Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My Failed Fast

Asalamu Alaykom,

This is my 11th Ramadan.  Alhumdulillah.

I actually tried my best to participate in Ramadan fasting before accepting Islam.  Why?  Because I wanted to get closer to my Muslim boyfriend.  Astragferallah.  Sometimes we go into good things with bad intentions.  Later, if we are open to receiving Allah's goodness it comes to us and changes us.

That first fast for me was November, 2001.  Don't forget that Ramadan of that year was a mere two months after the Twin Towers had come crashing down.  It wasn't an especially good year to try out for Team Muslim. 

What made that Ramadan an even worst time for me to try fasting was that I was alone.  I didn't even have the Muslim boyfriend with me.  He had suddenly flown back to Egypt to be by his mother's side after an operation (which turned out to be the birth of his twins from the wife I knew nothing about).  I was clueless about him and clueless about fasting.  Yet, I blundered in blindly.

Just as blind people stumbling slowly through a hallway will get help from kind Samaritans, so will those searching for the light of Islam.  Don't fear that you will really be alone.  When you make that first faithful step you will elicit a response; it will trigger a chain reaction of charity.

Back in 2001,  I was working in real estate.  There was one Indian man who handled my computer issues.  I had made a point long ago of being extremely nice to all the tech support staff upstairs.  In a large office, you must figure out quickly who is the real savior of your day.  My many computer issues needed these knowledgeable men and women.

This particular co-worker was Muslim.  I hadn't known that in the beginning.  Many American Muslims in a big corporations change their "foreign-sounding" names to some easy nickname.  Eventually, I asked him what his real name was and from that figured out he was Muslim.

I honestly can't remember his name now.  Was it Walid?  Might have been.  It might have been that he had been christianed "Wally" by his co-workers but he was really Walid.

So, Walid became a source of information for me.  I would look something up on the internet, in preparation for the first day of Ramadan.  Then I would catch him in the hallways or the cafeteria and get him to clarify.

I remember how I couldn't believe that I need to say, "Bismallah" before drinking water.  How could I remember that?

Then there was when he dropped the bombshell----not literally (contrary to the popular belief at the time, not every Muslim was planning an attack).  During the Ramadan fast I couldn't drink any water.  How could THAT work?!

I had fasted before with only drinking water.  It was after my separation from my first husband and during a time of real searching.  The fasting made so much sense to me.  It had stopped my nervousness and calmed my soul.  I thought better and felt stronger in the night after I had accomplished the fast.

But...that was WITH water.  How can someone fast WITHOUT water.  I reasoned that if my Muslim boyfriend could do it then I could too.  Even if he wasn't with me, I could be close to him in a way if I fasted too.

Do you see how my intentions were to get close to a man and not to Allah?  Astragferallah.  It really was a horrible way to prioritize.  It was one of the downfalls of that relationship.  Women, never put your man above God.  That is shirk; giving equals to The Almighty.  Our subsequent marriage wasn't built on firm foundation from how we had started in the very beginning and it crumbled.

So, there I was alone and eager for Ramadan to begin.  I was going to secretly fast.  I was going to be in a kind of communion with my beloved and about a billion others.  I went into work with my mind over matter.

I soon realized that, even if I wanted to stop fasting, I couldn't.  I had brought no food and no money to buy food.  I was stuck.  I had to keep fasting until I got home.  I had to remain cheerful in my demanding day as I ran around the large office.  I had to make sure that all the real estate agents were getting their needs met even as I couldn't get mine met.

When I whizzed through the lunchroom that day I got a bit of a surprise.  It was Walid and he was eating his lunch.






Had I misunderstood when the fasting started?  I was really confused.  I stopped to talk with him.

"Wasn't today the first day of Ramadan?"

He looked embarrassed.  "I guess so.  Ramadan Mubarak."

"Aren't you fasting?" I asked.

He sat there with his sandwich in his hands.  "I didn't plan to fast."

I was really taken aback.  How could he have been the one to help me with all the information about fasting and yet not be fasting himself?

"Oh."  I looked down at the floor.  I didn't know what to say.

Walid set the sandwich down.  "Are you fasting?"

"Yes."  I said as I looked up again.  "I'm fasting today."

His face lit up in surprise, "You are?  Really?!"

"Yes, but I thought you were going to fast too."


That day felt even lonelier after my conversation.  I had thought I had some kind of pact with the other Muslims in the world.  My runaway Muslim boyfriend hadn't called at all.  He didn't even know I was fasting.  The one co-worker I thought was going to be fasting wasn't.

