Written by Juber Ahmed | 12th May 2020
I was only 21 when I first experienced a Taraweeh abroad. It was a memory that’ll live with me for as long as I live.
The year was 2013. I decided to pack the year up by completing my university exams, booking flights to Marrakech and heading over to Morocco for the Ramadan period. More specifically, I was heading over for the last 10 days/nights of Ramadan which are recorded through Prophetic traditions to be highly significant in Islam.
Tickets were booked. Accommodation was booked. Transfers were booked. Clothes were packed.
My flight day arrived and I made my way to the airport. Although I had a somewhat unpleasant experience in the notorious Ryanair plane, my stress and tension seemed to fade away once we had landed in the beautiful red city of Marrakech Anyone who’s been to Marrakech will know that whilst your landing, you see a vast area of red buildings. It looks profound! Almost all buildings in Marrakech have flat roofs unlike the roofs of England which are triangular shaped.
It had only been three and a half hours since we departed from the UK and here we were faced with a completely different environment, architecture, peoples, culture and most importantly weather. It fascinates me every time as to how contrasting things get and how everything transforms into a dessert type atmosphere once you arrive into Marrakech airport, after only a 3-4 hour flight.
Exiting the plane, I was immediately hit with heat of the place. It’s worth noting that we had arrived into Marrakech in the summer month of July, so it was hot! It’s like opening the oven when you’re half way through baking! But, none of this effected us as we were super-thrilled to be in this fascinating, chaotic, historic and happening city!
We immediately made our way to our apartment and checked in. The night was fast approaching and we decided to pack it in by praying Isha and Taraweeh in our apartment.
We were fortunately here for the final ten nights of Ramadan, so we were looking forward to getting out after a long day of fasting the next day, and heading towards the prominent Kutubiyya Mosque. Built in the 12th century by the Almohad Dynasty, it has a 70 meters high minaret. Not only does it have one of the tallest minarets in the world, it is also the largest Mosque in Marrakech.
So what about the history of the Mosque you may ask? Well, legend tells us that this Mosque is called Kutubiyya (meaning books) as over 100 booksellers would gather and trade here back in the day. Today this is no longer the case. However, visitors will witness men attempting to make a living by selling things like trinklets, prayer beads, perfume, Quran copies, and CDs which hold the recording of the recitation of the Imam of Kutubiyya Mosque. Visitors come here, spend the day walking around admiring the architecture and retreating to the shade of the orange trees in the evening.
With the arrival of Ramadan, the atmosphere of the Mosque transforms into something sublime and divine as men, women and children gather for night prayers known as Taraweeh. Having fasted all day, upon breaking their fast at sunset, Muslims make their way towards this celebrated Mosque in order to stand shoulder to shoulder to listen to the beautiful recitation of the Holy Qur’an. Imam Wadi Chakir, who is the primary Imam leading the prayers throughout Ramadan, inspires and stimulates everyone in the evening with his unique rhythm and melodious voice. Such is the beauty of his voice that it attracts non-Muslim visitors to the Mosque. As the famous tourist spot Djemma El-Fenaa is opposite the Kutubiyya Mosque, tourists can be seen racing over to the courtyard of the Mosque to figure out ‘what’s going on’ whilst the Imam’s voice is played through multiple speakers in the courtyard; loud enough to hear from a distance. The city is almost shaken spiritually and no matter who you are or where you’re coming from, a stop to appreciate the melodious recitation of the Qur’an is what makes one’s evening.
Whilst we were there for the final ten nights, the one night I remember specifically was the 27th night of Ramadan. The odd nights (21, 23rd, 25th, 27th, 29th) of the month of Ramadan hold a very significant position in Islam as the Qur’an and Hadith (Prophetic Traditions) tell us that one of these odd nights could be Laytul Qadr. In English this means The Night of Decree and the Qur’an sums up the significance of this night profoundly: “Indeed, We sent the Qur’an down during the Night of Decree. And what can make you know what is the Night of Decree? The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months. The angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter. Peace it is until the emergence of dawn. [97:1-5]
Knowing that there’d be congestion and a large stream of people attending for prayers on this night, we decided to set off early. Alhamdulillah we made it on time and found spaces to stand for the night prayers. It was warm, humid and I was thirsty. But, the scene made me forget all that as we entered the courtyard of the Mosque and began our prayers. The place was packed and we had to stand extremely close to one another to make space for those still arriving. It was a surreal experience as the Imam commenced and a light breeze passed through the many rows of people. Whilst the hustle and bustle of Djemma El Fenaa could usually be heard from the courtyard of the Mosque, today the noise seemed to be drowned out by the recitation of Imam Wadi Chakir. He recited ever so melodiously taking those listening through a journey. When he arrived at verses of glad tidings, he would raise his voice in such a way that those listening would feel positive and a sense of merriment. However, when he arrived at verses of warnings, his voice would turn deep and incite a sense of someone warning. I saw men crying, sobbing, raising their hands and pleading to Allah to answer their prayers. At one point throughout the prayers, some non-Muslim visitors would come and enquire about the situation. After answering their questions and observing, they would enquire as to how they could become Muslim. This happened consistently through the final ten nights of Ramadan. The Imam must have facilitated the conversion of at least 10 non-Muslims.
The situation was tense. This was one of my first few experiences of Taraweeh abroad and I loved it. The Imam made a lengthy prayer toward the end which brought everyone around me to tears. Despite the heat, I could feel occasional swift breezes of air.
To read the Holy Qur’an is one thing. To listen to it from an exceptional reciter is something else. It’s quite remarkable that a book that is to be read can also sound so inspiring, refreshing and encouraging when recited. I cannot think of a single book that exists that can have this effect on a human being. I end with a profound verse on listening to the Qur’an and the effects it has on those listening.
“The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts become fearful, and when His verses are recited to them, it increases them in faith; and upon their Lord they rely” [8:2]