Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lessons Learned in Ramadan

Asalamu Alaykom,

It has been over a week since the journey ended.  You know that feeling when you get back home?  Everything looks different than you remembered it, and now you want to take what you learned while away and change everything for the better?  Deep breath.  At the same time, you're drained; you're tired and your schedule is off kilter and you can't seem to find normal life again.

That is how it is after Ramadan for me----not just this year, but every year.  It is a trip that we embark upon and it is now a trip that we've returned from.  If it's been successful in any way it's because we learned something.

It Takes a Muslim to Raise a Muslim Child

El-Kid, now 10 years old, was a big focus in this Ramadan for me because this was the year for him to fast a whole day.  This process has been many years in the making.  It's a step-by-step for parents to guide Muslim kids into fasting AND praying a whole day.

  • We started when he was six.  He couldn't have anything to eat or drink until duhr.  The azan would signal him breaking his fast and we would treat that moment the same as if it were magrib for him.  
  • The next year, at age seven, he fasted until duhr and a couple of times until asr.  He did his five prayers (but if I couldn't wake him for fajr, I wouldn't enforce it).
  • When he was eight, he fasted until asr.  He did all his prayers and I would force him to wake for fajr). 
  • Last year, when he was nine, we were in America and he fasted until asr, but it was an intense, 12-hour fast.  He woke for suhour, studied Quran with me and did all his prayers.  
  • This year, we stayed in Egypt.  He woke for suhour, prayed, studied Quran and fasted for 16 hours the entire Ramadan.  He made it to magrib!  A five-year process is complete.  
There's a lesson in that.  We can't SHAZAM! instant results from our children---or from anyone else for that matter.  We can't even summon that up from ourselves.  There has to be patience and perseverance in equal amounts and we have to really keep the eyes on the prize.  


The weird thing is how long it really takes.  You can try to raise a child quickly to accept Islamic beliefs, BUT it isn't going to work.  I've seen that at the Islamic schools in America where nervous Muslim parents plop down their middle-school age kids ( the ones they've just pulled from public school).  That's really too late.  Be the water that wears away the sand that is formless; it's possible but much harder (literally) to wear away the stone.

Be Grateful for the Moments

My teen girl continues to be a...teen girl.  She is very changeable and often feels like a human equivalent of a pushmi-pullyu.

I spent many of my first days in Ramadan praying for us to mend our ways and to find peace together.  I forgot.  I forgot the many times we DO have a good time.  I have had those times over the past year but I don't focus on them.  I get negative on our relationship because I'm not grateful.

I don't want to become one of those little old ladies who finally gets a visitor and then complain the whole visit that no one ever comes to visit her.  I want to be there for my girl and when she comes to me I want to welcome her.

At that moment in my Ramadan, I stopped asking for something and started thanking for something.

The Variety of Married Life 

Every description of married life is going to fall flat.  It simply is so much more than anyone could ever describe.  It has to be experienced in all its richness.  I felt that this Ramadan when I really lost my husband once again during the month.

I lost him to Allah AND found him in Allah.  It happens when my focus is no longer getting close to him and he is no longer focused on getting close to me.  We literally come together on the prayer rug and it is powerful.

Any man can be a sexual partner but not any man can be a partner in prayer.

I'm constantly amazed at how few couples (of any religion) pray together.  There is more tenderness and caring in that moment than perhaps any other time.  One night, my husband didn't wait for me before he began the magrib prayer (as he was hurrying to make it downstairs for dinner).  I cried.  I broke down and cried to be without our connection in prayer at magrib.  He heard my pain and waited for me the rest of Ramadan.  That is a Muslim marriage and I'm happy I have one.

Recognition of Third-World Citizens
When I started Ramadan, I was gung-ho to be an active person.  I had a list of things I was going to accomplish.  I was busy and intent on staying busy.

Eventually, I ran out of steam.  I could not keep going.  I was lacking energy and I couldn't find it again.  I did become lazy; just getting through the days doing the bare minimum.  It was hot, I was thirsty, I was weak, I...realized that a lot of the world lives like this day after day without end.

I thought about all those people who are SO capable but they can't find the energy to put their ideas and abilities into actions.  They don't have it in them because they are lacking basic needs.  Their struggle to maintain the bare minimum is so intense that they aren't contributing all they could.  We, as a world, are missing out on some amazing people because we have neglected them.  They need safety, food, water, protection from the elements, and sleep.

Now that I have my basic needs met once again, I am starting to be more of myself.  I want to remember those who have never really known all they are capable of because they've never been given a chance.

Wasting Time
I waste a LOT of my time.  I think we all do and I think it's a growing trend.  This Ramadan, I tried to get in touch with what enlivens me and what brings me down.

Some of this is on the computer or on the television.  Some of this is just in my head:  I think too much about things and people that don't concern me.

I look better thinner
It's funny what my non-Muslim mother is most interested in during my Ramadan fasting.  "Are you losing any weight?" she'll always ask.  Many people actually GAIN weight in Ramadan---I did last year when I wasn't breaking my fast until 10:00 pm.  However, this year, I did lose weight because I wasn't surrounded by American comfort food.

I did think about the amount of "fun" food I've been eating.  During Ramadan, you can't toy with your food decisions; every morsel you put in your mouth is a serious matter.  If you don't eat a nutritious suhour, you FEEL IT.  If you don't break the fast at iftar with something healthy, you risk falling into a kind of sugar-induced coma.

