A Week In The Life Of An Imam Navigating A Zoom Ramadan During Covid-19

April 28, 2020

“A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.


Today’s subject is Imam Nojeem Jimoh. He tells us how he’s navigating Ramadan using technology in this special time.

Zoom Ramadan Covid-19

THURSDAY:

I wake up by 4:15 am today. I pray two rakats and make dua until it’s time for fajr. In the past, I would have left the house ten minutes to the time for fajr to lead congregational prayers in the masjid, but that’s no longer possible. We are in special times. By Saturday, it will be one month since we last gathered for congregational prayers at the masjid. But we have no choice.

Everyone has had to adapt to the new change. Even the madrasa. There are now online classes for the children. Their Arabic teacher recites and records the surah he wants the children to memorize and he sends it to them via Whatsapp. Then, they recite and record and send it back to him and he makes corrections. Arabic classes are now held over Zoom calls. One hour session where everyone recites along and tasks are monitored. It doesn’t replicate the madrasa perfectly but it at least ensures that time is not wasted during this period. You cannot escape Alfa because Alfa is online monitoring your task and progress.

So, instead of going to the mosque to lead prayers, I lead my family in prayers. In the past, I would have had my bath and prepared for my 9-5 after fajr. I am not a full-time imam. I have a job that I report to during the week. My job is classified as essential services so that means I still have to go in during this period. However, I don’t have to go in as early as I used to. This means that I have some leeway to do one or two things.

I am a morning person and I am not used to going back to sleep after waking up. So, I find a way to pass time before leaving for work. 

FRIDAY:

If ever we can say something good came out from this period, it is becoming internet savvy. Especially among my own congregation. I have encouraged everyone to actively download Zoom and the response has been encouraging. This is because it seems like this is going to be a Zoom Ramadan. Why I am grateful for Zoom is that it still gives people the communal feeling even though we are all apart. This is especially important because of people who are struggling with their iman during this period. We all struggle with iman normally and that’s why we all need to keep in touch with each other.

Today, after work, I am going to address my congregation on Whatsapp concerning Ramadan. We have a general Whatsapp group where we send important messages. I have informed them that it’s going to be for 90 minutes, and I have asked for their cooperation. 

My message to them is simple: this virus is real and deadly. We have been tasked by the Sharia to obey Allah and the people who have authority over us. The Sharia also tasks all Muslims with the preservation of life. The people in authority over us have enforced rules to ensure the preservation of life. Therefore, by obeying these rules, we are preserving life and following Sharia. It is important that regardless of how unusual things are, everyone follows instructions.

Everyone should pray Taraweeh in their homes with their family. Islam is not stressing anyone.

After the address, I look forward to enjoying a quiet Iftar with my family. Me, my wife, the children, feasting on a delicious meal of ogi and moi moi.

SATURDAY:

I wake up with a slight cough today. Normally, I would reach for water but I don’t, because I am fasting. It is one of those things. 

Being an imam like any other thing comes with its own “challenges”. I have had a member of my congregation call me by 1 am to just “come to their house immediately” without telling me the nature of the emergency. Bearing in mind that I still had to go to work later that day, I had no choice but to rush down.

Other times, I have had parents bring children to me suffering from depression and anxiety issues. It has been my job to walk the fine line between offering them spiritual comfort based on the Sunnah and also making sure that the child receives the appropriate modern medical treatment. That is, encouraging them to go see the appropriate specialist as the case may require.

In some cases, it has also been myself. Contrary to popular belief, Imams too get low iman. The only advantage we have is the knowledge of the scripture with relevant examples of past prophets who have experienced something similar. Reading these stories and seeing similarities helps shake off the feeling and bounce back. Coupled with the fact that I have to constantly remind myself that leaders are meant to lead by example. These two factors help to always make sure that I am not down for too long. It’s also the same scripture by which I motivate myself that I use to help members of my congregation that come seeking help. It becomes easier to help them when you can relate.

I am going to spend the rest of the day joining Zoom calls. I plan to listen to the lectures that I would have normally attended if I wasn’t staying at home.

SUNDAY:

In the masjid, we have an army of Alfas. During Ramadan when we have an increased number of prayers, we rotate who leads the prayers. So, someone leads Ishai, another person leads Taraweeh, another person leads shafi and witr. While another person recites a Juz of the Quran. This division of labour makes it easier for everybody.

I am the only man in my house. It’s just me, my wife and two daughters. As an imam, even though we no longer gather, it is still my job to encourage members of my congregation over the phone to pray in their own homes. Also, because I am the only man in my house, I am quite literally the imam. So, it means that in addition to leading my congregation virtually, I also have to lead my home. I have found out in the last few days that being the one to lead all these prayers can be exhausting. 

Today, after praying shafi and witr, I am quite exhausted. This is the first Ramadan I have had to do without being able to delegate. Even if it’s Ishai. Also, what makes it exhausting is that we try to recite half of a Juz at home. For one person leading all of this, it can be tiring. But may Allah make it easy. 

My favourite meal — rice and stew — is what we have for iftar but it is a struggle to keep my eyes open. After the meal, I go to bed sufficiently exhausted.

MONDAY:

Today, I have had time to think over some things. It is now clearer to me why congregational prayers are important.

As an imam, the last few days made me realise what energy comes from having a crowd praying behind you. The way I feel exhausted after praying taraweeh in the last few days made me realise this.

I told my wife that in the masjid, I wouldn’t have felt exhausted so soon in Ramadan. It is clear to me that the crowd behind is part of the energizer that makes things easier. 

When I am leading taraweeh and I know that there are 100 – 150 people behind me, the knowledge of that keeps pushing me. Also, there are people to rotate the responsibilities with. However, in this case, we are only four at home praying. I have found out that the energizer is missing and that’s why I feel tired easily.

Zoom has been really helpful with keeping in touch and communal feeling, but you can’t pray via Zoom. I am looking forward to things going back to normal. I miss my congregation, I miss the energy they give me. That energy has never been more important than during this Ramadan.


Glossary:

Imam – The person who leads prayers in a mosque.

Rakat – Single unit of Islamic prayer.

Dua – Literally meaning invocation, is an act of supplication. The term is derived from an Arabic word meaning to ‘call out’ or to ‘summon’, and Muslims regard this as a profound act of worship.

Fajr – The Fajr prayer is the first of the five daily prayers (salah) performed daily by practicing Muslims. 

Masjid – Mosque.

Madrasa – A school for Islamic instruction.

Alfa – Islamic scholar.

Iman – Faith.

Sharia – Islamic canonical law based on the teachings of the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet (Hadith and Sunna), prescribing both religious and secular duties and sometimes retributive penalties for lawbreaking. 

Taraweeh – Additional ritual prayers performed by Muslims at night after the Isha prayer during the holy month of Ramadan. It involves reading one Juz’ (Arabic: جُزْءْ, i.e a section of the Quran 1/30 its length, which generally takes somewhere between 20-60 minutes), and from 8 to 10 cycles of Raka’ah, lasting well over an hour in total.

Iftar – The meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan.

Juz – A juzʼ is one of thirty parts of varying lengths into which the Quran is divided. It takes 30 – 60 minutes to finish reciting one.

Ishai – This is the night-time daily prayer performed by practicing Muslims.


Check back every Tuesday by 9 am for more “A Week In The Life Of” goodness, and if you would like to be featured or you know anyone who fits the profile, don’t hesitate to reach out. Reach out to me: hassan@bigcabal.com if you want to be featured on this series.

Hassan Yahaya

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