Shadia: 'Taraweh' is Muslims' opera

The other night I struggled to come up with a simple way to describe the magnitude of "taraweh" — the extra prayers performed nightly during Ramadan.

And then an enigmatic Muslim poet I know compared it — perfectly — to opera.

There's standing in place in awe of the eloquence of God's words and their melody. There's simultaneous bowing. There's kneeling and prostrating in unison. There's dramatic begging, hands raised toward the sky. There are trembling voices, tears.

There are no instruments, but who needs them? The mesmerizing words of the recitation of the Koran is music enough.

Taraweh is said to wash the sins of those who perform it. It is based on one of the Prophet Muhammad's traditions during Ramadan. And it takes place at every mosque after "Isha," the last of the daily prayers.

Taraweh is not mandatory. One Ramadan, the prophet held taraweh for the first couple of nights and then didn't show up the next. When people later inquired about his absence, he said he didn't attend out of fear that his followers would believe it mandatory.

Unlike the usual five daily prayers, which take only a few minutes, taraweh lasts at least an hour, sometimes two or more.

There's usually a break in the middle, where the imam gives a three- to five-minute talk. There are also fundraising efforts during the break, either for the mosque's operation or to fund its charity programs.

One would think it's unbearable to do it for just a night, let alone 30. But there are those who never miss a beat.

Taraweh is what gets me to the mosque, and without it, Ramadan wouldn't be the same.

I only started attending taraweh about two Ramadans ago, and I don't remember exactly why, but I can barely imagine Ramadan without it now.

If my schedule allowed, I would do it every single night, but I wouldn't attend even a free opera show for 30 nights in a row.

Mosques go through rigorous preparation for taraweh, from ensuring daily security to providing extra parking and baby-sitting.

Reciting the Koran is at the heart of taraweh. Mosques usually recite the entire book during the 30 nights.

And for the imams, taraweh showcases their talents and abilities to recite the Koran. Some of the best reciters are flown across seas to recite the Koran during taraweh.

There's an art to reciting the Koran called tajweed, and learning it takes years. Its melody is inspiring, moving and like nothing else you've heard, even if you don't understand a single word.

It brings grown men to tears and to their knees.

Praying taraweh brings me immense joy and inner peace.

I choke up when Imam Mohammed Ibn Faqih's voice trembles as he recites the Koran during taraweh at my mosque, the Islamic Institute of Orange County in Anaheim.

And when he is clearly overcome with the power of the words, I feel as though my body is shrinking, humble before God.

I come from a culture stereotyped for its cold, chauvinistic men. But times like taraweh are when their true nature is revealed.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for Times Community News. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.

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