The Banished Ones

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It doesn’t feel like Ramadan for me, again. Last year, I had an unapologetic pregnant belly. People drew out chairs for me when I went to the mosque to pray and hurriedly brought me food at various times of the day. They understood when I chose not to fast ~ my baby-in-belly spoke for me. One year later I am not fasting. I now have a baby whose rolls on her legs and cheeks speak for me not fasting, a baby who needs nursing. This time, I look like I should be fasting, but I’m not. I’m sitting on the sidelines watching. This time no chairs drawn for me.

 I’m not going to the mosque to pray Tarawih, to imbibe that Ramadan spirit: I’m putting my children to bed. I’m not slaving away making perfectly fluffy pakoras or evenly stuffed samosas: I can barely manage to heat up my husband’s iftar left overs what with Iftar time being bed time for my toddler who gets more hyper as each minute passes. Needless to say, I feel un-Ramadan-like.

Today feels like my yesterdays which weren’t Ramadan. I try to listen to a lecture on YouTube, but when my toddler sees the YouTube icon on the screen immediately clamors to hear If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands over and over again. Good bye Sheikh Abdul Nasir Jangda, assalamalaikum Elmo.

My husband was unable to make it to the mosque for Tarawih so I spontaneously decided that today I will go to the mosque. I will go pray Tarawih while my husband watches over our sleeping children. I will reclaim my Ramadan spirit.

My children fall asleep easily that night and my heart beats quickly as I stealthily creep into their room and try to locate my sleek black abaya in my closet. I can’t find it! Chocolate brown will have to do. With that I speed to the mosque and make it in time for Isha prayer and Tarawih. What I don’t expect to see there at the mosque is the children. The children banished to the hallway on the cold marble floor ~ some playing, some shrieking, some whining – all waiting.

As I approach the heavy wooden door to the carpeted ladies room, I see a sign with the words highlighted in green that says ‘NO CHILDREN ALLOWED’.  My heart drops for a second then lifts – I don’t have my children with me today.

As luck has it, I find a spot next to a mother toting her 3 and half year old. The little girl has an impeccably neat bun twisted on the top of her head and light pink pastel glasses, and is dipping her hand into a bag of potato chips. We share a secretive smile. Not even a couple minutes after reaching there, an older lady approaches and brusquely tells the mother that children are not allowed, and that no one is allowed to eat in the prayer room.

The mother whispers to her child to not make any noise, hastily crumples the potato chip bag into her purse, and ignores the lady. Another mother in front of me has a somber 2 year old in a hijab who doesn’t make a peep, but does insist to be carried after a few rakahs. I am impressed by this mother’s arm muscles.

As I pray, I enjoy the words of the Quran being recited by the imam, but I can’t help feeling distracted by the shrieks that manage to permeate the heavy wooden doors. One baby sounds just like mine; one toddler sounds just like mine. I find it hard to focus. I have come to the masjid to get that Ramadan feeling, but my mommy brain hears the cries.

As I exit from tarawih, I am immediately greeted by the wails being wailier, and the whines being whinier. I see a little boy spurting tears crying ‘Mama, Mama.’ I feel like scooping up the toddler, but I realize his mother is right next to him, standing still like stone, and praying.

Children have rights over us; they have the right to structured bedtimes. Yes, I lack that Ramadan feeling that I so desperately crave, but I will strive to get it in other ways: sprinkling bird seed with my toddler’s little fingers, reading dhikr with my wide-eyed baby, and praying in my clothes-strewn bedroom when my two children soundly sleep. Yes, I may stand still like stone praying, but I will be there to respond to my children if they need me, and I will continue to pray for that Ramadan feeling to come.

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24 responses »

  1. Reem! I loved this article! It is so beautifully said. And the best form of worship you can do in this month is to take good care of your children. They are indeed blessed to have a Mom like you. Lucky Z and A! MashaAllah.

  2. I concur with your sentiments, Reem. Children need structure and I really believe that Moms with kids of a certain age are better off staying home. There are hadiths that speak to the importance of women’s prayer at home and Moms should take heed!

