Эльмира Ляпина

Страна : Чехия

Люблю делиться историями.

 

Country : Czechia

I like to share the stories.

Отрывок из малой прозы “Memories of Czech Ramadan”

 

“Ramadan Kareem, sister! Please take these chocolates and share it among women”, – I hear the man’s voice from the open door and see a man’s hand holding a box of chocolates. I am taking the box and putting it on the table, to the other sweets, that Muslim women brought for this holiday celebration after the Ramadan fasting. 

“Who brought this box of chocolate?”- asks me Pakistani girl with beautiful white-red headscarf, golden piercing in the nose, at the same time sharing with me some pancake with cinnamon and nuts, she adds – “try this, I cooked it yesterday, but today it tastes even better!”

“Well, I don’t know who brought the chocolate… I did not see his face”, – I answer and share some Tatar sweets, we cooked together with my sister. 

“Try this tea,”- shares the cup one of the Czech girls in a purple abaia, – “it will help you with the thirst after all-day fasting, there are mint and cardamon”.

At the table are sitting women of different age, appearances, and origin, they are chatting and sharing the recipes and experience during the fasting days in Ramadan. Young Czech girl in a red scarf winking to her Russian neighbor in blue hijab and they burst into laughing. I instinctively check the direction where they looked at. A child, with pink cheeks and black curls, was sitting on the floor, licking the candies and then sharing them with his little friends, children of 3-5 years old. 

Although a little messy atmosphere of laughter, talks, congratulations “Ramadan Kareem” or “Happy Ramadan”, unanswered questions and unfinished jokes surrounded us, women, in a small room with a long table, it was still bringing a feeling of calmness, and even happiness. 

“… and where are you from? I haven’t seen you here during iftars,” – approaches to me one of the Muslim sisters starting conversation in English. Before this question I heard her speaking fluent Czech with other woman, and her appearance made me wonder, what is her origin. As I learned later, she was half Czech half Egyptian. 

“Well, I was not visiting mosques, I preferred to stay home these days, because of the work, and the pandemic times, you know,”- I started answering, and the girls next to us joined the conversation. 

“Yes, me too, I stayed home, it’s quite dangerous, especially when you have kids…”- agreed one of them.

“… but for me it was otherwise better to visit Masjid.  Whenever I felt that the fasting time was harsh for me, immediately after work I was going to this prayer house. The fasting time consumed all my energy, and it was great to feel morally supported by other sisters,”- shared her experience a girl in a white scarf from Ukraine. Her neighbor, a girl from Turkey, in a long yellow dress laughed:

“Well, I am even more dedicated than you are! Ha-ha! I took my books here, and I was studying my discipline and Quran, here! I was going home only to sleep!” 

The conversation went far away from the first topic, and my role changed again – from a respondent to an observer. I was listening to the stories of the women, how they spent these days of fasting, what they cooked and how they were afraid that they will not be able to visit prayer house because of “corona”. I was listening and getting more surprised. Where are those oppressed women, I heard so much recently from all the TV channels? 

 

These Muslim women are studying and working, most of them are very educated. Even the fasting time did not stop them from their daily activities. They were doing their routine during the daytime and coming for Maghrib (sunset prayer) and iftar time (dinner time) to the prayer house. Some of them even stayed for two more prayers: Isha (night prayer) and Tarawih (special night prayer during the Ramadan fasting). Some women were staying even during the whole day, studying in the small classroom, and reading the Quran. 

In our home city I am used to spend my religious part of life at home. We, females of the house, were used to wait at home our males from the mosque. At the time of Ramadan, we were used to wake up very early, and once men were going to the mosque, we were cleaning the home (though it was already clean), preparing home for the visits of guests, cooking various meals for Ramadan holiday. And we were starting to celebrate the Eid only when the men were returning from the prayer. 

Listening to the Muslim sisters in Prague in a small room I was silently getting surprised when they were sharing how they missed mosque during the pandemic, and how they had a strong feeling to visit these premises. I have never had a feeling that I need to go to the mosque. Before I moved to Prague, the only believers I was used to see in mosque’ female rooms in our city – it was mostly the older generation. 

