Ramadan


Many of you will be familiar with some of my thoughts and sentiments in this post because I’ve shared glimpses of them here before. This piece was written late last week, and first posted on Muslimah Media Watch. Since then, I’ve had time to reflect.

To give this piece some more context: I feel at odds with myself. I find myself saying things like my heart has hardened — but will joyfully sing dhikr with Eryn and Ivy. Even though I go through the motions, I feel that something is missing. An essence or presence that should be there. A gap in the space around me. So perhaps I’m joyful because the song is familiar. Maybe I find fulfillment in entertaining the girls.

And this is disquieting.

A friend of my sister-in-law very suddenly and tragically passed away on Tuesday. This young woman has not left my thoughts since I heard the news. I think of her family, her sister, her mother — and I shatter. I make dua’ for her with more sincerity than I make for myself. And maybe I do so selfishly. Because there is no greater fear than the thought of harm coming to my children. And so thinking about her absence in this world, praying that her good deeds will endure and give her countless blessings, and asking for her entrance into the highest heaven — makes me reflect and imagine her family’s loss… and I ferociously beg God to protect my girls.

It bothers me that fear of losing them is my motivation. Because I might not otherwise speak to God.


The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts become fearful, and when His verses are recited to them, it increases them in faith; and upon their Lord they rely. [8:2]

heartIt doesn’t feel like Ramadan.

The excitement, the struggle of the fast, the security of knowing that every good action is an added blessing, exercising patience and feeling contentment when tested, the thrill of biting into a sweet date at iftar, the peace of sitting in the mosque and smelling the perfumed air, feeling my heart soar as I lay my forehead down to the ground to honour and beseech my Lord for forgiveness — it’s all been missing from my Ramadan experience this year.

I fast. I eat my date. I exercise considerable patience (even with two rambunctious girls jumping on me after commuting from a stressful day at work). I beseech. I go through the motions because that’s what I have to do. But I feel like a spiritual zombie.

We’re told by traditions, Internet articles, and admonitions related through mosque culture that Ramadan is a training ground for the rest of the year. That we should strive in our worship to gain more spiritual benefits, to use the fast as an opportunity for self-reflection, to develop our empathy, and nurture our spiritual selves. That if you only fast from food and water, your reward is only hunger and thirst.

But what if that’s all you can do?

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Well it’s been a somewhat interesting Ramadan.

Insha’Allah I’ll be sharing a post I wrote for Muslimah Media Watch soon that talks a little about how I’ve been feeling this month, and echoes many of the sentiments I shared with you in my last major post. I had intended to write more about the reasons I converted, but the month literally flew by and here we are with just about a week left.

That doesn’t mean I won’t write about it. I have some serious issues it seems and I want to tackle them the best way I know how. Through over-sharing with all of you!

Just a little light reading before bed.

Just a little light “pretend” reading before bed.

We spent much of Ramadan just being normal. Which means going about our day without much fuss if we decided to have a random dance party or going to baby birthday parties instead of the mosque.

The Hubby and I signed up for a pre-iftar halaqa through Seeker’s Guidance and live-streamed Sheikh Faraz Rabbani who spoke about how to become closer to God. I’ve known Sheikh Faraz for years. He’s one of the more accessible teachers of sacred knowledge, and has owned up to some issues that I’ve called him out on in the past. Plus singing and dhikr! What’s not to love?

Some of his more memorable thoughts included not showing up to a religious lesson “just because” — make sure you have focus, and that the subject or action speaks to your heart. Or when there is a difference of opinion, don’t argue over the differences — but be considerate. There is special dispensation when there is a difference of opinion. So if you believe that eating shellfish is haraam, and you’re with someone who serves it to you with good intentions, you’re permitted to eat the fried calamari — so pass the lemon sauce instead of refusing to eat and turning into a monster mullah (my words, not his).

Sneaking.

Ivy sneaking some of our iftar while we finished up prayer.

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Just slightly easier than doing a wreath.

Just slightly easier than doing a wreath.