  3. Reem, this reminds me so much of myself. When my oldest daughter was a newborn – just 3 months old, I took her to my first Taraweeh prayer. I was so excited to finally be part of the Muslim community! (I was born Muslim, but only started practicing as an adult.) After only a few raka’at, my daughter began crying loudly because the booming speaker in the women’s prayer area had woken her up. I tried my best to console her, but she wouldn’t calm down until I picked her up and rocked her. I tried to finish praying while holding her, but every time I set her down during sujood, she would cry even louder. The other sisters gave me such looks of hostility, that I finally resigned myself to a corner in the back while I waited for my sister-in-law to finish her salat.

    After that day, I never went back to the masjid for taraweeh. Ramadan after Ramadan, I stayed home with my two daughters in fear that they would disturb the other sisters. It wasn’t until my oldest was 9 and my youngest was 6, that I returned to the masjid for Taraweeh. Yes, I waited 9 years! By that time, my girls were old enough (and patient enough) to pray alongside me. I was overjoyed, but at the same time I realized that my duty to them as a mother far exceeded my duty to attend Taraweeh at the masjid. I’m happy that I chose to stay home with them and pray my Taraweeh while they were warm and cozy in their bed instead of trying to bring them to the masjid in their pajamas while hoping that the booming speaker wouldn’t wake them up.

    • Thanks for your comment! 9 years is long, but I bet worth it, right? 🙂 Kids at night at tarawih are challenging. I do plan on bringing my little ones to the masjid for Eid though so they get to experience Eid, plus mornings = happy kids = less frazzled me :)!

  4. Oh Reem, this is just perfect and really what I needed right now. I’m not fasting this year either since I’m pregnant with baby #2 and due any day now insha’Allah. I’ve been trying so hard and feeling so down that I just don’t have the same Ramadan spirit, but this post really put a smile on my face. Thanks for sharing, and Ramadan Kareem! 🙂

  5. I can relate to the feeling of not fasting and it not feeling enough like Ramadan… both when I was pregnant and nursing and now as a medical issue prevents me this year. This one feels even worse in that respect than when I was pregnant or nursing… at least those were “positive” reasons :P. I also took my son for Taraweeh when he was a baby (thinking it would help me get more in the spirit). I am shocked and saddened by the “no children allowed” sign you ran into though 😦 shoving the kids in the hall? How are they going to learn to behave in prayer or enjoy this? I have not gone to Taraweeh yet this year, mainly because it’s so late to keep my son up this year (though we might try sometime this month), but when I did go I brought him with me. When I take him to communal prayers now (at 4) he follows along. The last time I was at Taraweeh I remember seeing many kids flaked out on the floor sleeping 😛 but have heard they get rowdy other places. But how will they learn to love it and be part of it if they are shut in the hallway? This doesn’t seem right. When the prophet Mohammed pbuh him prayed and even lead prayer he let the children even climb on him. Of course, he didn’t shut women away in a separate part of the mosque either. Surely splitting everyone up is contributing to the fragmentation of our ummah.

    • good points! I know the sign for no children brings mixed feelings! I understand the need for ‘peace’ in the masjid, but as a mother, I understand the need for a welcoming environment. I’m happy your son cooperates with you at the masjid :). My little ones are too little to cooperate and I know I would not be able to focus with them!

  6. Beautiful post! assalamalaikum Elmo indeed. I identify immensely with everything you’ve written here.

    I really dislike the “mothers and children” room — or banning children from the main sister’s area. It sets a precedent that a) fathers are incapable of taking their kids into the mosque and b) creates child and family unfriendly mosques. No wonder there is a generation of Muslims disconnected from their communities. When the Prophet himself (saw) had children climbing all over him while he lead. What a difference today.

    Thanks for introducing me to your blog — I’m glad I found it 🙂

    • I’m happy you could identify with this! I agree ~ there should be some sort of balance for children in the masjid, not sure what yet though. And for us as mothers to be attune to our children’s needs and when to bring them 🙂

      happy I found your blog too!

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