Ramadan, the holy month when “the angels descend therein by permission of their Lord”, and our munificent Creator blesses, forgives and unites in a communal sense of spiritual reference, is upon us.
And every Ramadan every year, for the last 14 centuries, has been celebrated by Muslims worldwide as a sacred time whose aesthetics never fail to transform, as by divine fiat, the believers’ spiritual mindset.
This year, Ramadan, a month that typically brings out all that is gregarious, festive and convivial in our community, finds us experiencing difficult times suffused with unreason, as we distance ourselves from one another, even in our houses of worship, and sit in solitary confinement in our homes.
Listening to a Quranic recital can induce in us a penetrative grasp of human being, enabling us to become custodians of God’s words, executants, as it were, of His felt meaning and intent
In short, our world is no longer habitable in quite the same way as it was before. A mastering intrusion, in the form of a homicidal virus, has taken hold of that world, recomposed it and inverted the quotidian affairs of its inhabitants.
A time of unreason, true, but perhaps also a time for meditative prayer, for what more exultant pursuit is there, this Ramadan in particular, than total self-abandonment, through prayer, to the Divine Presence, the immanence of God that permeates even the mundane in our lives?
Thus, I say, performing Taraweeh, whose aim is to instil Godly calm in us, is a route to that pursuit.
Taraweeh are of course the additional prayers we say during Ramadan, following the traditional evening prayers, in unison with others in a mosque or alone at home, that require us to read portions of the Quran in between Raka’as, the standing, bowing and prostrating in our prayer rituals.
Tradition demands that we read one-30th of the Holy Book on successive evenings till it had been recited in its entirety by the end of the blessed month (I don’t, incidentally, go along with the pedestrian translation of Taraweeh into English — ubiquitous in Arab commentary — as “rest and relaxation, opting instead for “serenity and repose”, clearly a term more akin to the spirit of the original.)
‘All together, at home’
And it matters not that Muslims this year are expected to shelter in place, isolated from their fellow-Muslims in a mosque, for we know we will be “all together, at home”.
Then, beyond the exhilaration we experience during Taraweeh, there is the rapture of listening to Quranic passages being recited on our recorders, or passages we know by heart that we recite to ourselves.
And here I will share this with you: Nothing in my life has ever moved me as much as listening to Quranic recitals, wherein our nostalgia for the absolutes of human nature are arbitrated — in verse and chant.
Look, a mesmerising performance by an actor interpreting Hamlet’s angst, a dancer interpreting Balanchine’s choreography and a violinist interpreting a Bach partita can, for a moment, move you to tears.
But listening to a Quranic recital can induce in us a penetrative grasp of human being, enabling us to become custodians of God’s words, executants, as it were, of His felt meaning and intent.
Mortals communicate with one another through common speech, through the accepted constraints of grammar, syntax, idiom, metaphor and other resources of verbalisation.
Such communication is, after all, the indispensable motor of social life. But when we communicate with God, we use His words, an act that always generates a shaping reciprocity between that which our heart knows and that which He, the All-Knowing, knows.
Moment of immediacy
At a time like this, alone within four walls in our homes, no spiritually inspiring companion can be as companionable as devotion in solitude.
And God, in his omniscience, is with us wherever we happen to be at any moment of immediacy — but no more so than during Ramadan.
Instead of toying with the evil that this murderous virus intends to unleash on us, by ignoring the isolationist rules that assure our survival, let us shelter in place and from there ask for His intercession to quash that evil once and for all.
At the end of the day, we are left with one option, which is this: We need to deal, the best way we can, with the curveballs life throws at us in the time of coronavirus, and wait till the curve had flattened and the beast tamed.
Meanwhile, in our prayers for God’s mercy in these turbulent times, let us not forget to put in a word for the world’s working poor, among them those hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers, hungry, miserable and destitute who are stranded without a way home.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.