By Fatima Asad
We’ve heard that the sahabah started Ramadan preparations six months before its arrival. 6 months – why is this number significant? How did they prepare? Think about it. Did they prepare by freezing kababs and spring rolls? Did they pre-order the crescent moon tree (yes, that’s a thing now)? Did they write long wish lists and spend countless hours on Eid shopping? Did they frantically search for the perfect Ramadan journal for their 2nd grader while forgetting to open the Quran the rest of the year?
Once upon a time, when we heard the word “siyam,” we thought about the masjid, taraweeh, wondering which imam would lead this year, planning to take time off for i’tikaf, or how to increase the impact of Quran in our lives. Then, a time followed when we thought mostly about iftar, daydreaming about the perfect suhoor, creating menus, stocking up the pantry, and taking out family recipes customized solely for this occasion. Presently, we stand witnesses to a time in which the focus divides further into smaller fractions as our minds wander to the festive and feasting aisle, spending more time on planning Eid (and Iftar) outfits, decorations (Pinterest-worthy of course), eye-catching planners, presents galore, advent calendars, hijab tutorials, humorous Ramadan vines, hashtags, and all-nighters coupled with suhoor at iHop.
This year, the first thing that came to my mind upon remembering Ramadan was “Aw man, the summer heat!” Not so immediately, as I un-paused my Ramadan playlist on YouTube, I reprimanded myself. That is not the point. Snap out of it! The first things I should be pondering include the Quran, the burden of my sins burying me deeper into quick sand, the chance to get out of that quick sand, and the chance of rebuilding my relationship with my Creator. Ramadan is becoming another ritual whose purpose is sluggishly being forgotten (it hasn’t been forgotten entirely yet!). Stop and think: what are the (right) reasons for this month to be such an immense deal?
The word of Allah . The tool that connects the Creator with the creation – the ultimate self-help book. The Quran is what needs to be celebrated in Ramadan; not our taste buds. If the majority of our focus fails to be on the Quran, we have missed the purpose of this holiday, for it is indeed a holiday. It’s a chance to get away from the mundane and hectic, to rediscover one’s self and to enjoy the true blessing of life: guidance. Celebrate this month like no other, but not the way you want to. It must be celebrated in the way Allah has meant for it to be adorned.
This Ramadan, did you memorize a single verse? Did you discover its essence and its call through tafseer? Did you stand with others and simply listen, letting the rhythms vibrate through your heart? Everything you do in this month, must be connected with the Quran, every action and intention needs to work towards achieving the exclusive purpose of Ramadan – attaining taqwa– the way forward by consciously accepting Allah’s will. How can we attain taqwa if we fail to discover what He is telling us though this miracle?
For me, the moment of no return, in which I broke free from the dangerously alluring trap of the modern Ramadan spirit, came as a jolt. In those critical minutes, I realized it was now or never. If I didn’t say these words out loud, I might wholly drown in that quick sand: I am saying NO. I am being honest with *myself* this Ramadan. As I called out these affirmations in the middle of the night, fearless of which little one I would wake up, a realization – one never before felt in the years that have long died – took hold of my heart: This is MY month. It does not belong to my children, my husband nor the kitchen. It is MINE.
I didn’t plan for this. Was I having a panic attack? Will I shut down for the rest of the month and miss out even more? My focus was painfully off when I was “planning” Ramadan 2018. I planned for a festive, energy-laden, activity-packed Ramadan. SubhanAllah! I had planned my entire Ramadan for other beings and other things. But what about the crafts…I still have to finish the Eid décor…
No! I am sick of that “Let’s make it memorable for the children!” jargon. No, no, no. What do I really want my children to get out of Ramadan? Yes, I admit that growing up, I wished and dreamt of the same holiday spirit to encompass our homes and communities as Christmas and Hanukkah. Yes, I felt shy, preferring to remain a secret faster in school. Yes, I wanted to decorate gingerbread mosques and get stuffed stockings. Yes, I wanted a darn Christmas tree. I never imagined that there would be books about kids like me at the library! I never dared to give my holiday presents during Ramadan instead of Christmas. I never want my children to feel ashamed of celebrating their culture or feel their holiday holds less value than the rest due to a lack of wreaths, glitter and ornaments.