I left work a little early that day and went to a diner my runaway Muslim boyfriend had taken me to a few times.  I knew those men running the place were Muslim and they would know what I should eat to break the fast.  I knew virtually no other Muslims in my city.

Mashahallah, those guys remembered me and poured me the biggest Styrofoam cup of mango juice they could.  That was a real blessing!  No charge---they just wanted my first fast to be rewarded.  It gave me some hope too that there were others in the world who were in unison with me.  My chicken dinner was on the house.  No amount of my pleading made them take my money.

The next day I decided that I would fast again and be OK with that.  It was something I was doing for myself regardless who else was with me or not.  I only seemed alone because others actually were fasting.  Besides which, God was with me.  I did my job the best I could and kept my mind busy and off hunger.  I was not happy to see Walid again when he stopped by my office.

"I wanted to thank you for something," he said.

"What did I do?" I asked as I really didn't know.

"Yesterday, when you told me that you were fasting I was shocked.  I am a born-Muslim and you aren't even Muslim but you were fasting and I wasn't.  That didn't feel good.  So, today I am fasting and I'm fasting because of what you did.  If it wasn't for you, I'd still be thinking that I couldn't fast in the U.S., that it was too hard.  You kind of proved me wrong."  He said that in a humbleness that I'd never seen from him before.

"Ramadan Mubarak," I told Walid.

"Ramadan Mubarak," he answered back.

It was this moment of peace.  That was a moment in my life that felt good.  It wasn't about a man and a woman.  It was two people of faith who helped each other grow stronger.

I wish I could say that my fasting days were incredibly simple after that epiphany.  The second day of fasting was my last.  I hadn't planned on only fasting two days.  I had actually planned on fasting the whole month of Ramadan.  I'll tell you what went wrong.

Right before rush hour, the night sky let loose some snow.  It was the first dusting of the year and the traffic got crazy.  I could see it out my window.  It grew dark but I was scared to set off on dangerous roads.  I knew that I needed to break the fast but I hadn't brought anything to break it.

I walked from my office to the vending machine.  I stood there scanning the rows of food that would fall if I put in some money.  None of it looked like I should eat it.  I was scared I would make the wrong choice.  Sometimes, novices in new cultures are so worried of being wrong that they do nothing.

When Ghandi left from India to go to law school in England, he was very scared of the food on the boat.  He had some rude comments thrown at him about there being meat in all the food.  He was so frightened that he would displease God that he only ate fruits and vegetables the whole long journey.  He could trust what came directly from His Creator.

I kind of knew how that felt when I looked at the colorful bags and boxes behind the glass.  It looked tempting but it didn't look fulfilling.  I took a deep breath to fill up the emptiness in my stomach.  I walked away.

As the traffic was subsiding, I turned off my computer, closed up my office and grabbed my wool coat.  It was cold.  I felt colder fasting than I would have imagined.  Many things were different than I would have imagined.  When I turned the key in the ignition, Peter Gabriel started singing, "In Your Eyes," and I burst out crying.  It had been a song I'd felt close to when I felt the love of my runaway, out-of-communication Muslim boyfriend.

The weird thing is that they stopped the song---which they never do----and replaced it with another one.  I can't remember which right now.  It was so strange.  I felt God in that moment needed me to wipe my eyes and watch the road.  I made it home through the snow safely.

As I prepared my shrimp and pasta, I felt that I was going to enjoy it soon.  I wouldn't eat anything else until it was ready.  I didn't want to spoil that great meal.  It had now been dark for over an hour.  I had postponed the breaking of my fast too long. 

Soon my head started banging, throbbing with a massive headache.  I had no idea that I had given it to myself by not eating earlier.  I put my delicious food on the plate, sat down and then needed to lie down.  I couldn't eat more than a bite.  I walked out to the kitchen, put the plate in the fridge and went to bed.

I know I cried again.  I pulled the comforter up around me and cried.  I didn't know what I was doing by fasting.  I had no idea.  Who did I think I was?  I was stupid and wrong and alone.  I couldn't do this fast.  I vowed to stop fasting until I had someone to really help me ---and of course I hoped it would be my runaway, out-of-communication, take-me-for-granted Muslim boyfriend.

By the next year, the boyfriend and I were married and fasting together in our new home.  I had wished for exactly this and received exactly that.  I should have wished for more.  So often we wish for things that aren't really good for us.  Astragferallah.  That first Ramadan of mine as a new Muslim still makes me sad because I wasn't shown the goodness of Islam.  Astragferallah.

