Originally posted at MuslimMatters.org. Somehow, this year I found myself in the position of leading Eid prayer for the first time in my life. Actually, 'somehow' is a vague description. A more accurate description would be,
Due to the inability of even having city-wide unity on Eid, and losing our backup Imam to the 'other day' with the 'other half' of the city, I was forced at the last minute to prepare myself to lead one of the Eid prayers in our masjid.
The good news is, since our masjid was doing it on Wednesday, I at least had the 30th of Ramadan to prepare. Also, alhamdulillah, since we do not follow calculations, I had taken 2 days off work, so that also worked to my advantage (and some people call that a hardship?).
Imagine, preparing yourself for a nice Eid with the family. Relaxing on the last couple of nights, catching up on random things at the end of Ramadan. Then imagine, being told you have to not only attend Eid prayer at a different time you had made plans for, but that you had to now lead it. It is unbelievable how many questions and concerns started swirling in my head at that moment.
Me?? Seriously? Can't we find someone else to do it?
How do you even pray Salatul-Eid again?? How many takbeers? How do you keep count?
What should the khutbah be on?
Will this create fitnah in the community, especially for our desi uncles who don't like to see "kids" involved in regular affairs, much less leading Eid prayer of all prayers?
I even remembered a story of one shaykh (I think I heard it at Texas Dawah) telling us the story of how the first time he gave khutbah, he lost his wudu. For anyone that didn't understand that, think of a common involuntary bodily reaction that occurs when someone suddenly gets super-nervous. As if I didn't have enough to worry about already, this story all of a sudden comes to me?
Once I settled down though, I reassessed the situation. I took quick stock of my friends and realized outside of "imam" types, I don't know anyone who has ever led Eid prayer. I realized that Allah (swt) has presented me with this opportunity for some specific reason. Even though it was a smaller salah, at a local masjid, it was still a significant opportunity, and an important experience that could insha'Allah really help me in my Islamic development. What follows below is some of the thought process that went into the preparation, and how it turned out.
The Fiqh of Eid
This subject wasn't completely new to me. I have read small booklets here and there on the Fiqh of Eid and Muslim holidays. But the one who reads for information is not like the one who reads to immediately implement. How many people know details of the fiqh of Hajj until they're actually about to go on Hajj? Exactly.
I did what any enterprising student of knowledge would do in my situation. I googled it. I'm not gonna lie and say I embarked on some kind of academic research of the issue, or that I even went to my bookshelf to revisit those books I read many years ago. I simply Googled it and checked Islam-QA.com. I should add a note here, that I did not do this to actually teach myself how to do the salah, but rather to familiarize myself with the common issues that arise in relation to the Fiqh of Eid Salah, and perhaps find what (if any) 'controversial' points there are. I found a few, but I realized they were 'controversial' only because the sources I studied from some years ago actually represented only a small minority view on some issues, although they painted as if that was the only opinion and everyone else was wrong (but that's a different story).
I sat down with our Imam and brought up the issues I had questions on - for example how many takbeerat to say in each rak'ah. Timing did not dictate any allowance for academic research on the issue, or even more than a cursory glance. I personally felt from my minimal (Islam-QA) research that the stronger opinion was 7 takbeers in the first, and 5 in the second. The community I am in though, has a long-standing precedent of praying Eid according to the Hanafi style (3 takbeers in each rak'ah). Taking into account the history and orientation of our community, in addition to keeping the entire event as "drama-free" as possible [it is EID after all!], I also recalled an advice of Shaykh Salah al-Sawi (and he's not the first to say it obviously): The madhab of the layman is the madhab of his Imam. So in this particular situation, I found myself to very much be a layman in all senses of the word regarding Salatul-'Eid. 3 takbeers it is, though I don't think I ever imagined myself making absoloute taqleed of the Hanafi madhab :)
Settling that stuff was the easy part. The hard part was actually sitting down with the Imam and going through the procedure, and learning how to explain it to the people.
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that at Eid time, you're not dealing with a regular crowd, or even a once a week crowd like at Jumu'ah - you are dealing with a lot of the once a year crowd. That changes everything.
I had to remember to tell people that there is no adhan and iqamah. Explain the takbeers. That there is in fact a khutbah, where I will be speaking, following the salah. That they are to be quiet during the khutbah. That there are 2 khutbahs, so don't start hugging everyone as soon as I sit down. My notes for this were actually longer than the notes I made for my actual khutbah (says something about our condition as an ummah). You can't take anything for granted at this point, every minute instruction must be laid out.
What to talk about? I received many suggestions on what to talk about. I tried to find Eid khutbahs given by others (such as Shaykh Google) for inspiration. I received suggestions to talk about almost everything. Some brothers gave me suggestions that even for a Jumu'ah khutbah would require at least 1-2 weeks worth of research and preparation to do properly. I even found a couple of fire and brimstone type Eid khutbahs. Ok well, thats an exaggeration, but they weren't exactly the "positive" and "uplifting" type of khutbahs you would expect for such an occasion. One brother even told me that one time Siraj Wahaj spoke about the sad state of our ummah that we pray Eid and miss fajr, and that he said if you didn't pray fajr that he was going to turn around and to make your qadha! I couldn't stop laughing at that one. I'm not sure that I know anyone who can pull that off other than him though.
Alhamdulillah though, my wife gave me the topic idea I ended up using (hey, we do listen..somtimes): How to make this the best Eid for your children. This made the khutbah easy, especially since I have given a more formal khutbah on youth a couple of times before. The keys with the khutbah were for it to be positive, and more importantly, short.