There is an imbalance within us; it is embedded in our fitrah and to ensure success, it must be rechecked frequently. This religion of peaceful submission is adorned with guidelines paving the path towards perfect balance a human requires to thrive. Within that deen is this perfect month; this yearly blessing which was gifted as the smaller stepping stone towards the ultimate goal of not only optimal human spirituality, health and performance, but of Jannah. The greatest advantage of this holiday is that it replenishes balance for the rest of the year.
As a celebration, Ramadan lacked balance back in the day, being too dry and inactive, especially for youth surrounded by mouthwatering alternatives. Today, I fear that the holiday spirit is reaching another point of imbalance in mimicking the commercialized festivities of others. I love having options for my family that will truly optimize the Ramadan experience, but I ask again: what do I really want my children (and myself) to get out of Ramadan? Pakoras? Extravagant table settings professing the sin of gluttony while hoping for its erasure in the prayers that follow?
They say iftar is incomplete without pakoras (insert any other cultural food). No, get these distractions out of your head and out of your daily Ramadan experience. Extremes that defeat the purpose of fasting need to be weeded out of your life. Say no to them. Remember, this month is about recreating that bond with the Creator, detoxifying. That cannot be done if your focus is the thing that is guaranteed to distract you.
Take a hold of your nafs; there is no Iblees to blame. In fact, Iblees did not have another Shaitan tempting him. It was merely his own nafs, for its power is strong and almost unshakeable- almost. Say no to the iftar parties, say no to breaking your fast at home if going to the masjid is possible, say no to all-nighters, say no to Eid shopping, say no to recreating your special lasagna (if it takes more than 40 minutes to make, I’m ordering take out). This all sounds insane, right? Why should I say no to all of these things? There is no fatwa against them. Ah, you see, you’re wavering again, tipping the balance. Stop! Refocus on your Ramadan priorities. We don’t engage in haram, but we are drowning in the halal, like never before.
Looking back, I tremble with fear and regret. The year I’ve wasted binging in the halal…but I force myself to look ahead now, with hope. Half of Ramadan is gone, yet the other half remains. I am reclaiming my one month of the year. This is my month to ensure perpetual balance and I want it back. Let me pose this question: What are you truly celebrating in this month? The decorations look lovely on your Instagram, and hey! you’ve got a cool i’tikaf tent for your toddler, but what are *you* celebrating? Let me be blunt (first to myself): I am supposed to be decreasing my luxuries in this month. I love the concept of minimalism and zuhd, but this is the month to practice it! Those hunger pangs I feel…that’s exactly what I’m supposed to be feeling this month- not savagely replacing them at iftar.
All year, we don’t consciously care. In fact, we could care less. It’s all about ME and NOW -instant gratification. This is not the month for concessions. It is the month to become your cruelest judge when it comes to your relationship with Allah and His Book.
Does this all sound extreme to you, dear Reader? Ponder this: If a celebrated life coach or motivational speaker (such as Mel Robbins) was paid to help you reset your life, wouldn’t you listen? Would you not heed her every word? Allah is giving you the ultimate self-control training for the whole year; a chance to train and control your heart and body. Do the heart and body not want opposing things throughout the year?
Don’t be so extreme, you say. It is not extreme to carry out your sole purpose in this life. In fact, it is our behavior throughout the rest of the year that displays extreme imbalance. What do *you* want from Ramadan? Be honest with yourself and reclaim this present as your own.
Fatima Asad is a an American-Pakistani Muslim Mama. She is a writer, blogger and homeschooler. You can follow her journey on her Facebook page: Homeschooling while Muslim or connect with her through her blog at www.homeschoolwhilemuslim.wordpress.com
Fatima’s inspirations derive from her frequent travels around the world, along with her mixed cultural upbringing. She takes pride in being a culturally confused mama and share the highs and lows of raising little confused humans on her instagram page: www.instagram.com/culturally_confused_mama
Urdu speakers and listeners can benefit from her Podcast on her Facebook page, where she shares her homeschooling journey and explores the concept of homeschooling one’s children in Pakistan.