Abdul Rahman ibn Awf took his slippers out of his old closet. “It’s impossible to walk in this cold weather without slippers” he murmured. And impossible, it was. The sand as the night falls becomes so cold because of the crispy wind that one can’t go over a mile without risking a frost bite. His wives and kids were sleeping, so he started his lantern as softly as the lantern permitted him and stepped out of the house. He felt a sweetness in the air, it was the month of Ramadan, a month where the Muslim community–a community yet in its infancy–fasts from dawn to dusk. Ibn Awf loved to fast, he felt a spiritual connection with God, which he never felt–to such an extent–in any other type of religious ritual. There was a constant reminder that one day you have to be accountable to God for your each and every conduct. Ibn Awf was a foodie and it was hard for him to stay away from Food. It was in this hardness that he managed to find a soothing appeasement. Every single time he felt a force from his desire to give in and eat that tasty Madeira–a dish of fresh meat of goat and sheep cooked in milk serum–or trying the sweet Hayes–made from dates and Milk. And every single time he fought that force of desire, not because someone was watching, not out of a peer pressure, but only and purely because he made a pact with God that he will not eat from dawn to dusk. He always felt that doing this for 30 consecutive days improved his connection with God, and no other ritual achieved the same feat, this way. The month of Ramadan had the power to purge all the spiritual impurities and make you ready to live life at its spiritual best for the rest of the year. Whispering while feeling the verse of Qur’an “O You who believed, decreed upon you is fasting…so that you become conscious of God” he walked enjoying the cold weather to a house, reaching which, he knocked at the door.
As he reached the door, he placed his lantern aside, combed his hair and fixed his clothes, dusting off the desert sand from his silky robe. This was his favorite robe which he got as a gift from his friend and the first Caliph Abu Bakr. The Prophet had given him special permission to wear silk. “You are not one of those who makes it a symbol of status, Ya Abdul Rahman ibn Awf, you are not the man of arrogance but a man of Paradise.” He knocked the door twice, softly and waited patiently. After not hearing anything for a minute, he thought of knocking again. Right as he was about to, he felt someone opening the door. The bolt was undone and the door was opened. He saw a dawning figure of a tall old man, Ibn Awf looked up to him, raised his hand to his forehead and said in the most respectable manner as possible, “As salaamu Alaikum ya Umar Ibn Al-Khattab”
He saw Umar’s dense eyes, staring at him, like death. Umar replied, “Wa Alaikum as Salaam, Ibn Awf.” in his deep heavy voice, “Are you ready for our daily round?” continued the new Caliph. Ibn Awf always would get intimated by Umar, but then, so did everyone else. This was what people feared when he was appointed as the Caliph, that he will be too strict on his subjects. It was Abu Bakr who had assured that Umar’s high temper was only there to compensate Abu Bakr’s soft nature and in Abu Bakr’s absence it won’t be as such. Till now, confirming to what was said, he practiced restraining his temper very well. Ibn Awf always hoped that such restraint will never end. “Yes, I am Ya Umar Ibn Al-Khattab” he mumbled but loud enough that Umar could hear.
They started their long walk. Umar had the habit of going on such daily rounds across the city. He was very particular that in his new status as the Caliph of the now emerging Islamic Empire he doesn’t lose touch with reality. He hated relying on the reports and advice of others when it came down to understanding the problems of his people. Ibn Awf understood this very well and never tried to speak or explain any situation till he was asked to do so. While walking, he wondered what could be going in Umar’s mind. “Is he thinking about the the latest victory of Khalid Ibn Al-Walid?” he thought. Khalid had defeated the powerful Roman empire, Damascus had fallen and that ended the era of the mighty Byzantine-Roman empire. “An achievement, which was unthought of a few years back, he has to be thinking about this, he has to be happy about this, is he happy?” his mind was raging with such thoughts when they were silenced by Umar as he asked him. “Ibn Awf, do you know of this old woman carrying the bag of rice by herself in this cold weather?” Ibn Awf saw the old woman, whose back was slightly bent because of old Age and was slowly walking towards the stairs carrying her bag. He replied to Umar, “This is Safiya bint Mamiya, wife of Prophet’s cousin Fald Ibn Abbas.” As soon as he said that he saw Umar in tears. Ibn Awf remembered very well that Umar was quite close with Fadl till plague took him away, only Ibn Awf was aware of Umar’s pain when he heard the rumors that Fadl refused to give allegiance to Abu Bakr, the first Caliph. It made him sad and angry, he feared this small rumor could be given a different twist in the coming time. He wanted to get hold of every soul who was responsible for spreading such rumors and persecute them, but then, there were more important things to worry for now, for the current Caliph.
