KARACHI - Wearing a white traditional round cap and sitting on a rug, Hafiz Atif Latif is busy revising verses of the Noble Qur'an Quran to lead the Tarawih prayers during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
This will Inshaullah be my 8th consecutive Ramadan when I will be leading the Tarawih prayers, Latif, who has been leading the prayers at a small mosque in his neighborhood, told OnIslam.net.
The excitement (of leading Tarawih) has increased with every passing year.
Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, is set to start next month.
During the holy month, special evening prayers (Tarawih) are performed during which long portions of the Qur'an are recited.
Leading Tarawih means a lot to me and my colleagues, Hafiz Latif said.
It means that you are not reciting Qur'an for yourself but also on behalf of hundreds of those listening to the Qur'an standing behind you.
The Pakistani hafiz replaced his grandfather, who led Tarawih for over 30 years in the same Mosque.
Despite his excitement factor, Latif does not take it as an easy task.
He and his colleagues who too lead Tarawih in different mosques start revising the Noble Qur'an with the advent of Sha'ban in order to minimize the chances of mistakes.
This process is known as Daur (revision) in local language.
Daur can be conducted individually too, but in most cases, the Huffaz revise the Qur'an in groups in order to assist each other.
This is not at all an easy business, said Hafiz Yousaf Jatoi, who memorized the Qur'an along with hafiz Latif a decade ago and is going to lead Tarawih at another local mosque.
It needs a lot of confidence, and concentration.
That's why, with the beginning of Sha'ban, we all friends (Huffaz) get together here and revise the Qur'an so that we can maintain the pace and fluency in Tarawih.
The Qur'an is divided into equal parts called Juz for the purpose of reading sections of equal length during each of Ramadan nights.
Each part is read during Tarawih on successive evenings, so that by the end of the holy month the entire Qur'an has been completed.
Muslims - both men and women - attend the Tarawih prayers in the mosques after `Isha (the last evening prayer) to pray in congregation.
One may also perform the prayers individually at home, but praying in congregation is preferred.
The Tarawih prayers are voluntary, but are strongly recommended and widely practiced.
Muslim religious leaders say that confidence is the main factor required for a Hafiz to lead Tarawih.
Leading prayers at a congregation, where hundreds and in many cases thousands of people are standing behind you, needs confidence, Yousaf, who has become an experienced prayer leader remarked with a smile on his face, told OnIslam.net.
Most of the Huffaz are not diverted or mix up the verses because of poor memory but because of lack of confidence.
In most cases, a fresh Hafiz is not preferred to lead Tarawih as he may not handle the pressure of huge gatherings.
In initial years, he stands behind the Tarawih leader as a Sameh (to guide the leader in case of mistake) so that he develops confidence.
I stood behind my senior for three initial years, and when my teachers felt that I could handle the pressure then they promoted me to the Tarawih leader, Yousaf said.
Recalling his first year as a Tarawih leader, Yousaf said his legs were trembling when he led the first prayers seven years ago.
The feeling that everyone standing behind is all ears to you is enough to shake your confidence, he told OnIslam.net.
It's not like leading the ordinary (five-time) prayers because they are short and you can recite any verses from Qur'an.
But this is not the case here. You have to recite in an order, and the full Qur'an, he said, looking towards his smiling colleagues who seemed to enjoy the memories of those initial years.
Hafiz Latif too shares his experience of initial years.
You are not the only Hafiz there. Especially in my case, my grandfather who taught hundreds of Huffaz would stand behind me, he said.
He was such a tough teacher, and hardly gave credit to his students for their good memories, said Latif, who could not control his smile that spread on his bearded face.
You can imagine how easily your confidence can be shaken when such tough teachers stand behind you (in Tarawih).
However, with the passage of time and practice (Daur), you pick the confidence.
Muslims dedicate their time during the holy month to be closer to Allah through prayers, self-restraint and good deeds.
It is customary for Muslims to spend part of the days during Ramadan studying the Noble Qur'an.Many men perform i`tikaf (spiritual retreat), spending the last 10 days of the month exclusively in the mosque.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net