I remember once I was sitting listening khutba (Muslim sermon) during Jumma prayer, and around me were sitting far cousins of my grandparents and their friends. I remember I couldn’t hold back a laugh when Imam talked about importance of nikah (religious marriage) before the civil marriage. I was in my teenage years that time, and it seemed to me ridiculous to teach these prudent old ladies how not to follow the immersive feelings of love, but the words of reason. I quietly tried to peep the facial expression of my neighbors, who already had several great grandchildren. I looked to the right and one of the grannies in a lace scarf winked at me. I immediately lost courage and returned to my position of a careful listener tilting my head even lower. After the preaching I asked this lady of why she thinks Imam started this strange topic to bring up in front of …ghm.. ghm… not-likely-to-marry-soon people. She smiled at me, and answered that first, it was a reminder to share the knowledge with younger generation. “You know, we have grandchildren to give them right direction, and not the least – you are here. You are the one to acquire this information, although you might not think it was for you” … Of course, before saying this, the woman remembered all my family members and asked how they have been. Unfortunately, my memory was not enough to remember her family members…

 

In Prague my first visit to the mosque was with my Uzbek course-mates. Together we were studying Czech language. Once they heard I am Muslim they introduced me to the course Muslim community – students from Arabic countries and post-Soviet republics, and on the nearest Friday they took me to the mosque on Cerny Most. For a while it was an only mosque in Prague, where were the most people gathering. Well, to be honest, there is no mosque in Prague as you would image it: with long tower, minaret, from where usually you will hear the voice of Imam inviting people to the prayer by singing azan. 

You will not find minaret in the whole Czech Republic, excluding maybe the historical castle of 19th century of Luxemburg’s in Lednice, which however does not fulfill its religious purpose, rather it is an exotic oriental element of the architectural beauty. 

However, there are number of Islamic community centers serving as mosque, but in fact being a houses or rooms for prayers, in the Czech Republic, mostly in Prague and other bigger cities. In Prague there are even different styles of prayers, division between so-called Arab and Turkish mosques. These centers however are not only about prayers, but they also run educational and even charitable activities.

This holiday after Ramadan fasting, we were in the prayer house in one of Prague’s districts, in one of Islamic centers. It is a two-floor house with separate entrance – for men and women. On the floors are carpets with oriental patterns and on the walls are pictures with an intricate calligraphy with dua’s, or prayers, and names of God. Next to the wall are shelves with many different books, of course one and the most common book there is a holy book for Muslims – Quran. 

 

I remember once we had a conversation with one Russian Muslim girl. It was the first time for me, when I met a person who converted to Islam, not was born in Islam, as me. She was wearing light-colored hijab, and it came to me a big surprise when she started conversation in Russian and introduced herself as Maria. I asked her, why did she become a Muslim? She answered to me: “That was the wish of Allah”. I was not satisfied with the answer, and after my insistent almost interrogation she told me the whole story, from which all her interest in Islam started. 

Once Maria was visiting one of her girlfriends, before going to the party. She found herself alone in her friend’s room and she started to check the bookshelf. She had an unbearable feeling to touch one of the books with golden calligraphy on it… It lasted almost the eternity, she said, as her hand was trying to reach the book. Once she touched it and suddenly, she felt something like electrical discharge. She got scared and abruptly withdrew her hand from the book. After this evening she couldn’t stop thinking about this incident. She shared the story with her not so religious friend, and the friend with laughing explained: “Probably you were not clean enough.” Several days the girl spent in studying about Islam. On the next visit to her friend’s house, she came prepared: she made “ghusl” – purified her full body in accordance with religion and covered her body in appropriate way. That time this was for her not that much about religion, it was a challenge. She wanted to try to touch Quran again, to see the explanation of the mysterious feeling that she experienced before. She asked her friend to leave a room, and bravely, although fully frightened inside, she took Quran from the bookshelf. She screwed up her eyes and stop breathing. Once she opened the eyes, she realized that she has a book in her hand. It was a translation of Quran to Russian, but with original quotes in Arabic. The girl was about to put it back victoriously, but instead she opened a book and started reading it. She didn’t know how much time passed, when her friend entered the room, and asked her: “Why are you crying?”. Maria was not ready to talk, her mouth answered for herself: “I just found all the answers for the questions I have been looking for all my life!” Maria finished her story with the words, that it was a day when her life changed. 

After her story I was wondering whether the electrical discharge she felt was reasoned by the mystery, or it was just poorly done house wiring in her friend’s house. Then I got into conclusion, that by this or another means it was a holy intention, it brought her to more conscious life, she found what she was looking for. Anyways, this her story influenced me a lot. Now, every time when I look at Quran and its translations to world languages, I always remember this story, not the least it reminds me to purify and pay attention to my thoughts. 

 

I was looking at one of the Qurans on the shelf, when someone suddenly hugged me: “Happy Ramadan, sister!” I looked at the girl with green scarf, she was smiling at me and putting something to my hand. 

“Oh! No-no-no! what’s that? You mixed me with someone…” – still far away from reality I started defending from this sudden, although friendly and hugging, but attack.

