On Finding the Way Back (Day 1, Ramadan 2015)

Shipping Container converted into cafe -Freedom Cafe, Durban (June 2015)

Shipping Container converted into cafe -Freedom Cafe, Durban (June 2015)

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.

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Difference is a Good Thing (A Peek into my Non-Family Household)

We had a discussion at home the other day about whether or not we choose our friends. I was convinced we do, but afterwards realised that the Roommate was right. We don’t really choose them, it’s more that life itself chooses our friends for us. At least that’s how it’s always worked for me. In nearly all the people who I consider close and dear, our meeting is an unusual story, and extraordinary timing and coincidence (being in a particular place on a particular day for instance) played a role in how we became important parts of each other’s lives.

The Roommate and I are no different. In the weeks leading to my departure for Toronto, I spent huge amounts of time on Craigslist and Viewit.ca and Kijji and Padmapper and all sorts of other apartment hunting sites trying to find a place that I liked enough to commit to. For the most part, listings would read: “Most AMAZING apartment ever! Beautiful, sun filled, spacious, and an incredible deal! Close to everything, food, transit, the city, the university etc”. And then I would actually look at pictures, and it would invariably be a small dark apartment with an unpleasant colour of walls, and some dude’s lumpy mattress in the middle of the room. After a while, I could no longer distinguish one listing from another, time was ticking by and I was really no closer to finding a place.

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