Umar approached Safiya and said in a voice so low that it won’t scare her but loud enough for her to hear, “Assalamu Alaikum Ya Safiya bint Mamiya” without stopping for a reply he continued, “Why is it that I see you carrying a bag of rice all by yourself, where are your kids, shouldn’t they be the one to carry it for you or at least help you.” “Wa Alaikum as Salaam, they are not here,” Safiya replied. “Where are your kids, and how come they leave you all by yourself to carry out the chores, how come they fail at the most important law of God, to do the best conduct with one’s parents, especially the mother, WHERE ARE THEY?” Umar echoed, with the voice wearing back the garb of the voice of the Second Caliph, the Emir of the Believers. “What your eyes see need not always be true, ya Umar bin Khattab.” Safiya continued, “My kids are very good with me, they are the coolness of my eyes in this old age, and I’m always thankful to God for that. Right now, it’s the month of Ramadan, and they are in the Masjid praying, I wanted to make some food for them so that they can have something before they sleep, hence I’m carrying this bag of rice by myself to surprise them with a good meal, else they never let me do any chore.” Umar understood the situation and then helped her with the bag. Ibn Awf wanted to help her but got stopped by Umar telling him, “It’s the Job of the Caliph to take care of his people, don’t dare stop me from doing things which I’ll be accountable for.” Ibn Awf froze.
Umar got back after helping the lady with the bag and asked Ibn Awf, “What are they still doing in the Masjid praying after Isha?” Ibn Awf had expected that he would ask him this. He said, “They are praying Taraweeh Ya Emir.” “Taraweeh? What is that?” Umar questioned with a look of an investigation covering his entire face. Ibn Awf replied, “it’s the night prayer which people pray after Isha if they are not able to get up on time for Tahajjud.” Ibn Awf noticed that Umar was still confused, he then added, “The prophet allowed it.” Umar turned around in the direction of Masjid and said, “Let’s go to the Masjid of the same Prophet and see what this Taraweeh is all about.
“Allahu Akbar…..Bismillah…Inallazina aamanu…….tabbat yadaa…Assalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullah………Allahu Akbar…Aameen” The Masjid was filled with random not so musical sound, people were praying in congregation, some by themselves, there were multiple congregations each trying their level best not to disturb each other and failing, the few praying by themselves, trying to compete as to see whose voice will manage to echo the most, then some praying at such a fast pace that it wasn’t clear for Ibn Awf if they were praying or doing a warm up before a fight. Ibn Awf noticed that Umar got enraged after seeing all this. He walked straight to the mimbar and sat there. Ibn Awf sat in front of him. After a while, his presence was duly noticed, everyone finished their prayer, it was understood that there was some sort of emergency or something else that Umar has taken the Mimbar and he is about to declare something. Everyone finished their prayer and joined Ibn Awf and got ready to hear Umar.
“O My People,” Umar started, “You are the companions of the Prophet, you are the community selected by God, to serve as an evidence of His existence in this world. What is it that you are doing praying Night prayer at this time?” Ibn Awf gave a secret glance in the prayer hall, there was silence like death, no one can just start arguing with the Caliph, and especially if the Caliph is the Emir Umar bin Khattab. But, as Umar said, these were the companions of the Prophet and in these companions was Abu Dhar Al-Ghifari. Ibn Awf always thought very highly of him, and why will he not, Abu Dhar was a serious man with a tremendous knowledge of the religion and prophetic sayings. His temper was very close to that of the Caliph himself and he was known for his harsh critique of anyone and everyone. Ibn Awf still remembers the prophet’s saying about Abu Dhar very clearly. “May Allah have mercy upon Abu Dharr! Lonely will he live, lonely will he die and lonely will he be resurrected.” The lonely life–especially after the death of his sons–was quite evident.