“I just said Happy Ramadan, and I want to give you a present! Every year I buy present to my Muslim sisters for Ramadan. Don’t worry, the present is useful, I’m buying something that I would use myself!” – she laughed at my reaction.

“Oh, I thought you were giving it to some particular person! We don’t know each other!”

“So, what? Let me introduce myself, I am Katka,” – without ani qualms about my hesitation she continued.

“Nice to meet you! Then let me share with you some of the presents, that we brought here with my sister!”

We shared the presents, but also the stories, and Katka told me, that it is her tenth Ramadan, since she is a Muslim. 

“And… how long are you a Muslim?”- I started my “interrogation”.

“Ten years! Ha-ha!”, – and she began with her story.

I was listening to her carefully, and then I realized one common thing among all these stories I heard before. People, in their adult years, are looking for something, what will give them orientation in their life, what will bring them calmness and stable reasoning. So, Katka herself found the answers for the life questions she had before Islam. That doesn’t mean that the life became less problematic. The old struggles were supplemented with new struggles. The old fears shaped into new ones. However, the new direction gave a better understanding, provided inner calmness, and guided with strong moral values, giving a person a feeling of coexistence, a feeling of self-necessity, a reason and a sense of being a part of this life. 

 

The celebration of the end of the fasting month is happening on the second floor in a classroom, next to the prayer room. Same way as the Iftars were holding during the Ramadan month. In this quite small room, there are several tables put together, and on the desk are the Arabic words with Czech and English translations. In this room is also a bookshelf, and on it there are Qurans with translations into Czech, English, German, Russian and Turkish. In the corner there are several toys. Couple of kids are quietly playing with each other, running from time to time around the rooms. 

The men are downstairs. They have their own space and own entrance. Since the kitchen is on the first floor, the men are bringing the food to the women to the second floor.

As it is common for the Muslims around the globe, the iftar in Mosque is always organized by someone. Once it is financed by the Sheikh and the mosque itself, or some Muslims, so the products are bought and cooked in the mosque’ kitchen. The other time some restaurant of Muslim owner is cooking and providing halal food. Additionally, someone could bring something, as women usually cook some sweets and share it among each other or giving to the men’s floor. After iftar and last tarawih prayer, volunteers from men and women clean and wash the dishes.

 

In the morning at 8 started the holiday prayer. Thank God, despite our preparation and food cooking we were on time!

The Imam started the prayer, or as we are used to say in our family – namaz. Suddenly it got very quiet. Even toddlers, which previously jumped and run around, suddenly sat in the corner, astonished by the beauty of the sound and majestic ritual. We, female of different ages, stood in the lines and started praying. Those, who couldn’t stay, the older ones or the ones with disabilities, they had prepared chairs to sit during the namaz.

“Bismillahi-r-Rahmani-r-Rahim” – “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful” – says Imam and starts recital of Fatiha, the first surah of Quran. He finishes it with long “Ameen”.

Suddenly all women around, some is whispering, some is singing in the same level of loudness, in one breath they pronounce “Ameen”.

A little curly boy on the left of us starts to jump while sitting and whisper “Ameen, ameen, ameen”. I feel that my neighbor is truly struggling not to laugh. 

It is hard not to pay attention to the cute and funny spontaneity of children, but the prayer is not just to stay, listen and make some moves. It is about pure intention, serenity, concentration. The one who needs a prayer is a praying one. The prayer does not begin with words, it begins with Niyyah, or inner intention to pray. I bring up the thoughts together and concentrate on the prayer.

Imam continues with another surah. It is a short one. We say “Allahu Akbar”, the God is the Greatest, and bow from the waist. We say our words, praises to God, straighten our backs and the round with surahs continues one more time. The second time we already kneel and prostrate with the forehead and hands. This is the time when everything fully disappears, I even stop hearing the breath of my neighbors. Tears drop from my eyes: “Oh, Lord! We belong to You, and we will return to You! You show me the reasons of all actions, but it doesn’t make me less sad. You show me the right path, but through the sins I realize my closeness to You. Without fear we will not understand safety, without illness, we will not value our health, without loss, we will not realize how rich we are. Thank You for sharing with me all these wisdoms and forgive me for what have I done and what will I do. Lead me by the right path.” I whisper this while pronouncing other words of prayer. 

We end the prayer with the words “Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullah”, “Peace and mercy of Allah be upon you All”, turning our head to the right and to the left. I stay longer to make dua’s, asking help of God to give the strength to go through problems, to give a health to the family, and to give a peace and serenity to those, who passed away. 

