pictures of murdered children from Gaza that were on my Newsfeed from earlier in the day, the fatigue and low energy from the day of fasting, my issue with people I don’t know entering my personal space (I get very antsy, whether it’s during prayer or waiting in any sort of line), or the challenges (aka Jihad) I’m facing in my own life. So I decided not to say anything to the mother-daughter duo and let it all flow out and drip onto my prayer rug instead. I was exhausted and just wanted to go home.

We are all human and have a right to become emotional when we need to. Ramadan doesn’t exclude us from feeling emotion, but encourages us to act positively towards how we feel. It’s important to reflect on this emotion, when possible, to try and understand where it’s coming from. Most of the time, this is better done when we’re not in that emotional moment, given how our higher brain centres shut down in favour of tears, snot and incoherent ramblings.

I really don’t know where this blog post is going, and I’m OK with that. It’s 2:00am and I’m too fatigued to try and make this into something it’s not. I think there are a few lessons we can take away as we enter into the last week of Ramadan:

1. Please please please respect other people's personal space when you’re praying besides them. Yes, it’s necessary to pray close, but I have had women and girls who pretty much pray on top of me. If you’re making someone else uncomfortable, you’re not praying correctly. Pay attention to their body language.

2. One prayer rug for two people doesn’t work. You end up hijacking someone else’s rug, essentially pushing them off. Be considerate and make sure everyone in your family has their own rug. It’s not rocket science.

3. Turn to the person you’re praying beside, say Salaam, introduce yourself, and ask how they’re doing. I do this each night with the women I’m praying beside. I ask before moving my prayer rug over onto theirs to make sure they’re OK with what I’m doing. I ask them if they have enough space. It takes a few seconds. Be considerate.

4. For goodness sake, stop sticking elbows out when you’re standing with clasped hands or prostrating on the floor. It's incredibly annoying when your elbow digs into someone’s ribs. We are not meant to be sprawled out like a sleeping dog during prayer. Control your extremities!

5. Stop shuffling during prayer and stop moving towards the person on either side of you. This is very distracting and it’s hot enough without someone else's body heat entering into your personal space. If you see that you’re taking up most of someone else’s prayer rug, make sure you move away between prayer cycles.

6. And again, it’s OK to be emotional and use that emotion to ask Allah for strength and guidance. Tears are powerful during prayer. But speak up to someone if you have to. 

I’m already thinking about Taraweeh tonight and who I’ll be praying besides. It was a really frustrating experience and I don’t want to go through it again. I do have a plan to verbalize politely what I need from someone  If I have to, I'll even move to a different spot. And I’m praying to Allah for extra doses of patience, perseverance and forgiveness.

I wish you all a blessed final week of Ramadan and answered prayers during the Night of Power (Laylat ul-Qadr).

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