The fearless Abu Dharr then spoke. ” Ya Emir of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, the Successor of the great Caliph Abu Bakr, the one who was given the title of Al-Farooq by the Prophet, are you trying to stop something which the Prophet allowed? God Forbid, did my ears hear right?” Ibn Awf was well aware of Abu Dharr’s speaking style, he knew that the time is set for a good debate between Abu Dharr and Umar, everyone were all ears, everyone wanted to hear Umar’s reply. Umar looked at Abu Dharr, gave a soft smile and said, “My brother Abu Dharr, who am I to stop what Prophet allowed. But Tell me, my brother,” Umar continued, “Isn’t the night prayer where one gets the time to be free with all his worldly duties and talk with Allah, ask forgiveness from Allah, ask him for Strength and Patience in the difficult task he faces in this world?” Abu Dharr still had a confused look on his face, So Umar used another argument, “Isn’t Prophet the best of men?” The entire gathering said in one loud voice, “Aye!” “Isn’t he the best example for us?” Said Umar, the gathering again said, “Aye!” “Don’t we all know that he never prayed the Night prayer at this time?” Just before one could hear another holler Abu Dharr Spoke, “That’s beside the point Ya Umar. You, I and everyone here know that Prophet allowed us to pray the Night Prayer right after Isha.” He continued, “Why then you stop us?” Umar was wise enough to understand that no one can beat Abu Dharr in a theological debate, one could notice a sense of anger emerging out of Umar’s forehead. Ibn Awf understood the situation and to relax things down he asked Abu Dharr to sit. Umar then continued, “My people, if you want to pray the prayer at this time, then it’s fine. I will not stop you, Abu Dharr is right, when Prophet has allowed, I can’t stop. Let me make this one recommendation and I leave it to you if you want to accept it or not” Umar pointed to Ubai bin Kaab to get up. Once he did, Umar said, “Ubai has a beautiful voice and God be my witness, his recitation of Qur’an soothes my ears and my heart. Let Ubai lead you all in this prayer, let’s appoint one time for it and pray in congregation because God be my witness Praying in Congregation is more rewarding than praying alone.” Abu Dharr was convinced and so was everyone else, the conclusion was reached that from the next day this prayer will be prayed in congregation and Ubai will be leading it. Umar got up, said his Salaam and walked out of the mosque with Ibn Awf. While on their way back home, Ibn Awf asked, “Ya Umar bin Khattab, isn’t it Bidah to start a prayer in the congregation which the Prophet himself didn’t start?” Ibn Awf wasn’t theologically gifted as others and it was clear that this thing has got him confused. Umar smiled at him and said, “I shall explain this to you tomorrow and on another subject, do you know how are we doing at the Byzantine front.” “What do you expect ya Emir, Abu Bakr had sent Khalid bin Walid after Al-Jarrah’s request and they are meeting the same fate which was met by Sassanid empire.” Ibn Awf continued with a sense of excitement verily visible in his eyes, “There is a reason why Khalid was called the Sword of Allah by our beloved Prophet, it’s because he is undefeatable and I believe and so does the armies that follow him, that the sword can never fall and till Khalid is with us no army can stop us.” Ibn Awf’s voice had reached an unusual higher pitch of enthusiasm in praise of Khalid and Umar was noticing it. After Ibn Awf cooled down, Umar asked him, “Can you gather the report from Al Jarrah on what’s happening and let me know by tomorrow?” “I shall ya Umar bin Khattab, Salaamu Alaikum,” said Ibn Awf and left Umar at his door to go back to his home and prepare for what was ordered, still at the same time, confused with the question.
Knock! Knock! It was another day and it was Ibn Awf again at the door of Umar. Umar came out and gave his Salaam. Ibn Awf, with an unusual smirky smile, asked, “Do we start our walk with the Masjid today?” Umar looked at him, wrapped his shawl around and said, “Yes, Let’s go to the Masjid.” When they entered the Masjid they saw a different look compared to yesterday. Everyone was still praying but there was a beauty in the ambiance. A system is always better than chaos, even in religion. This reality left Ibn Awf in awe. The confusion which he had seems to have cleared, the melodious voice of Ubai, the echo of Aamen at the end of Fatiha by the entire Jamath in coherence left him in tears, he was able to observe tears in the eyes of Abu Dharr as well. It was clear that this change by Umar was definitely a good one. Umar then looked at Ibn Awf and said, “Ya Ibn Awf tell me, isn’t this a good Bidah?” Ibn Awf couldn’t bear to speak a word and break the trance like ambiance which was created, he just nodded in confirmation. As both walked their way out of the Masjid, Umar had a rather grim look on his face, Ibn Awf observed this and asked him what was the matter. To this, Umar replied, shaking his head, “I understand how people are running to Masjid to pray this Taraweeh prayer, and I see that this is also affecting them spiritually, but I tell you ya Ibn Awf, the real prayer is the Tahajjud it’s the time of whispers and supplications, it’s the time where Heaven and earth, the sun and the moon and the stars, every single thing is at peace, where everyone is sleeping, even Iblis himself, the only thing awake is your Lord and yourself, and when you stand in the silvery shadow of the stars you can feel as if Allah has opened the doors of the heavens for you. It’s because of this serene and sedate nature of the time that I feel this is best of the prayer and that’s why Allah has specifically fixed this time as the prayer of the righteous and this which they are missing is far far better than what they are choosing to pray.
Ibn Awf was moved with what Umar just said, he was still complicating when his thought was disturbed by Umar again. “I read the report you gave me about Khalid, at Fajr. Let’s go to my room and write a letter addressed to our army at Byzantine.” Ibn Awf asked, “Indeed I will, what will be the subject of this letter Ya Umar bin Khattab.” What Ibn Awf heard back shocked him to his core, he couldn’t believe his ears, and even though he was sure that what he heard was correct, he reconfirmed with Umar, “Fire Khalid bin Walid as the commander?” Umar looked at him unmoved, and said, “Yes!”