By Zaynab Dawood
As a child I perched beside the window and gazed at the sky. Strips of orange stretched far beyond what my little eyes could see; streaks of azure clustered around the vanishing clouds. Whispers of a hidden silver moon floated about but I could still not see it. …Close, fragrant and lingering, delicate skeins of crushed cardamom and sizzling meat would gently meander through the rooms. Mother would be humming the words subhanAllah and alhumdulillaah as she glided about in the kitchen without a trace of fatigue to crumple that serene face nor a daring sigh escape her dry lips: it was that time in the year, again, but I did not understand what was happening… I remember distinctly the hushed and most restrained excitement. The anticipation was swelling in the air and my parents, siblings, neighbours and even local shop owners, were festooned with an odd adrenaline that I could not process in my little mind. ‘Ramadan is coming’… Words I would hear… Loud and quiet, clear and muffled… At home and on the street… Everywhere… I was looking forward to meeting Ramadan… He or she must be an awesome guest… The whole town had gone mad with excitement!
As a mother of four and a manager of a very busy home this is how I treat Ramadan, like a guest that visits once a year and stays for a month. Indeed, it is a guest that is with us for a certain number of days “Ayyamam ma’dudat” (2:184) and thus it should be given special treatment and prioritised above everything else in our daily routines.
Living in England we experience a very long fast during the summer, almost eighteen hours. It is difficult but its through the challenge that we express our commitment. Just before the eve of Ramadan I prepare the home for this challenge: a thorough ‘spring clean’ and lots of reminders for my family and myself. My kids love it: mum can’t tell us off when we misbehave! I try my best to make sure that I receive Ramadan the way it should be received and do my utmost to ensure that I maximise my time and enable my family to do so too. There is a problem, though, in some communities. We need to be honest and pragmatic: most of this falls on the main manager of the home: the wife, the mother. It can be overwhelming when there is lack of understanding and too much emphasis is placed on preparing a lavish iftari meal at the expense of the time and energy of the woman of the house. Her ibadah (worship) and fasting (siyam) matter too.
Portal into the Ghaib (the Unseen)
One of my favourite maxims that I live by is that “we are not physical beings having a spiritual experience but rather spiritual beings having a physical experience”.
Ramadan is a time when all the physical ramparts that separate humans from the ethereal realm are cast aside. This is because food is our direct connection to the earth. We emerged from it when Allah fashioned us from different types of clay from the earth. Crops and livestock are harvested for our physical sustenance: food and drink feed our bodies. When we give these up, as well the indulgences of intimacy, we allow all our spiritual receptacles to open up, ready to absorb the month-long epiphany of extra exposure and immersion with the holy Quran.
We need to disentangle ourselves from the misleading belief that Ramadan is primarily about giving up food and drink: “the fast”, but it’s not. Ramadan is about the Quran. By loosening and diminishing the aspects of our mortal materiality we arise unadorned and uncontaminated, similar to our original state, which allows us to appreciate the Quran in its spiritual splendour. The month is a celebration of the immortality of the Quran. Every year, across the globe, in every remote village and every congested noisy city, Ramadan will be present. It’s not just another segment of time, a month, but a physical and spiritual portal that grasps the earth and only those with a blueprint of taqwa can navigate themselves into its enlightening treasures.
A Time for Believers…
Our mandate is clear: “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” (2:183)
Note that this mandate is for “believers” and being a believer does not entail enjoying a perpetual state of righteousness: as believers we slip and falter and need spiritual detoxification and Ramadan provides the time and the place for such a detox. The extra focus on reciting and reflecting upon the verses allow us to reconnect, realign and reaffirm our iman that perhaps has become a little rusty or weak by life’s rigmarole. It is remarkable that part of this physical effacement involves not only cleansing our bodies and soul, but also our place within this temporal home: we are required to cleanse our wealth through Zakat and traditionally Muslims prefer to give this charity during Ramadan to gain the maximum reward in this precious month.
Its culminating fervour reaches its pinnacle on a precious night in the last ten days of the month:
“And what can make you know what is the Night of Decree?” (97:2)
An irreplaceable night when Muslims empty their hearts, cry an ocean and yearn for Allah’s forgiveness. What a momentous night it is, a night that is better than a “thousand months” (97:3), a night that commemorates when the heavens parted and Archangel Jibril visited our Noble Prophet (SAW) and delivered the first few verses of the Holy Quran. How Merciful is our Lord that allows us to celebrate this mercy again and again, year after year…
Ramadan leaves us every year with a short farewell. We hope to witness it for many years to come. There is a feeling of regret and melancholy I experience when I hear the news that Ramadan is over, maybe I did not pray as much as I could have? However, I allow myself to be absorbed in the jubilance associated with the excitement of Eid: the anticipation of seeing extended family members I haven’t seen for months, the aroma of home baking wafting through the house, the kids’ gifts hidden behind the sofa, my new dress hung up ready to wear and most of all the secret and sweetest of hopes, that Allah has accepted my worship and will grant my prayers.
But Ramadan also exits with an eternal invitation for us to enter through the Gate of Rayyan, and by His Mercy we won’t be guests there but permanent residents, bi ithnillah.
About the author:
I’m Zaynab Dawood from Lancashire, England. I’m a busy mum of four, a teacher and author. For me there are three delights in life: Ibadah, spending time with family and friends, and reading good literature!