Diamond, lace and pearl stringed garlands dripped from the walls. An ocean of aqua and teal coloured streamers accented the food station. Glitter. Flowers. Individualized costumes. Cartoon seaweed placards, fish-themed mats, and a gleaming pearl shell-of-hounour. It was the perfect decoration job for a mermaid-themed party.

While Arial serenaded Eryn and her school friends, a few of us mothers got together to chat and have our own little party. It didn’t take long before praising the hostess on her amazing decorations turned into questions on how each of us are creating Ramadan memories for our children — and how sometimes, the pressure to decorate is just one more thing added to the unrealistic expectations placed upon mothers and primary caregivers in this month. There’s just not enough time, and memories can be made with good food, asking children to pass out dates, festive music, Ramadan-themed crafts, and anything of significance to inspire family traditions.

Regardless of what you do, decorating for Ramadan can be easy. And even though we’re almost at the mid-way point, it’s not too late to decorate!

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quran5An oppressive humidity penetrates my abaya, making my jeans sticky and uncomfortable. It’s sweltering out in the mosque courtyard and the mist from cooling stations dousing the women’s section does little to relieve the situation. Despite the heat, I have moments when the reverberation from the Qur’anic recitation floats over my skin and penetrates my body — giving me chills and shaking my soul. I break out in goosebumps. I sway to the rhythm, lost in God’s words.

It’s the end of Ramadan 2013 and I’m chasing The Night of Power. I’m yearning for spiritual connection — desperate to inspire my heart in a rare moment free of family responsibilities.

While soaking in the atmosphere, breathing in contentment, my neighbour in the prayer line points out that I’m not crying — and that if I can’t cry, it’s better that I fake it until I feel real tears. Otherwise my heart will harden.

I’ve had many good cries. Nights where I’ve cried myself puffy in the face while asking God for forgiveness. Cries that have erupted unexpectedly, letting loose a purge of pent up emotions. I’ve had cries based on needs, on wants, and out of desperation. Now, it is true that over that past few years I have not cried during worship in the same way or with the same fervour that I did when I first entered Islam. But a lot has happened that has driven me away from that initial high — the one that enflamed my heart and made me love the deen without question.

Sadly for me, this random comment in the mosque held unknown power. The power to invalidate my religious experience. And so I spent the rest of the prayer not breathing in contentment, not enjoying the Qur’anic reverberations (even though that’s all I needed to find peace) — but instead contemplated all of the corrections, negative experiences and comments I have received over the past 15 years. Each one is cemented around my heart — and only because I give them power over me.

My heart is not heard because I can’t fake cry. It’s become hard because I’ve lost perspective.

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It’s certainly a busy time. So busy in fact, that my Monday moments have turned into a mid-week, lazy-photo-blogging update post.

Waited just long enough to take a picture before I started micromanaging.

Waited just long enough to take a picture before I started micromanaging.

We’re still in the process of moving.

In my perfect world moving just means picking up stuff from one place and taking it to another. In reality, we had to get rid of mold in the attic, fix up some water damage, paint, re-purpose a TV stand, replace floor boards and make a pantry out of some old crates before unpacking. So even though we’re two months into the new house, I still have plenty of boxes to go through.

Of course, while waiting for the big things to get done, I decided to work on the garden.

Can't imagine what the neighbours think.

Can’t imagine what the neighbours think.

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My recent post on creating a child-like Ramadan generated a lot of attention on Twitter and Facebook — with many commenting about the frustrating balance between motherhood and the sometimes unfair expectations placed upon mothers during Ramadan — usually at the expense of their spirituality. I thought it might be productive to create spaces where people could share stories, commiserate, debate or come up with plans of action to address the issue. Especially now that we’ve entered the last 10 days of Ramadan.