It's been 11 years.

Alhumdulillah time passes.  People leave our lives.  New ones enter.  We grow and change and we move on.  Alhumdulillah.

When I think back on my first "failed" fast, I marvel at how brave I was to go out of my comfort zone and be someone new.  I was wrong and stupid but I was an active participant in my life.  I made an effort.  I made a difference and gave others hope that they could too.

And here I am IN EGYPT writing to you now as I'm about to go downstairs and help others break their fast.  Subhanallah that I am the same person; the way that a butterfly is the same as the caterpillar it once was.

May Allah reward you for all your fasts and all your efforts. 

May Allah make it easy on the first-time fasters. 

May Allah forgive us the mistakes we make along the way.


ummukhalid said...

MashAllah sister, that is an inspiring story. May Allah continue to give us His Hidayah..

egyptchick7 said...

My first Ramadan was in 2001 too..i did it to be in solidarity with the Ummah after 9/11.reading this story I remembered how I would wake up every morning before my 8 AM chemistry class, brush my teeth and take a final gulp of water ( after fajr) and start my "fast"...I mean I didn't eat or drink anymore after that one gulp and it was still tough...but that was not traditional fasting...

Many of my Ramadans except during my college years were I know the feeling of fasting alone...

Anyways great story from the past...and may Allah bless you with reward for encouraging another to fast....

Anonymous said...

What a lovely story and a reminder of my own efforts as a new muslima who is now into her 13th year od fasting , may Allah continue to bless us both with good health , love and strength . You are not alone my sweet sister we are on different paths but the struggle is similar .

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom UmmuKhalid,


Ameen to your du'a.

I think this is the first time I'm seeing your comments here. I appreciate you taking the time to let me know what you thought. Often, for me, it's hard to write personal things and then hear crickets chirp. I wonder if I've said it right or said too much. Alhumdulillah that you understood me.

I see you started following the blog too! Yaay! I don't write on a schedule but rather, "when the spirit moves me". So, it's good for readers to click to follow. That way, you'll always know when I've put something new up.

The other way to stay in touch is through Twitter @AfterHardship
and at Pinterest @yosrapricot

Asalamu Alaykom EgyptChick,

SEE?! We were fasting together! Me at the vending machine and you gulping water at fajr! LOL! We woulda made some pair! Alhumdulillah we're older (at least I am) and wiser (inshahallah). Subhanallah that we've made it this far!

Ameen to your du'a and may Allah bless you and have mercy on you.

Asalamu Alaykom New Muslima,

13 years?! Wow! Mashahallah :) You are no longer "new". In Muslim years, you are a teenager now! Alhumdulillah for those first fasts. We did them incorrectly BUT we did them, right?!

Ameen to your du'a and may Allah reward you with the same.

Alhumdulillah none of us is as alone as our heads try to convince us we are. Truly the world is peopled with like-minded souls.

Bonnie said...

I love this. Can I share the link to it on my facebook? xxx

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Bonnie,

Nice to see you! Ramadan Kareem!

I'm glad you liked----loved----this. It seems to resonnate with others. Alhumdulillah.

OF COURSE you can share the link. Link it up, baby!

I'm hoping I've corrected all the spelling and syntactical errors. I've re-read it a few times now and I've tweaked it here and there.

Hope you're doing fine. Where are you? Wherever you are, know that so many of us love you as a true sister.

Light and Love!

Marie Vie said...

Yosra, I imagine how hard it was for you to decide fasting in these conditions. Even if you did it for the wrong reasons at this time, you still had the courage to do it. And doing it alone, I confirm, is very tough.
Last year I did it to understand what Ramadan was really about and to get closer to God too. I did half with my husband, half on my own (as my husband was working).

God knows best what is in our hearts. And what I will remember from this story of yours is that your actions help another to understand what it is to be a Muslim.

Stay well dear and thanks for sharing these lines.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Marie,

Thanks for reading and commenting. Wonderful that you wanted to learn more about Ramadan last year. I truly wish more wives of Muslims would investigate it for themselves.

My story and the comments remind me of when we tell our birthing stories. All of us women have had a first Ramadan to tell about and only when we share do we realize how connected we all are. It's unifying. We go through so much of the same emotions, fears and hopes.

Alhumdulillah that we often help others just by being our best selves.

Light and Love to You and Yours!