In an effort to make this review relevant to this time of the year, this version of the review column will be about an affair customary with Muslims practising the obligatory fasts: Iftaar and Tarawee at the Islamic Society of Markham Masjid.
It’s the only Masjid I have been to this year where I have prayed Iftaar and Tarawee. ISM is located at the intersection of Denison Street and Middlefield Road in the town of Markham. The surrounding area and neighbourhood has slowly become populated by the families of first generation South Asian Muslims.
The Masjid was built on a 2 -acre land plot to accommodate the needs of the surrounding Muslim community in their religious, social and recreational affairs. A unique trait of this Masjid that I have not yet come across at any other Masjid is that it holds two jamaats during Tarawee namaaz: one for the regular 27-30 day Tarawee, and one for a 10-day shortened Tarawee experience.
While helping a family friend shift into a house in the area, I gladly accepted an invitation to attend the iftaar at this mosque. He advised me to arrive a bit early and be prepared (with my wudhu, appetite and all!) for the procession of the Iftaar because, at times, the Masjid has been known to go beyond feeding capacity!
Alhumdulillah, I arrived just in the nick of time for the adhaan and there were still many spots left in the hall. The Masjid has two great big halls used for jamaat at praying times; but the coordinators utilize only one during Iftaari. A dinner area was created on the floor by way of neatly arranged plastic table cloths and disposable plates and cutlery. The plates were already set with a single date, some pakoras (vegetables and gram flour batter, deep fried), and fruit. Surrounding the plates all were gratuitous amounts of rice dishes, various curries, and jugs of mango juice. My experience at other Masjids has been that once the fast is broken with the appetizers, the salaat is performed. Only then does the congregation actually eat a full dinner till satiated.
The Imam(s) at ISM give opportune time to eat after the azaan is given. And before the iqamaah is performed (the final call for salaat); there are at least ten to fifteen minutes allotted for filling up with food. Following Maghrib salaat you may eat a bit more, or swiftly aid in the cleanup process. I imagine that all of the same is done in the sisters’ section of the Masjid, located upstairs. This has been one of the more impressive efforts I have seen put towards Iftaar at a Masjid; with complete coordination of volunteers, donators and Imams.
As aforementioned, Tarawee is performed a little differently at ISM; with two separate jamaats conducting prayers at the same time, but taking separate strides at the recitations from the Quran. There is a regular, 30 days Tarawee (or 27 days) that is held in a hall separate from the slightly more sped up 10-day Tarawee. This 10-day Tarawee can go on for a longer period of time in the context of that day. There are signs posted on the doors, granting entry to appropriate prayer halls.
But before you even get into the Masjid, assuming you are driving, there is the issue of parking. You will have to come fairly early to obtain a parking spot on the premises. Or else, you can park in the street or in the nearby neighbourhood. Parking at many Masjids tends to be cumbersome and frustrating especially in Ramadan; this eventually forces many Imams to make PSAs during salaat on proper parking etiquette. All announcements and lectures are done mainly in English and Urdu to cater to the crowd in attendance. This Masjid in particular gets a really strong turnout on a daily basis during Ramadan, and ISM largely avoids parking problems with the aid of volunteers and distinct parking quarters that are blocked off once regular capacity has been reached.
As I was entering the Masjid, I spotted several young males playing basketball at the back of the building on the playground shared between the parking lot and trash disposal area. In this way, ISM maintains some space for children. But the parenting and supervision principle at ISM remains identical to most Masjids: if you bring your children with you for salaat it is your responsibility to keep an eye on them.
The prayer halls can get jam-packed and remain that way at least until the congregation gets through the first 8 rakaat of prayer. For my tardiness, I had to pay the price by having to pray outside of the main hall; close to where the shoes are racked. Allotting separate praying spaces for the two sets of Tarawees means having less space for the regular paced Tarawee. Meanwhile, apprehension amongst the congregation about the more intense 10-day Tarawee jamaat leaves this hall fairly vacant.
I had joined the 30-day Tarawee jamaat and I didn’t stay for the entire 20 rakaat this time, but I’ve been told that a short buyan is given following the Witr namaaz, pertaining to the chapter of the Quran recited that night.
What struck me at the end of the night was how large the hall looked while so many of us were seated for Iftaar just hours before; yet how much smaller and more intimate it became when it was time for salaat. This slight change of routine in attending Tarawee salaat at another Masjid introduced me to a new experience I didn’t know existed in a community so close to me.
Please note: while many of us are blessed to have food to eat at home, this is an opportune time for many less fortunate Muslims to eat a full meal before they give thanks for the night. So please think about these people and donate generously to your local Masjids during Ramadan.