CAIRO – 3 June 2017: Many jobs become more difficult in Ramadan, but the job of an Imam is particularly demanding during the holy month; they even have their own ailments.
Many Muslims seek to improve their relationship with God in Ramadan; hence an Imam’s responsibility to give worshipers the “dose of faith” for which they come, but he should also add a “dose of religious knowledge,” sheikh Ahmed Farag told Egypt Today at al-Hosary Mosque in 6 October City.
“When they recognize God, they will love Him more,” Farag said. He wishes that the number of worshipers at the mosques would remain the same after Ramadan.
“But, if you deal with reality, it will not happen. Souls are ready for Ramadan more than any other time,” he said, adding that Imams urge people to sustain the Ramadan spirit as much as they can through the year.”
2 – Sheikh Ahmed Farag sitting at al-Hosary Mosque in 6 October City – Hanan Fayed
Pressure is “extraordinary”
The biggest task in Ramadan would be religious lessons; a lesson after Fajr and Asr prayers and another one during Tarawih prayers, which last for one-two hours after Isha prayer.
He recites at least a juz (one of Quran’s 30 parts) in Tarawih so he finishes the entire holy book by the 26th or the 27th of the month. An imam knows the Quran by heart, usually since childhood, and can recite the entire book. He revises some of the Quran every single day, so Ramadan does not represent a serious test to his memorization.
But nobody is immune to mistakes. In one Ramadan, he flawlessly recited the Quran until the 14th day of Ramadan in a large mosque in Cairo’s Amiriya district. Then, a worshiper approached him and asked if he “makes no mistakes.”
As is easy to expect, Farag made two mistakes that night. When an Imam makes the slightest mistake during recitation, an aide in the first row corrects him, and the Imam recites the verse again.
Farag used to go to the hospital and to a traditional spice dealer (attar) after the first five or six days of Ramadan. The reason being is that his throat hurts from all the recitation during Tarawih and Tahajud, as well as from delivering lessons.
The attar would give him a mix of chamomile, fennel, and anise to treat his throat, which he said tasted very bad. Meanwhile, the doctor would give him antibiotics, and in two days his throat would be functioning normally again.
The last time he went to a doctor during Ramadan was at Hussein Hospital, which was close to the mosque where he led prayers. The doctor recognized him from the year before and told him he would not give him anything that year. He advised him to ignore the pain and it would go away in a few days, as his throat is just not used to the extra effort.
3 – Sheikh Ahmed Farag on the Imam’s chair at Hosary Mosque in 6 October City – Hanan Fayed
An Imam’s food, sleep, family
In Ramadan, Farag sleeps from 7 a.m. until the Zuhr prayer in midday, and if he was too tired, then he sleeps again from 10:30 p.m. until 12:30 p.m. at the mosque.
He only eats his main meal after Tarawih prayers, and after Maghreb, he only eats dates and drinks juice. If he ate his main meal after Maghreb, he will not be able to recite Quran in Tarawih. He has his Iftar and sohour at the mosque, unless his home is close to the designated mosque, then he eats with his family.
Tahajud prayer is what Farag looks forward to the most, as it is where he finds “tranquility, calmness and serenity,” and he does not even feel the fatigue of standing up for a long time to lead the prayer.
During Tarawih, it is crowded to the extent that people may pray outside the mosque. But during Tahajud, it is only crowded during the odd-numbered nights of the last 10 days of Ramadan, as it believed that Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Decree) lies in one of those nights. The first verses of Quran were revealed to Prophet Mohamed during Lailat al-Qadr, and Muslims believe that God’s mercy is abundant during the holy night, so they intensify their supplications and ask for forgiveness.
His family understands his business and absence in Ramadan because this is the nature of his job, and it is just one month a year, Farag said. His wife supports him by giving him warm fluids and cutting cold drinks from his diet.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Endowments gives an Imam LE 300 extra ($16.5) in Ramadan, and holds a competition by the end of Ramadan where winners are granted LE 500 each. Imams are assessed according to how well they recited and whether they made mistakes during the recitation.
Two workers at the mosque requested a picture with Sheikh Ahmed Farag – Hanan Fayed
End of politicized supplications?
The Friday sermon requires the effort of reciting five juz of Quran, because it needs a high volume, according to Farag.
Since 2014, the Endowments Ministry unified the subject of the Friday sermon at all mosques. Farag said that makes no difference in Ramadan, because the ministry picks the same topics an imam would pick in Ramadan; that is the rules of praying, fasting, seclusion in the mosque, and charity.
An Imam also makes du’a (supplication) during Tarawih and the Friday sermon, for example, that God forgives worshippers’ sins and maintains welfare in Muslim lands.
After the 2011 revolution, some Imams politicized their du’a. As the Endowments Ministry tries to keep mosques away from politics and radicalization, Imams now do not have much liberty to make biased du’a.
“No one disagrees that people in Syria and Iraq are going through hard times. If [an Imam] wants to direct the du’a the way he wishes, he can. If he wants to tackle disputed issues, then it is for a [purpose he hides] inside, but if he wants to make du’a for people, no one will ask him why,” Farag said.
“But if he makes du’a against a certain person, then he puts himself in that situation. It is pointless in my opinion. They do it for fame, more than anything else,” Farag added.