The following is an excerpt from the book And Then I Gave Up: Essays About Faith and Spiritual Crisis in Islam by Umm Zakiyyah:
My little brother loved strawberries. Whenever my father would come home with a cardboard box full of fruit, the sweet scent would seep through the slots on the side, and my little brother would come running. His chubby legs moved him swiftly up the stairs and landed him first to the dining room table, where my father would be setting down the box.
“Daddy, can I have some strawberries?” my little brother would ask eagerly, eyeing the box with widening eyes as my father removed the lid.
My father would smile and rub my brother’s head, saying, “After we pray.”
Though only five years old, my brother would hurry to prepare for prayer and wait impatiently for the rest of the family to come to the living room to join him.
But prayer was not so urgent when there were no strawberries in the house…
That Ramadan, my parents decided to encourage my little brother to pray Tarawih—the night prayer—with the family, but he always had an excuse…or he was just too tired. Then one evening my father said to him, “If you pray with us, you can have strawberries when we finish.”
That did it. My little brother stood in line alongside his older brothers, and we heard not a single peep from him until we turned our heads to the left, signaling the end of prayer. But before we could even complete the movement, my little brother was already asking our father, “Daddy, can I have strawberries now?”
Each night of Ramadan passed like this until my little brother said early one night before the time for Tarawih came, “Daddy, will we be praying the strawberry prayers tonight?”
His reference to Tarawih as the “strawberry prayers” drew light chuckles out of my mother and father and suppressed giggles from me and my siblings.
As we entered the last days of Ramadan, my little brother was often the first one ready for Tarawih, and he’d always eagerly ask, “Are we going to pray the strawberry prayers tonight?”
Though it was the cutest thing to see the eagerness on his face to get those strawberries after prayer, I was often left wondering what would happen when there were no strawberries to offer…
Then one night there were no strawberries in the house, and my brother knew this. I worried that he wouldn’t pray with us though of course our parents wouldn’t compel him to. But shortly after the family prayed ‘Ishaa, the last of the five obligatory prayers, my brother entered the living room. To our surprise, he asked with all sincerity and eagerness, “Daddy, are we going to pray the strawberry prayers tonight?”
My father’s expression was one of pleasant surprise as he realized that my brother had come to love the Tarawih prayer, with or without strawberries. My father smiled and said, “Yes, we will.”
After we finished prayer, I stole a look at my little brother, and there was a look of satisfaction on his face. This warmed my heart…
The Sweetness of Prayer
It has been more than twenty years since my little brother began praying Tarawih on his own, but till today I think of that Ramadan; and I can’t help smiling as I think of the “strawberry prayers.” But what stays with me is far deeper than the warmth I had in my heart for the memories.
Today, I am grateful that Allah allowed me to witness the love of prayer blossom in a child’s heart. And as a parent, I understand the deep lesson my parents were passing on to my brother—and to all of us.
In order to instill in children’s hearts the love of what Allah loves, we ourselves must love what Allah loves…and we should communicate this love with something “sweet” that children will always associate with beloved acts like prayer and fasting.
No, this love need not be communicated with strawberries after every prayer or with any tangible “sweet”. But it must be communicated, even if only through a smile and a rub of the head when it’s time for prayer…allowing children to see us happy and content when we’re about to worship Allah.
As for me, till today, when I line up for Tarawih prayer, I can still hear my brother saying, “Daddy, are we going to pray the strawberry prayers tonight?” And I see my father smile, rub my brother’s head, and say, “Yes, we will.”
And when I raise my hands to start prayer, I remember the sweet taste of strawberries and think, I can’t wait to taste the sweetest fruit of all…
Jannah, the eternal Paradise that Allah prepared for those who, on earth, tasted the sweetness of faith.
With this inspiration, I hope to eagerly pray the night prayers as long as I’m alive—in Ramadan and beyond. And when my soul is taken upon Islam, God-willing, then perhaps I myself, like my brother, will eagerly ask, “Can I have the fruits of Jannah now?”
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. Join UZ University to learn how you too can find your writing voice and share inspirational stories with the world: UZuniversity.com
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This blog first appeared via onislam.net