Looks aren't everything, but being healthy is.  When I project good health with a thinned down self, I feel better about myself.  I like myself more.

How was it that I gained weight?  I've been rewarding all my hard work at school with food I shouldn't eat:  chips mostly, but also fresh hoagie buns, and whatever sweets were being offered in the staff room.  This came after a summer of rewarding myself for traveling to the U.S. last year;  all those gloriously delicious processed foods like Oreos, Pop-Tarts, soda pop, and vats of ice cream.  That's a lot of rewards with not a lot of residual good feelings.

In the end, I need to watch how I'm taking care of my body because it's the only thing keeping me going.  If it falls apart, then a lot of hopes and dreams----not just for me but for my son----will die.

Speaking of Dying...
This is going to sound very strange, but I realized this Ramadan that I had had a parent die.  No, it was not my mom or dad, but my father's second wife; my former step-mother.

This past winter, when  I had learned that she had died, and I had called my dad to talk about it with him.  They had been married longer than my mom and dad, but divorced for the last 15 years.  One good thing about talking to someone with Alzheimer's, you get an initial reaction from the person even if they have already gotten the news from somebody else.  My dad and I had shared an honest talk about this woman who had figured so heavily in my life for so many years.  He had talked over her passing in a very respectful way and I will always appreciate that about him.

I had talked with my mom too, at that time, and I had tried to process how a person whom I had many times wished to die, had in fact died.  My mother hadn't been a big fan either.  On that phone call, I could be myself with her---I could let the ugly hang out.

No, my relationship with my former step-mother wasn't very positive AND just like my relationship with my daughter, I focused on the negative.  It was very easy to do that with the "evil stepmother" because she made it very easy to hate her.  The problem is that I don't want to hate; I really don't.

Some days after her death, as the year was ending, I had decided to stop trying to compartmentalize how I felt about the death of my father's ex-wife.  It wasn't until Ramadan that it hit me:  one of my parents had died.  She had been a parent---many times she was not a very good parent, but that's the role she played in my life.  I will never actually know how she benefited me, so at some point in Ramadan I decided to pray for her soul.

Many people come and go in our lives who hurt us.  We feel so badly about what they've done and we hold onto that hurt.  Yet, when someone else feels hurt by us, we want them to release their pain.  We want them to forgive us at the SAME TIME we won't forgive someone else.

Forgiving this woman came about during the fast when I felt humbled by my inability to do all that I could.  I was weak and I realized that in her life she was weak too.  We all put on a good game face, but in the end we are all weak and incapable of all that we wish we could do.

I bet she wished she could have done some things better with me.  I forgive her for what she didn't do well and I'm grateful for what she did.  Only Allah knows which is which.  May Allah forgive her for faults and recognize her achievements.

I'm Where I Need to Be
This Ramadan I felt that I'm where I need to be.  This is HUGE for someone who has jumped ship any number of times.  I tend to leave when things get dull, or tough, or sticky.  I haven't left this place and these people.  I am here.

This spring, I had looked into buying a different apartment and moving away from this family house.  Remember that the three of us live in our own private apartment in a four-story home in which my husband's family all have a floor.  We meet together for meals on the main floor.  We also share in each others' lives---for better or for worse.  This spring I was ready to chuck the communal life and live away from them but the 1.6 million pounds I'd need (half now and half over two years) impacted my final decision.  I don't have that kind of money and even if I did, I need to think of El Kid's future needs (like college).

During Ramadan, I did get upset at the inability of the others to SLEEP because they stay awake all night---even the smallest (and loudest) children.  There was one early morning that I was just about to fall to sleep when I heard a horrible cough.  If I had been asleep, as I had wished to be, then I wouldn't have heard it.  Again and again, I heard this hacking so I woke my husband.

It was his brother who was hacking and he had run out of asthma medicine.  It was 2:00 in the morning.  Did he have honey?  No.  I got him some of ours and my husband got it upstairs so his throat could calm down.  Then, my husband ran to the all-night pharmacy for that all-important spray.

Who else in this home would have done all that?  It was down to us to work together; we helped him and often do help the others in the family.  When my husband got back from his delivery run, he prayed two rakhas in thanks to God.  We were in the right place at the right time through the Grace of God.  I told him, when he got back to bed, that we need to stay here in this house with these people.

This doesn't mean I think this is a perfect situation.  It isn't.  There are challenges.  What I feel more than ever is that I have something going on here ---in the country and in this home---that I need.  I need to keep on improving myself and seek for ways in which I can grow.  No one can grow when they constantly uproot themselves.

Back to Normal
Lastly, Ramadan does really come into our lives like this big opportunity for reflection, action, and change.  Some of it is unwanted.  Some of it we crave.  Either way, to have traveled into that territory is to have given yourself a chance to be better.  One of the phrases that kept in my mind was, "Don't let Ramadan just be about thirst and hunger."

"Back to normal," isn't really what we need to feel afterwards.  It's more like "onto better."

Inshahallah, you are better for having gone through the month.


Anonymous said...

Assalaamu Aleiykum Zara.(smile)
Maasha Allah, Very nice post.
JazakAllaah Khair.

-->M A K

Anonymous said...

Mashallah this was a wonderful post. Ive learned so much from you throughout the years. May Allah swt continue to bless you and your family. Ameen.

Party of 5 said...

I can relate to a lot of what you wrote.

The losing weight part is interesting...my non-Muslim family says/asks the same things.