Ramadan is a time of immense transformation where we reassess, re-prioritize and recognize the most important things in our lives. One of the most important aspect is to understand what we are doing here. Allah asks us in the Qur’an, “Where, then, are you going?” This is a question we have to ask ourselves in Ramadan – as individuals, as a family and as a society. This is a time to get close to Allah. (Shaykh Hamza Yusuf)
Today is the first day of Ramadan and I am in South Africa. I’ve been married for almost 2 months, but still, this city, this country, and the other parts and people of my new life feel very very new. There are moments and days where everything familiar feels just so far away, and in the midst of all the changes and adjusting, Ramadan is a welcome guest, a dear friend, someone who knows me, a familiar face, an anchor point. I am ever so glad the month is here.
This morning after we started our fast I checked whether Vancouver and Toronto have started Ramadan as well, and seeing the announcement in both cities brought that special Ramadan feeling of yes, the month has begun. I called home to send my parents greetings and prayers for the month, and my heart felt full. Though I am physically far from family and friends, knowing that we are all fasting and reading Qur’an and making supplications for each other and for loved ones who have passed away makes me feel connected and close. Because along with prayer, Ramadan feels special because of the memories we create during its days. For me, the month brings forth memories of board game mornings after suhoor (morning meal) with my sister when we were younger, meals conducted over whispers when my brother was very little so we wouldn’t wake him, childhood stories from my dad at suhoor time that I’ve heard a million times but never tire of hearing, my grandfather starting each fast with roti and a mango that would last him throughout the day, the sound of Qur’an in the house, the sound of my dad and brother’s footsteps returning home from tarawih and cups of tea before we slept and the morning meal came in again.
I spent last Ramadan in Toronto. My roommate was Muslim, wore the niqab and was from Saudi studying English, and we didn’t know each other before I moved in. It was my first time spending Ramadan with someone who wasn’t my immediate family. We didn’t have a table so we spread out a long cloth on the floor for our daily suhoor and iftar (breaking of the fast), I made very simple vegetarian curries (a month of chickpeas and spinach!) with kitchri and yogourt, and I broke my fast with fruit salad/fruit chaat and lots of yummy dates. Despite the long Toronto days and having only few hours to eat, I’ve never eaten so simply or been so satisfied with my food. My roommate and I were from very different cultures and contexts, and we shared our Ramadan rituals with one another, though we generally ate and did things that were familiar and personally meaningful to us. The experience taught us that everyone has different goals, different challenges, and different things that they are working on and praying for, and even living in the same apartment, your Ramadan will differ from one another. It was a month of cultural learning, though not radical cultural change, and one of the nicest Ramadans I’ve ever had.
I’m hoping that this year will be a special Ramadan as well, and a month of new memories, shared experiences, and new traditions. It’s winter, so the days and nights are very cold, and the daylight hours are limited, but God willing, this Ramadan is a month full of learning and growth. This year, there are a few things I’ve been thinking about as we usher the month in.
1) You are entirely dependent on God, there is no might and Power except the Divine.
Ramadan is a reminder that you are fragile, that you need food and drink for your survival. It teaches you empathy for those who have less, and by reminding you of your need and dependence on your Creator, Ramadan helps you to be humble. At the same time, Ramadan teaches you that yes, you have willpower. You can resist food. With intentions and Divine facilitation, you can do the things you set your mind to. You can be courageous. You can be brave. You can do things. You can push yourself. Ramadan helps you ask the question – what else can I do? What do I want to do? Are there things in other spheres of my life that I feel I am unable to do, but with prayer and intention and effort and the assistance of God, I could do as well? Ramadan is a mind opening, mind expanding education that you are strong. You can do more than you think you can.
2) Ramadan is about Love. Worship is about Love.
I don’t have the lists anymore, but I used to keep a dua list from Ramadan to Ramadan and take time before the month to think about the supplications I wanted to make during Ramadan and over the course of the rest of the year as well. Keeping the lists was a chance to see what happened to each dua, to marvel over duas forgotten that are now realized, and to see which duas I needed to continue to make. More than a year ago, in May 2014, a dear friend passed away and I made a dua list then that I still have of duas about the kind of spouse I wanted and the kind of life I wanted to build. Seeing duas come to fruition is an faith strengthening experience, and while I am very, very grateful for that prayer being answered, Ramadan, and the prayer of the month is a reminder that Divine love is the ultimate love story of your life. Your connection with the Divine is the constant relationship of your life. Whether it is during the hardest moments of your life, the times when you feel the most solitary, the moments and occasions when you feel the most joyous and surrounded by people, the moments of goodness, the moments of pain, whatever the occasion is, whatever the experience you are going through, the Divine is there throughout. Ramadan is a time to build that love, to build that connection, to share, to supplicate, to strengthen that love in every way possible.
3) God is the Best of Planners
Right now I’m trying to to find my way and place in a new city, trying to figure out complicated immigration rules and work visa rules, and trying to understand the work I want to do in my new home. It’s easy to feel lost, and in this time, Ramadan feels like a much needed education to focus on each day, and to remember that each day can be filled with beneficial acts and goodness. Every day is important and significant, and Ramadan trains you to strive for each day to be one of purpose and meaning, and for each day to be a day in which you are walking in a direction that is good. Everything quietens in Ramadan, and I hope that this month can be one of listening and reflection, stripping to the essentials, uncluttering my heart and mind from marriage and wedding advice that doesn’t fit, and God willing, starting to create culture and ways of being of our own. Till next time.