What is Ramadan and What I'm Doing This Year
To me, Ramadan will always evoke certain memories. Being roused from sleep to the sound of a kettle boiling and the clang of pots and pans. Standing in prayer, alongside friends, trying not to be distracted by the adorable toddler wobbling obliviously through the prayer lines. Watching the night come alive, as tea cups are filled and refilled and chatter fills the spaces.
To be precise, Ramadan is the month in the Islamic calendar when the Quran was first revealed. During this month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset to achieve self-control, empathy and a renewed spiritual connection. It's a month where your regular routine is turned upside down, where you take a long hard look at yourself. Where you're suddenly hit with the disarming realisation that food forms the base of your day and that it affects your attitude more than you ever thought it could.
Why do I do it?
To Achieve Self Control:
In Ramadan, you focus on reigning in all appetites, whether it's an appetite for gossip, laziness or anything else that is not serving you. It's about having the discipline to be the master of yourself in all aspects - in speech, action and thought. Also, you can imagine the self-control in takes to restrain yourself when it's been eight hours without food and the mouth-watering smells of anything and everything waft in your direction. You're forced to cultivate control and patience for something greater than the instant relief of food. Ramadan is about releasing yourself from the shackles of your most base desires, regaining command of the mind and body, and honouring the strength of your will.
Reset the Ego:
So often we get caught up with the details of the everyday, we puff up in response to the slightest bruise to our egos, we lap at the attention of others. All day we aim our hands to our own mouths, feeding ourselves continuously, but how often do we take a real hard look at what we're feeding our mind and spirit? Without sustenance, you are reduced to the essence of who you are. You realise just how fragile you are. How in need of constant attention you body is in. How in need of God's blessings you are. And that realisation is the ultimate reset for any ego.
For so many of us, fasting is a trial, a glimpse at what life might be like for someone else. Although I'm fasting throughout the day, I know that there is a delicious meal waiting for me to tuck into later. But for too many, the hunger pangs and thirst I feel when fasting, is their plain reality. And as much as I like to think of myself as an emphatic person, it strikes me every Ramadan just how coddled I am, how rarely I feel the pain of hunger. As such, Ramadan is a time to consider the less fortunate, to increase in charity and to be grateful for what we have.
Cultivate good habits
As we do away with egotistical thinking and strengthen our willpower, Ramadan serves as the prime time to rid old bad habits and start good ones. It is a time for renewal, evaluation and hope. Being the month when the first verses of the Quran were revealed, Muslims take this time to connect with the Quran, by reading, understanding and acting upon it's meanings.
However, I should note that if I was not Muslim, I wouldn't have the same motivation to fast just for these reasons, as inspiring as they may seem. Ultimately, everything I do, as a Muslim, stems from a love for God, from a wanting to please Him, and a knowing that everything He asks of me is for my ultimate betterment.
So, what am I doing this year?
Make use of the mornings
I've decided to do something that hurts just to think about. This year, I'm determined to make use of the times my energy will be at its peak - and that will be the mornings. Early. Mornings.
You can imagine how after the suhoor (the predawn meal), energy levels go on a steady decline until iftar (the breaking of the fast). Normally in the longer summer months, Muslims wake up to eat right before dawn, go back to sleep and then wake again in a few hours to start their day.
I'm planning to try and use those morning hours after suhoor to be productive. Those are the hours where my mind will be sharpest so why waste it sleeping (I'm cringing at myself as I write this)? I want to use those hours to reconnect with the Quran, read, and get ahead in projects I know I'll be too drained to work on later in the day. I'm fully aware that it may be a bit of a stretch with suhoor finishing at 4:30am in LA this year, so how am I planning to keep this up? I'll be choosing a couple of days a week to commit to this schedule, and will be making afternoon naps my new best friend.
Invite people into my home
Iftar, the breaking of the fast, is always a festive occasion. You plan exactly what you're going to eat, you relish in the process of cooking, you look forward to those certain recipes that only come out during Ramadan.
As a child, I remember helping my mum fry batches of samosas and stir jugs of pink falooda. We would sit in a big circle on the floor with our friends, waiting in anticipation for the athan, the call to prayer, that would send us all reaching for a date to break our fasts with. Now, being in my own home, thousands of miles away from those friends and my mother's helping hand, I find myself having less of those kinds of iftars. I love the cozy iftars Shakir and I put together, but it's time to reach out to our new friends! When I first got to the US, I had no one I could to invite to iftar but thankfully, things have changed for the better now, and this year I'm ready to put my hosting hat on! Not only is it so much more special, but feeding a fasting person is considered a form of charity in Islam, so why not grab some bonus points whilst bonding too?
Reconnect with family
Ramadan is the time to establish new friendships and rekindle old ones. Whilst I'm reaching a hand (or a date!) out to new friends, I'm determined to stay close to old ones. I'm setting myself a modest goal to set aside time each week to call one family member or friend that I haven't heard from in a while. Having family in Australia and Sri Lanka means doing a bit of logistical planning, considering timezone differences and work schedules, but that's no excuse for letting relationships die out.
This Ramadan, I'm determined to see it for what it is, a gift, an opportunity, a loved visitor that only makes an appearance once a year.