“We going to fast,”my grandmother announced as she entered the kitchen.
“Put down dat doughnut,” she said harshly. “Ya too fat no how,”she continued. Her Trinidadian accent was used only at times of anger or when she wanted to emphasize her point. This time I suspected a little of both was a play.
I glared at the honey glazed doughnut my mouth watering in anticipation, I had fiend for that doughnut all afternoon through math class, maybe just one little bite.
“Me said put da doughnut down,” Granny shouted as if it were a 42 caliber gun I was holding in my hands. I reluctantly placed the doughnut back into the box and closed the lid.
“Sit down both ya’ll,” Granny beckoned my brother and I. “Ya uncle Kitson has been sick now for a long time now,” she continued. “And we gonna fast and pray to ask God for healing.”
“But Granny we already pray for him everyday and I don’t even know him,” my brother exclaimed.
“He my brodar and your uncle, dat is all ya need to know.”
With those final words our fasting had been ordained. We would fast for three days. That entailed no eating or drinking. I didn’t really understand the purpose of fasting other than it was supposed to help us get from God what we wanted, at least that is what my grandmother had taught us.
The lack of purpose made fasting difficult. I didn’t understand why we couldn’t just ask God for what we wanted through prayer. My grandmother wasn’t one for explaining. After one day, twenty four long hours, of not drinking, I just could no longer endure the thirst. I could go without food, but I needed to quench my thirst.
“Wat ya doing?” Granny shouted.
“I can’t take it anymore. I need a sip of water.” I replied.
“Don’t ya know what you fasting for?” She questioned with pain in her eyes.
“Actually, no I don’t know?”
With that the matter was closed. In the future we would be asked to only fast for one day. But still without any explanation as to the purpose of fasting. Asking God for what you wanted by fasting didn’t seem to me to be purposeful. Wasn’t that what prayer was for?
The first time I had heard of Ramadan when when I was in high school. A classmate was fasting and when I asked for how long she announced one month.
“Yikes, but won’t you die if you don’t drink or eat for one month.”
Aisha laughed. It started as a chuckle and slowly grew into an uncontrollable roar. I knew I had said something incredibly foolish but couldn’t figure out what.
“We don’t abstain from eating and drinking for a month,” she said chuckling.
“We eat and drink from sunset until dawn,” she explained.
“But isn’t that cheating? How can you expect to get from God what you want if you cheat?”
“We don’t fast to get from Allah what we want. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. The first pillar is the Shahadah, the profession of faith, “There is no God but God and Muhummad is the Messenger of God,” Prayer is the second pillar of Islam and we our faith teaches us that we have a direct relationship with God, an we collectively and individually turn towards Makkah, Islam’s holiest city and offer our prayers five time a day. Zakat, which is alms giving, is the third pillar. Fasting in the month of Ramadan is the fourth pillar, and the fifth pillar is Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mekkah. Ramadan is the month the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him). It’s ordained in the Quran and it is deeply personal act or worship. It is an exercise in self control and offers you insight into the suffering of the poor. It’s about worshiping Allah by following what he has ordained”.
A moment of silence followed as I absorbed her words. Fasting as a form of worshiping. It made sense, even though I still didn’t completely understand.
I didn’t even realize Ramadan was approaching those first few months as a Muslim. A few months before the month of Ramadan, our office was abuzz with excitement. Talk of Ramadan crept into every conversation. I myself was worried, unsure if I would be able to fast, still remembering my inability as a child.
“Nineteen and a half hours”, I thought to myself a week before my first Ramadan.
I shared my concerns with my friend Suzanne.
“I won’t lie to you. It’s hard especially here where we have so many hours of daylight. But what is important is your niyyah, intention. Talk to Allah, make it your intention to do this as an act of worship, and ask Him to make it easy for you. It’s all about having pure intentions. Then everything else will fall into place, in Shaa Allah.”
My trepidation was over showered by my the excitement of my Muslim friends. I couldn’t help but feel something special was about to happen. All the feelings of excitement was washed away the first day of fasting.
“Nour are you fasting?” This question was posed by more than one Muslim colleague on the first day of Ramadan.
“Of course,” I replied insulted by the accusatory tone.
“Then why do you look so happy and refreshed,” that was the common theme which followed the question. “Don’t you feel hungry and thirsty?”
I contemplated the question and wondered maybe I was doing something wrong. I didn’t feel hungry or thirsty. Instead I felt closer to Allah. I felt really blessed and humbled.
But their questioning left me thinking. Maybe I wasn’t Muslim enough? Maybe I needed to suffer more?
So that night I cut down on my eating, although I already had eaten very little the night before, and I limited my water intake.
I continue this for the first two weeks of Ramadan. Yet hungry and thirst did not encroach upon me until the last hour of fasting.
I felt a deep happiness and sense of purpose in my life. I felt myself falling in love with Allah. All I could think about was God. But watching my friends suffer made me feel guilty so I kept my joy to myself.
“Subhannallah Nour, I have been watching you and I’ve noticed you’ve changed. You seem really happy. Tell me what’s going on,” Mohammed, a coworker, ask me at iftar. He and his wife Amina had invited to share iftar with their family.
“I am happy Mohammad. I don’t know how to explain it but I’ve never felt this way in my life. These week, it has been, well simply amazing. I never want it to end.”
“That’s the blessing of Ramadan. But it must end. In Surah Al Baqarah Allah says:
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَىٰ وَالْفُرْقَانِ ۚ فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ الشَّهْرَفَلْيَصُمْهُ ۖ وَمَن كَانَ مَرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ ۗ يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَوَلِتُكْمِلُوا الْعِدَّةَ وَلِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَاكُمْ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ – 2:185
“The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.”
“Yeah,” that was the only reply I was able to manage.
That evening I reflected on the ayat Mohammad had quoted. I felt grateful. But why? I fell asleep thinking about why. The next morning I awoke to find that I had my menses and that meant I could not fast.
I felt a deep sense of sadness. By midday I realized why I had felt so happy. I was glorifying Allah and had been guided by Him. Those days I was unable to fast I increased my dhikr and contemplated the Quran. My happiness was increased because the I had tasted the sweet blessing of fasting. And honor to glorify Allah. Although I still felt like a babe when it came to Islamic knowledge. My heart was feeling Ramadan, feeling the blessing, feeling he ease, singing songs of praise to the one true God.
On the day of Eid, I couldn’t help but feel sad and intended to continue fasting, until learned it wasn’t allowed.
“This is a day of celebration,”a friend told me. “Enjoy the blessing of Eid and the blessing that you lived to see this day,” she continued.
I had wanted so much to hold onto the feeling I had during Ramadan, but as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months the feeling slipped away and became a distant memory. But something stayed with me, and I made my intention, to learn more about Islam, to pray properly in Arabic, to do my best to earn the pleasure of Allah and to spend the rest of my life asking Allah to guide me. I began to feel the temporary nature of this life, this dunya. Just as Ramadan had come and gone I became ever aware that one day, there would be a Ramadan that I would not reach, death would grip me and that Ramadan would go on without me. And the days between now and that moment are as important as fasting. Because I intend to die as a Muslim blessed with the Shahadah. That’s the most important lesson that came out of my first Ramadan, stay close to Allah, all your days, in Shaa Allah.
Nour M. Fox