A delighted chatter permeates the room, occasionally an effusive call of â€œAssalamu-alaikum,â€ or â€œAlhamdulillah,â€ rises above the general murmur as two sisters greet each other for the first time. The setting is the Qiyam-ul-Layl program, organized by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) sisters-wingâ€™s Chicago-land unit.
The majority of the participants are the regular attendees of a Quran Tafseer Class, also organized by the ICNA sisters. The class takes place in the morning after fajr prayer in a conference call room, throughout the year it takes place every Saturday and focuses on select Surahs but during Ramadan it becomes a daily occurrence so as to complete the reading of the entire Quran, in English translation, within the blessed month. This is the third year that it is taking place and, where it started as a local meeting involving sisters from the Chicago metropolitan area, it has now grown to include sisters from various states including Michigan, Florida, Maryland, and North Carolina and even from as far as Bahrain. There is diversity not only of location but also of background, there are revert Muslimahs and born Muslimahs who hail from various different nations. Many are of African American or South Asian background but there are also sisters from the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, and the Philippines.
Every morning, the sisters take turns reading a few of the ayahs punctuated by brief explanations and insights into the Surahs by Huma Murad and Amina Jaffer-Mohsin, the two moderators. Roll is called every class by the ever reliable Amidah Burton, to acknowledge the nearly forty participants. Through sharing their love for the Quran and Allah, the attendees have come to know and love each other as well. One sister, Afsheen Khan summed up the shared sentiments of many participant in commenting that though she had physically attended similar classes before â€œ…this was special because of meeting so many sisters and [feeling such] spirituality.â€ Sister Shahina Begg who has been a regular attendee for all three years continued in a similar vein when she commented that she felt blessed in being introduced to the class because it â€œbrought me closer to Islam and my sisters,â€ she added that though she initially only met her fellow participant on phone she felt compelled to â€œkeep in touch throughout my life and inshallah stay spiritually connected.â€
It was in hopes of fostering this bond, and to reap the most benefits from the blessed odd nights of the last third of Ramadan, that the Qiyam-ul-Layl event was organized. The class participants are given a chance to meet face to face, some sisters travelling from out-of-town to take advantage of the opportunity, and share a night of spirituality and sisterhood. As sister Jameela Karim explained, â€œThe Qiyam-ul-Layl is the glue of the class, and having the program helps us put it all together. Seeing the people you hear every morning, you are fully connected.â€ Many sisters said they felt it created something akin to family ties.
The program allowed the sisters to share food and each otherâ€™s company, but also to join together for congregational prayers of Taraweeh and Tahajjud, and group discussions on spirituality and remembrance of God. Revert sisters, who constituted a majority among the nearly fifty attendees, shared stories of their early struggles with their families in the way of Islam, while their companions reminded the group that the greatest struggle took place within and that we all had our own hurdles to overcome. One of the greatest examples of triumph that the sisters witnessed at the Qiyam-ul-Layl was in meeting sisters Habiba Castulo and Hina Altaf, both legally blind from birth, who regularly attend the class and diligently read the Qurâ€™an in Braille.
Jamila Yusuf commented to great agreement how she was â€œinspired by Habiba and Hinaâ€™s dedication to the Quran.â€ It was one of many instances where the sisters felt their faith had been strengthened by their fellow Muslimahs.
Though initiated as a rather humble project in hopes of sharing the knowledge of Godâ€™s word, the Quran Tafseer Class has grown into something unique and transcendent. It is difficult for any of the participants to explain exactly why this class, among so many similar ones, feels special. Moderator Huma Murad has a theory that it is due to its timing, the Prophet (s) spoke many times on the blessings of reading Quran after fajr. The greatest factor in its success, however, is the dedication and enthusiasm of its members. Newcomer Vonzella Matin called being introduced to it the â€œbest gift I could have been given,â€ by sister Amidah, but she and her fellow participants have, with the help of Allah, given this gift to each other many times over.