Celebrating Ramadan in Morocco
By Mari Solano
When I celebrated my first Ramadan as a Muslim here in the United States, my husband was happy to celebrate with me. However, he was suffering from homesickness and bouts of nostalgia at the same time. “It’s not the same here,” he said, “It’s not like back home.” He missed the huge gatherings of family and friends to break the fast of iftar. He also missed the visits for tea long after all the taraweeh prayers were completed late at night.
On most nights, prayers seem abrupt and promptly finish before 10 pm in the U.S. But perhaps the most distressing of all was the special night of Lailat-ul Qadr. He had gotten off work late that evening, but assured me that the mosque would be open all night for the chance to pray until fajr the next morning to get the maximum baraka. After breaking his fast with mint tea, bread and cheese, he changed clothing, and then we left to join the nightly prayers. Imagine our surprise when the masjid was closed at 10pm! His face was crest-fallen, his disappointment mixed with confusion. “Tonight is special. We need to all pray together in case tonight is the night! It’s just not the same here!” We returned home, just the two of us, to pray until the first light of fajr.
Fast forward three Ramadans later. A medical emergency called us to the side of my father-in-law just outside the city of Casablanca, Morocco. Alhamdulilllah. God blessed us with a long but safe trip to my husband’s family home to do what we could to help. Knowing that we were on our way to see him, my father-in-law followed the doctor’s instructions to finish his medication and stay off his feet. Perhaps the most important factor of his unexpected recovery was that he knew we would have the opportunity to celebrate the last ten nights of the holy month of Ramadan together as a family. My husband assured me that I would now know what it is was like to really celebrate Ramadan.
We arrived late around midnight. Brutal flooding for the last 27 hours had ravaged the town while we were still en route to Morocco. The town was now silent and empty. What was usually a short 30 minute trip from the airport stretched to 3 1/2 hours because we were forced to drive through rocky country roads. Roads to and from the airport were closed. Huge palm trees were scattered by the roadside, pushed aside by enormous tractors, along with huge piles of mud, sand, and debris. Alhamdulillah, my in-law’s home was safe, built on high ground above the train station, far from the riverbeds and the sea’s edge. However, it was a sobering sight to see haphazard plastic tents strung up to give shelter to those less fortunate who had lost all their possessions during the rainstorms and subsequent floods. My husband and I looked out the window silently at the devastation. When we arrived at baba and mama’s house, we washed and prayed two additional raka’s of thanksgiving for keeping his family safe.
One of the first things that you notice in a Muslim country is the adhan, which calls you to prayer no matter where you are. The silence of the night is broken by the beautiful call to prayer. It is striking to hear. The sound of adhan and the sight of lights coming from other houses was a wonderful reminder of how blessed it is to be there, a part of the worldwide ummah.
During the day, the adhan would call out to us wherever we went. Even the television, a mundane reminder of profane times serves to call the faithful to prayer. During Ramadan, the Arabic stations stop their regular programming, and TV screens change to display a Qur’anic verse and a recording of the adhan is played. Even commercials are stopped to acknowledge due obedience to God.
Time passes quickly, and the most spectacular of nights, Lailat ul-Qadr – “the Night of Power” – arrives. My husband, his younger sister, Youssra, and I hurriedly broke our fast that night in order to attend maghrib prayers down the hill at the neighborhood masjid. As we approach, we could see people literally spilling out onto the steps of the masjid onto the street. My husband told Youssra and I that he would return after maghrib so we could go to Casablanca, an enormous city with hundreds of masjids. Surely we would find a place there.
After maghrib, we hopped into the little Fiat pickup and made our way into Casablanca. Most of the roads had been cleared, and the trip was much easier than when we first arrived. It was a starry night, clear and crisp, the shadows of palm trees waving in the gentle breeze. Before my eyes was the astonishing sight of thousands upon thousands of people praying in front of, outside of, and on the sides of the jam-packed mosques, struggling to find enough dry space to lay down their prayer mats to pray.
This vision touched my heart. Even the thought of it brings tears to my eyes almost a year later. Mosque after mosque, it was the same. Loudspeakers filled the night air with praises of God, imploring Him to have mercy on us, and thanking Him for His graciousness. And thousands of my brothers and sisters in Islam would bow then prostrate before Him with thanks and praise.
In Surah Ul-Qadr of the Qur’an, Allah (swt) says:
“Verily We have sent this in the Night of Power.
And what will convey to you what the Night of Power is?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
The angels and the spirit descend in it, by permission of their Lord,
For everything that matters. It is Peace. This until the rise of daybreak.”
The brisk night air would cool us, raka after raka. After some people left, others would take their place. Time seemed to stop. When Youssra and I looked behind us, we saw that we were no longer at the back of the crowd; we were now in the center. Those who came after us were kneeling on newspapers, which are used as a barrier between prayers rugs from home and the sandy mud from the previous rains.
I felt overwhelmed by the sight of all of us praying in unison as one body, one ummah. When the imam’s voice broke with emotion near the end of the special prayers, tears streamed from my face uncontrollably. Then all too soon, we heard the beginning of the Fajr prayer, signaling the end of Lailat-ul-Qadr.
A pervasive sense of peacefulness fills the crowd. After the imam says “Assalaam alaikum wa rahmatullah” to complete the prayers and the night vigil, you are filled with an overwhelming sense of joy. You also realize that this will be a night that you will always remember.