This process though, did make me realize why "imams talk so much" at this time. It is the only opportunity to address a crowd of this magnitude, and a crowd that you would otherwise never reach. A jum'uah crowd is fairly static, but the Eid crowd - you feel not only the desire to inspire and motivate them, but you feel a responsibility to make up for a whole year's worth of dawah in one speech. I think that's why we find so many Eid khutbahs that are trying to make us better Muslims, end hunger, create world peace, abolish Israel, and save the whales all in 30 minutes.
What to Wear?
This is not something I took lightly, and not just because of my unhealthy interest in Men's fashion. Sh. Yaser Birjas dedicated a part of his Ilm Summit session on Jumu'ah to this issue, and even the Imam asked me about it as we were finalizing plans for me to lead. Should I cement my status as the community weirdo and wear a suit? Maybe next time, not at my first salah though. Should I wear a shalwar kamees/kurta like my mom prefers, and alienate the Arab crowd? Should I wear a thobe and just go traditional? If I wear a thobe, should I wear jeans under it (my personal preference), or pants, or the actual white thobe pants which are useless since they have no pockets? Also what color thobe? If I'm the imam, I can't just walk in with a plain old thobe can I? Do I wear a kufi so that people don't write me off as some kind of openly 'disobedient' imam, even though I can't find a kufi that looks normal on my big head and I never wear one anyways? Should I wear a sportcoat or blazer over my thobe (my wife vetoed that one before I even finished suggesting it)?
I finally decided to wear the plain white thobe, with the white thobe pants, and a black/white ghutrah (shimagh) on my shoulders. I should add though, that even socks came into play, and I had to make sure not to wear anything that had too much color or 'untraditional' lest I give someone the 'wrong' impression.
My family was more concerned about me waking up on time then they were about me leading the prayers since I have a reputation for, well, never waking up on time for pretty much anything. True to form, I woke up with barely enough time to pray fajr and then start getting ready, beginning the day in rush mode. I had no appetite whatsoever, partially due to being used to fasting, and partially due to stress. I had a sip of water for no other reason then the fact that it was sunnah to have something before salah to show you aren't fasting. After salah though, I made up for it with almost a half-dozen Krispy Kreme dounts.
As salah time approached (and I started on the dot on the announced time alhamdulillah, no delays), I emerged from my hiding spot (aka mingling near the shoe-rack and entrance) and went to the front, taking on inquisitive and surprised stares as I grabbed the microphone. Many people had this complete look of devastation on their faces, since the expected Imam was not there, and now some guy who definitely shouldn't be at the microphone at this moment in time is about to take the mic. I'd like to say I took the mic and then confidently lead salah, and we all lived happily ever after. The reality is, the second I took the microphone I started stumbling over my words trying to explain the procedure of Eid salah. I ignored my notes and tried to do it from memory until I got stuck, had to look at my paper to find where I was and continue. Finally, I got everyone lined up, and turned around to start salah when I realized I forgot to turn on my recorder (I record every khutbah or anything I do). I'm used to doing that for Jumu'ah while I'm sitting on the minbar and adhan is being called, but I completely forgot to plan for this small tactical detail. I'm not sure what came over me, but I suddenly said into the mic, "I will wait an extra minute for the women to line up" and quickly turned on my recorder and put it next to me.
With that out of the way, I realized I now had to lead salah. All I could think about was the extra takbeers. Don't forget to do them. No matter what, don't lose count (alhamdulillah for the Hanafi way, I think I would have seriously 'lost my wudu' trying to count 7 and 5). I did the extra takbeers, and started reciting. Normally, you focus on what you're reading and not messing up. Not this time. My recitation was flowing straight out of subconscious memory - kind of like how you drive home without thinking about where you're actually going or paying attention to where to turn. The only thing on my mind? Praying like it's my last, reflecting on the meanings of what I'm reciting, imagining the akhirah? I wish. All I could think about was "don't forget the extra takbeers in the second rakah" over and over and over again in my head.
I made tasleem, and I realized I was now at a point where I didn't know what to do. Am I supposed to pause for a moment? Do I make adkhaar like after salah? Do I just immediately get up and start the khutbah? It was a minor detail we forgot to cover while preparing. I just got up and climbed the minbar and started talking. It must be the shortest khutbah I ever gave in my life. I am not even sure if it hit a full 15 minutes total, much closer to 10.
Once I finished the khutbah, I got down, thinking I was prepared for the hugathon. I had even been warned that I would face an onslaught. I figured though, that I would be immune to it. No one is used to seeing me give the Eid khutbah. I'm not even the one who led taraweeh. What ensued though totally took me off guard. Old men, young guys, and even little kids led by their parents had all formed roughly 3 lines around me in all directions, cornering me at the minbar. I was not moving until I hugged at least a couple of hundred people, and not only that, but when you factor in the triple hugging for each person, you are really stuck. Now normally at 'Eid, you are hugging people you already know, or are familiar with. You do hug a few strangers, sure, but not like this. You can usually figure out some kind of hugging protocol, but not only was I hugging a majority of total strangers, they all had different protocols. Sometimes I was going to shake a hand only to be grabbed and my hand ends up in someone's stomach (but alhamdulillah, with the kind of iftars we eat, the blow was cushioned signifcantly). I'd start looking to one person, only to be grabbed by another. I got so numb to it after a few minutes that I did not even realize when my own dad was hugging me until I was in phase 2 of the triple hug!
All in all, it ended well alhamdulillah. There were no complaints, the khutbah was well received. I wasn't sure what to expect afterwards. Alhamdulillah though, it ended normally. Once it was done, I just relaxed knowing it was done, and I slept a little better that night knowing that I could, in fact, properly count to 3 in pressure situations.