What 4 a.m. means for Muslims in Toronto

Sameer Syed rises early every day to be ready for morning prayers

Sameer Syed prays at Baitul’ Afiyat Masjid in Scarborough at 4:08 a.m. on May 30, 2019.  Kiran Ahmed/Toronto Observer

Toronto resident Sameer Syed, 23, pulls himself out of bed every night at 3:30 a.m. with the help of an alarm and makes his way to Baitul’ Afiyat Masjid, a small mosque on Old Kingston Road.

While other local places of worship are closed for the night, the front doors of the mosque are illuminated from the lights inside. On this morning during Ramadan, at 4:15 a.m., members of the local Toronto mosque, which is known as a masjid in Arabic, gather for morning prayers.

“Being at the masjid (mosque in Arabic) and praying with a group of people somehow feels better than praying alone at home, especially because it’s Ramadan and I see so many more familiar faces,” says Syed.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and considered the holiest month of the year for Muslims around the world. It lasts 29 to 30 days, depending on when the new moon is sighted by the Saudi Supreme Court or islamic missionary councils in other countries. Ramadan is a time for Muslims to reflect spiritually and involves mandatory fasting from dawn to sunset with exceptions to some individuals, such as the elderly and chronically ill.

This year, Ramadan began May 5 and ended the evening of June 3 for those Muslims following the Saudi Arabian moon sighting, and ended the evening of June 4 for those following the sighting in their home country.

Over the past two years, Syed has made it a habit to go the mosque before sunrise for morning prayers as often as three days a week, but this year he has made it his goal to go every day during Ramadan.

“Of course it’s hard to wake myself up for prayers when I have to start work at 5 a.m. but it’s worth it,” he says. “It makes me feel better to start off my day like this.”

Syed has been working with a construction company in the Greater Toronto Area for the past two years. Some days, his shift begins as early as 6 a.m. at job sites in Mississauga, Scarborough or in the Durham region.

“I try my best to wake up and go to the mosque on weekends … no matter how tempted I feel to turn my alarm off and go back to sleep.”

– Sameer Syed

“I try my best to wake up and go to the mosque on weekends … no matter how tempted I feel to turn my alarm off and go back to sleep.”

– Sameer Syed

Syed is not the only member of the local Scarborough mosque who sacrifices sleep for prayer. Bilawal Abbas, 24, also finds peace in praying at the holy place before sunrise. He aims to wake up around 3 a.m. on the weekends to pray and makes his way back home in his car after to return to sleep.

Abbas has made it a weekly goal to drive to the mosque at least three times a week. Due to his hectic schedule as a warehouse worker during the week, he is occupied with other tasks. But he says that he plans to incorporate his prayer schedule into his daily routine in the future as it gives him a feeling of fulfillment.

“The timing for fajr (morning prayer) is right before sunrise, so in the summer time it’s earlier,” says Syed. “Sometimes I’ll pray at home because it doesn’t really matter where you pray, as long as you’re awake before sunrise to do it.”

There are over 250,000 Muslims in Toronto celebrating Ramadan, and more than 100 mosques that are open for Muslims to join for prayers in the city.  

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Posted: Jun 16 2019 6:24 pm
Filed under: Features Toronto at 4 a.m.