By Mahmoud Ahmad
27 July 2015
The recent proliferation of the news and the photograph of the four brothers playing baloot (a type of card game in Saudi Arabia) inside the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah during the last ten days of Ramadan evoked a flood of reaction. A passing pilgrim captured the brothers playing cards inside the mosque with his lens and made the act public. What the photo also showed was not only ignorance of the brothers but also the disrespect of the Prophet’s Mosque.
The fact that they were young and between 10-17 years old along with being contrite after the fact went a long way in them being let off after a scolding. During their brief detention they told police that they were not doing I’tikaaf, which is a practice consisting of a period of retreat in a mosque for a certain number of days in accordance with the believer's own wish. It is most common during the month of Ramadan, especially the last ten days. They were released after they promised not to repeat the offense again.
While the behind the scenes (the brothers’ detention and release) actions were playing out, the news and photo sparked instant outrage with many people calling for severe punishment for the young group. Yes, I agree, what they did was wrong and disrespectful, but are they the only ones disrespecting the Prophet’s Mosque? There are many locals and visitors who indirectly disrespect the Prophet’s Mosque out of ignorance.
Every year, I travel to Madinah in the last ten days of Ramadan and pray every day at the Prophet’s Mosque. I always notice that there are many violations committed by visitors, whether locals or from abroad. What we know for a fact that the government, represented by the municipality and officials from the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs, battle to curb the negative scenes they see around the two holy mosques. Such violations include street peddlers selling unknown products to visitors and fighting the menace of beggars, who most of the time take advantage of the good intentions of visitors to the two holy mosques. The government is doing their part every year, but what about us?
There are worshippers who are committing violations inside the Prophet’s Mosque that can be seen as a sign of disrespect, which, I think, might be committed out of ignorance. I will limit myself here to the Prophet’s Mosque because my observations arose as I prayed there during Ramadan.
I noticed last Ramadan, during the Taraweeh prayer, people taking advantage of space available on the roof of the Prophet’s Mosque to sleep there and snoring. Worshippers are supposed to take advantage of the last ten days of Ramadan for prayer and worship and not waste that time sleeping. I cannot understand a worshipper coming from a far off country just to sleep on the roof of the mosque. Many times I have seen heated arguments between worshippers and those who are sleeping reach an acrimonious level where they were accused of disrespecting the Prophet’s Mosque.
Another sign of disrespect of the mosque is people bringing their children to the Prophet’s Mosque and leaving them free to run and play and disturb other worshippers. This is a very common problem at the women’s section of the Prophet’s Mosque. People are distracted as children run between the lines of worshippers, shouting and making a gaggle of noise. They sometimes engage in little feuds with other children and throw shoes and water at each other. This happens with their parents standing in line with other worshippers and praying. Why can't they control their children? If they cannot then they should not bring them to the Prophet’s Mosque.
Another sign of disrespect is the numbers of people placing their shoes at the entrance instead of the designated places at the door entrances or inside the mosque. This endangers other worshipers of tripping if they are unaware or do not see the shoes. This happened in front of me more than once, especially with elders. Despite officials’ leaving instructions to worshippers not to pray at the entrance place and pathways, they tend to ignore these instructions and crowd at the entrance to the Prophet’s Mosque making it more difficult if not impossible for other worshippers to enter.
Then there are those who use the Prophet’s Mosque as a social gathering place where they talk loudly again disturbing other worshippers. During Taraweeh prayer, I used to see them sitting in large circles and discussing issues not related to Islam or Ramadan. What makes it even worse is that they talk loudly as if they are sitting in their living room in a total disrespect of the place and other worshippers. Despite the repeated calls to keep their voices down or leave the place, they just do not listen and continue in their merry ways.
The reason why I consider it disrespect is because worshippers know the negativity of such act and its impact on other worshippers. Yet they chose to do it. What is the point of coming to a place that a person does not have any respect for. The Prophet’s Mosque is a sacred place and precious to all Muslims. People come from all over the world to see an organized place where all these negative acts do not exist.
It is really sad when I see a foreign visitor giving advice to locals who simply refuse to obey the general public orders and adhere to acceptable behavior. It is sad when I see also a visitor coming from a far off country talking loudly inside the mosque with his cell phone or keeping a musical ringtone on his mobile and ignore the phone when it constantly keeps ringing. All it takes is for the person to call his nearest and dearest to tell them he will be worshipping for a certain amount of time and shut off his mobile. But many prefer to ignore doing this simple act that would amount to great gesture to other worshippers.
Respecting the place does not require any teaching but a true love and respect for the place. Guidelines should be put in place and all should be aware of it and practice it. We should not be in a situation to receive any guidance from authorities on how to behave inside the Prophet’s Mosque.