I finish and see that many others are continuing with additional prayers. Many of women have tears in their half-closed eyes. I look at this live picture of moving shapes of various bright colors, of relentless in their fun kids, and suddenly I realize the new feeling of lightness of being that fills my mind and body.

I wait for my sister to finish her namaz, and after the prayer we congratulate each other, our Muslim sisters, present gifts, and finally start sharing the meal, trying different delicious things. Children happily play, run around, stopping from time to time to ask how much money who got, and what present they received, some children just fell asleep, while their mothers were chatting with each other.

 

Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday after the fasting Ramadan, or to be clearer the preparation for the holiday, started for me and my sister the day before: we went shopping and bought gifts and products for the feast. The night before holiday we spent cooking our traditional Tatar dishes: “chak-chak”, “kosh tele”, different “bialesh’es”, or the big pies, with dry apricots, with lemons, with cheese, and smaller pies in a triangle form – “ochpochmaks” – with chicken and potatoes, pumpkin, or mushrooms. 

As later I realized the table in this small room in a prayer house was full of international food: besides Tatar pastries, which we brought, the eye was catching variety of dishes from Czech pancakes “livance“ to Russian salads “Olivie” and cake “Napoleon”, from Arabic cookies “Ka’ak” and “Maamul” to Chechen flapjacks “Chepalgash”, from Egyptian “Mahshi” to Lebanese “Katayef” and its Pakistani versions, from Mediterranean hummus to English pie.

“Which should I try?”- asks me Seda, a Turkish student with bright colorful headscarf

“Try chak-chak, it is pastry with nuts and honey, it might remind you of Turkish baklava, but not that sweet,”- I recommend her our food, curious about her reaction. 

“Well, I miss our baklava, especially today,” – she says, cutting a piece of the sweet and putting it on her plate.

“Why especially today?”

“I miss my family… In Turkey, in my childhood, we had traditions, children received many sweets, especially baklava or kadaif on Ramadan. Relatives and neighbors were coming, and we were exchanging gifts. And younger generations were always visiting the elderly people. We were visiting our grandma, grandpa, aunties, uncles etc. But nowadays, these traditions are not as bright as it was before. I remember, how we were children, knocking the door of the neighbors and asking for candies and sweets”,- she started suddenly loudly laughing, then continued –“and children received not just candies, but also coins, money, or some other gifts, special toys for Eid. And we, as children, as a matter of thankfulness were kissing their hands…”

 

I share my childhood memories, which were basically cooking and eating, and we laugh. Finally, I have a possibility to talk to this Czech-Egyptian woman, who came to the prayer house with all her family. 

“Finally, after food we can introduce to each other! Please tell me about yourself, how come you speak so fluent Czech?”- I asked first, full of curiosity.

“Oh, it is simple, my mother is Czech, and father is Egyptian. All my life I spend in two countries – in Egypt and the Czech Republic. It happens so sometimes we, with family, celebrate Ramadan here, in Prague, or in Egypt.”

“And how different is celebration here and in Egypt? I feel that in Prague the Muslim community is so international, that there is no clear tradition about Eid celebration. In comparison to my state, Russia, in Prague mosques families are coming together – along with husband come wife and children. In my city men are going to the mosque…”

“Oh, it is quite similar to Egypt, in the morning Eid prayer you will see especially men, but it does not mean, that women are not coming. Mostly older women are going to the Ramadan prayer, and usually younger female generation are at home, they prepare house for celebration, guests, cooking food, the feast… The children are also often taken to the mosque…”

“By far it sounds like in my city…”

“… it should be common! After the prayer men are visiting relatives and acquaintances to congratulate them, to wish them all the best… and it happens that they don’t have possibility even to sit! They only enter the house, congratulate, get some sweet stuff, and then go further, to the next house, but always standing! … and of course, walking… hah…”

“It must take the whole day!”

“Just half of the day: around 11 am they come to their house, they eat together prepared by their female family members food, but then the celebration continues in the other houses! And women are caring about the feast, decoration, and garnishing, and so on… as probably everywhere. But here it is also beautiful, that people, male, female, children, are coming to the mosque during Ramadan fasting, for Iftar, for common dinner. There the mosque has a little of different character. Here, in Czech Republic, people don’t spend so much time for the food preparation. Here they spend more time to worship Allah, while in Egypt women have more work to do, although they of course also visit the mosque and coming to the night prayer Tarawih. Women there have more house things to do, to prepare, cook and then clean afterwards, and the last 10 days of the fasting they prepare as much food as they can for the Eid, for the holiday. So, they physically don’t have much time to worship Allah as the women in the Czech Republic. However here, in Prague, I miss a little of so could commune approach. In Egypt Ramadan is beautiful also because of the common spirit. People are putting the long carpet on the street, and each of the neighbors will bring its food, the plates, and everyone, any stranger, anyone passing by, can sit and eat. It is a community event!”