I’ve teamed up with the amazing Asiah Kelley, to explore some of the problems in the discourse on motherhood and Ramadan — which we’ll look at over the next two postsAsiah Kelley is a fantastic person and mother and I am honoured to share her work with all of you. Please join me in welcoming her as she shares her thoughts and reflections on the importance of recognizing motherhood spirituality.


khatm

Ramadan is supposed to be the month of mercy. But for many mothers and wives, it can feel merciless. The work is unrelenting — food preparation, child care, house work, and all the while trying to fit in any act of worship possible.

Muslims start mentally and physically preparing for Ramadan at least a month ahead of time. The excitement builds as people think of all the food they will eat, and all the events they will go to. Young girls shop and prepare their outfits for the different parties they will attend. Boys think of the fun they will have staying up late nights with their friends, while sleeping it off the next day. But mothers? They just might tell you that Ramadan is met with a sense of dread. All the expectations — their family’s and their own, are hard to live up to.

Something has to give, and that something is usually the mother.

Ramadan crept up on me this year. My husband came home from the store with $45 worth of Gatorade, and I was more than confused until he said “For Ramadan? It starts next week.” I guess I knew on some level that it was coming, but had been ignoring it. In fact, I was dreading it. Since having my daughter two years prior I had slowly sunk into an iman hole. My faith was shot.

Ramadan wasn’t a welcome friend, it was a reminder of how bad of a Muslim I considered myself to be.

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Colourful dresses and Girgian songs at the Scientific Center.

Eryn tore through the white lace curtains hanging between the family room and the corridor leading to the bedrooms with an excited scream. In her makeshift costume, she looked like a sunflower — half of her black, pink and gold abaya obscured by a bright yellow tutu. In one hand she held tight to a multi-coloured, glowing lantern and in the other, a fistful of her favourite candy.

She joined her two cousins who were decked out in fine clothes and the three girls laughed and screamed together as we desperately tried to wrangle everyone into their shoes and then into the car. Then, just as we stepped out of the house, we were met by a group of children coming along the road, singing for candy. Each one had a fantastically coloured costume — and together they took turns singing traditional songs and blessings upon Eryn and her cousins.

Over the last three nights, families throughout the Gulf region marked the celebration of Girgian. Traditionally held in-between the 13th and 15th of Ramadan, Girgian is a special children’s holiday where they dress up in fancy or national costumes and go door-to-door singing songs in exchange for small toys, sweets, nuts and decorative boxes.

Sounds a lot like Halloween, doesn’t it?

And that’s exactly how it was explained to me when we attended a Girgian event at the Kuwait Scientific Centre. While no one detailed the holiday’s actual origins, everyone I spoke to admitted that it was just like Halloween — just with a Gulf Arab flare.

One woman sadly lamented that Girgian just isn’t what it used to be when she was a child. Twenty years ago tonnes of children went door-to-door and neighbourhoods spent a lot of time decorating their homes in anticipation, handing out candy or homemade treats and really enjoying the sweet Ramadan entertainment as a community. Today, Girgian is slowly becoming more and more commercialized with grand public events at malls and ready-made sweet bags or Girgian treat boxes available for purchase at local supermarkets and souqs. Still, there remains plenty of children who excitedly make their own Girgian candy sacs and look forward to singing around the neighbourhood with their friends.

For someone who is always looking for new and interesting child-friendly Ramadan events, being a part of this celebration was an amazing treat. The happy, carnival-like atmosphere was incredibly infectious and I hope for Eryn’s sake, it helps create some fantastic childhood memories.

After parading around in their fancy dress, the three cousins ate traditional Yemeni crepes (thanks to their fantastic aunt who stood in line for an hour), had their faces painted, decorated bags, watched a magician, and sang songs with at least one hundred screaming children — while we parents enjoyed a little cardamon-laced coffee.

Well past midnight when the girls slept on our shoulders and the night was finally over, I caught sight of the full moon and was struck by how quickly the days of Ramadan are slipping by.

We’re halfway through the month. The last ten days of Ramadan will soon be upon us. And many people will be turning toward more devotional acts and events with special attention. Trying through prayer, reflection or dhikr to evoke a different kind of carnival — one that creates memories to nourish the soul.

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