Mosque Etiquette


For most people going about their daily lives, whether it is going to work, school, university or anything else, we all have numerous pet hates that seem to just grind our nerves to a frazzle. Wherever we are, whatever situation we find ourselves in there are always people around you doing things that just seem to tap away at your patience for whatever unknown reason. Most of them are quite irrational and range from an assortment of random annoyances. Whether it be the two giggling schoolgirls on the bus having an animated discussion about Justin Beiber, or, the chav at the bus stop playing his dance music on loud through his mobile phone. Or perhaps it is the admittedly cute looking granny who is walking agonizingly slowly in front of you and despite your best efforts, you just cannot seem to overtake her. Your initial feelings of endearment for the elderly instantly turn into a seething wrath of fury for those slow walkers and you find yourself muttering away in annoyance. Perhaps it is the checkout girl at the supermarket who is painfully slow on a busy Saturday morning, or even the person who doesn’t hold the door open after them and it ends up in your face. The person who waits at the bus stop for ten minutes and finally gets on the bus, only to then sort through all their change and keep the bus waiting for another five minutes is a favourite of mine that always invites a fresh wave of irrational hatred. The person who washes their hands in public bathrooms and doesn’t dry them and as a result when you go to open the door, it’s a sloppy, wet hand for you is another common annoyance. As you can imagine the list goes on and on and everyone has particular favourites that seem to bug them more than anything else in the world. The simple little trials and tribulations of life always have the ability to entice a boiling haze of annoyance out of the most patient of people.

However, now that the holy month of Ramadan is upon us, it occurred to me that this is the month of extra prayers and fasting, helping people out and smiling so much more. It is a time to concentrate on good, happy thoughts as opposed to those negative annoyances that seem to creep in. I vowed that this month I would smile patiently at the elderly, and assume that the checkout girl was merely tired as opposed to incompetent. I vowed that this Ramadan would be a month of calm prayers and contemplation, instead of a rising tidal wave of irritation. However, and God forgive me for this, I seem to have failed miserably. I have since learnt that it is not the normal everyday things that are causing rising stress levels, but instead, the holy month of Ramadan seems to come with its own special set of exasperations and gripes. Now I am sure you are all thinking that it is only hunger causing such grievances, yet I find most of them occur after daylight hours at the local mosque.

During the blessed month of Ramadan mosques experience an increase in business. Some people go to break their fast with the local community while others just go for the nightly prayers (Taraweeh). It is a wonderful thing to see; everyone united together in the spirit of Ramadan, coming together night after night in one place. However, this spirit brings its own trials and tribulations that seem to wind people up, despite begging for patience in muttered whispers.

Having so many people come together in such confined spaces can be a tricky business, therefore I feel that there is very strict code of mosque etiquette that should be adhered to at all times. Unfortunately, it never is. For example, there is always that one person in the mosque who seems to hoard the samosas, not to eat them I might add, but to give to her six children who are already clutching a bag of crisps each. I realise I may sound like an awful person trying to take food off small children, but when you have been fasting for over twelve hours in the day, surely the kid (who is not fasting) can just eat the crisps instead of the one samosa that seems to be the answer to all your problems. Then there are always the elderly aunties that come in late every single day, and just as you are about to consume that first morsel of food, you have to get up to get them a pink, lace edged handkerchief, or some other irrational request that they always ask of the young. Again, I realise the reward in helping out our elders and I try to do it with good grace, but for the love of God would they just, for once, arrive five minutes before the Adhan (call to prayer) and I would willingly knit the handkerchief myself.

When Iftar (dinner) is finally over and you have attended to all the strange requests of the aunties, you finally settle into a quiet corner of the mosque to read some Quran before prayers. As you get comfortable and open the precious pages, there is always one aunty that comes and sits right next to you, or behind you, or in front of you, and starts reading her Quran in a loud whisper. I appreciate that she wants to read Quran as well and that’s great, but there is an entire first floor space she could potentially use, why right next to me? And whatever happened to reading in your head? It is not a whisper if I can hear it. So I sit trying to concentrate, but the aunty reciting at the top of her whisper is practically deafening and I cannot stand up and sit somewhere else, as it just seems too rude and I do not want to be the one to upset the aunty.

As the call to prayer goes, I assume that I will find some solace and comfort in prayers and finally be able to talk to my Lord. As the rows are formed and we stand comfortably in our lines, I raise my hands and start my prayers, taking a deep, calming breath, thinking finally, this is it. Just like clockwork, there is always one person who arrives late, and instead of joining the back row, squeezes herself into your row and you instantly go from comfortable and calm, to feeling like an angry sardine. Of course there is nothing you can do or say because the prayers have already started and you are supposed to be concentrating on God, but instead of achieving divine peace, you are now standing lopsided in the row because both your shoulders will not fit in, arms plastered to your side with your hands practically resting on your chin as they do not fit anywhere else and wondering how on earth you are going to be able to bow down to God without taking someone’s eye out.

As the Taraweeh prayers continue, you finally manage to achieve some modicum of comfort in your squashed state and start to relax. The admittedly beautiful recitation of the Imam (leader of the prayer) is washing over you and taking you to a calm place, when suddenly, you can no longer hear the dulcet tones of the Imam, but instead the hoarse whispering of an aged aunty three people down who is reciting along with the Imam, in an arguably less melodious manner. Your inner calm is shattered yet you desperately try to strain your ears back to the lyrical sounds of the Imam, but to no avail. Finally prayers are coming to a close and everyone raises their hands for the final Duaa. This is perhaps one of my favourite parts of Ramadan as everyone prayers together. It is always a very moving and emotional part of the night, and even the Imam can get chocked up at times. As we are all lifting our hands to the heavens to talk to God, I am swept away in the pleas and prayers of the united Muslims. Yet clearly it is not just me who finds this an emotional part of the night as once again, some aunty down the row starts crying as she is overcome with emotion. Now this would be ok if it were merely silent tears, slowly trickling down her face. Yet instead, it is a slow and steady wail that resembles a cat being tortured. Suddenly every woman in the sisters’ area is tense and hairs begin to rise on the back of necks. I almost have to stop myself from looking up and staring in shock and horror, until I remind myself that I am still actually praying. My beautiful thoughts of unity and my prayers to God for a happy and bountiful life are suddenly discarded and I find myself thinking instead, ‘Oh my God when will it end?’

My prayers this Ramadan will be expressing a sincere wish for everyone to have a wonderful month, but preferably, a quiet one. In hindsight it is all highly amusing and I am certain that these annoying aunties have the best of intentions in their hearts. But for once, I would like to pray without being almost knocked off my feet because someone has decided that the exact spot next to me is the most ideal one.

Salma El-Wardany