Listening her last sentences, I was imagining these hot streets, dusty roads between the houses with flat roofs, which filled with the symphony of flavors of beans, garlic, onion, tomatoes, and vanilla increasing with the sunset. I imagined how the calm sounds of Azan from the nearest minarets were piercing into the empty before this time streets, how men and women in the clean clothes were stopping all their things, how they were heading to the mosque, silently chatting. I almost heard how the boys within temptation of tasty dinner were briskly calling out their friends with their thin voices, while the girls were putting aside their books and exchanging glances with their siblings.  In front of my eyes was the picture of a long-long cloth compiled with several long carpets on the floor, which were starting from one house with colorful traditional lantern, fanous, in a trianglish shape, up to the last house in this street with fanous, but in a roundish shape. I almost saw an older grumpy old man was giving suggestions how to put these carpets together, so none of them will break the strict line. I almost heard his wife giving him recommendation to leave the kids alone and to prepare for the prayer and iftar, while serving first plates with dates and salt on the street table. I almost felt an enjoyment after first sip of water, the joy of the souls after first food bite, the happiness and relax which comes to the starving and thirsty person with the water and food. I almost participated the chatting with the neighbors and praising to the hands of those who prepared the dishes… indeed the community event! 

In my home city in Russia are not many Muslims, even less are religious Muslims. Most of us are – living centuries in this Volga region Tatars, some immigrants from other parts of Russia, as Chechens, Dagestani, or even different countries – Kazakh, Azerbaijani people. In our dusty street of one- or two-floor houses are several Muslim families – older generations of Tatars and new generations of Chechen families. We are used to celebrate the religious holidays at home, inviting relatives and neighbors, even Russian Christian families usually congratulate us, the same way as we congratulate them on their Christian holidays. However, the tradition of street celebration, street feast, even in our small town in a small street, seemed to me as something fairy.

If Eid meals vary worldwide, Eid rituals across the global Muslim community are quite similar, starting with prayers, followed by relatives and neighbors coming together. Treating children in a special way – giving more presents, but also, not the least thing is sharing with less fortunate ones. The food, money, necessary things are collected, as many can name as “Ramadan basket” or some box in the mosque, which later are delivered to the poor and needy families. 

 

The celebration of holiday in Prague finishes with cleaning the dishes. We stay with sister as volunteers to clean up and wash the dishes. Some Muslim-sisters vacuum clean the carpets in the neighbor rooms on the second  – the female floor. We hear the same flump from the first floor – men are following similar steps.

We go downstairs with sister, bringing the dirty plates to the kitchen. Some brothers-in-Islam are caring big dirty pots, and in the kitchen some of men are already washing something. 

Between the kitchen shelves is ducking the woman with red cheeks and sweaty forehead, she smiles at us and shows the direction to the dirty plates’ labyrinth. We, nodding back to her, continue our job of volunteers – cleaning, washing, and chatting with the “coworkers”. After couple of hours the work is done. The kitchen is clean. The consciousness is satisfied. 

We got out of the kitchen and realized that we with sister were left alone in the prayer house. The celebration of Ramadan in Prague continued already in some bigger café with entertainment for children. But we decided to go home – to continue our celebration with our closer family. 

Passing the groups of Muslims by the car, I remembered our conversation with women, since a lot of women, including myself, were not wearing hijab or scarves outside of the mosque. The reason is various life experiences – some, who wear hijab publicly, have positive experience, acceptance by the society, and other – not so much. Some feel safe wearing scarves, the others – feel safe not showing their religious belonging openly. Some had experienced attacks, verbal and even physical, some are regularly the objects of the hate speech towards women in headscarves, and they don’t feel comfortable to making it a routine. 

These thoughts darkened my light mood. I couldn’t stop thinking why can’t we, human beings, live in peace, and how is it possible we are still hostile towards each other, though our world’s perception is a little different? Sadness changed by melancholy, and then by resentment. Should be responded on each offence?

Suddenly the words of Omar Khayyam came to my mind “As far as you can avoid it, do not give grief to anyone. Never inflict your rage on another. If you hope for eternal rest, feel the pain yourself; but don’t hurt others.”

The ringing gets me out from my thoughts. I am looking for my telephone in the purse. Among other things I find a box of chocolates, which I forget to put on the festive table. I get out from the car and give it to the crying boy “Ramadan Kareem!”. The child takes the chocolates, smiles at me and then turns to his father: “Baba! The box got bigger!”

 

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