on the 4th day of Ramzan, I already feel like fasting is the regular way to be. no eating, no drinking for 14+ hours of the day. waking up in what feels like the middle of the night, to eat and then pray at dawn, just to try and toss back to sleep again.
I have an easy Ramzan schedule in terms of work. Most days I get to sleep in past 10 am, and am just spending a lot of time reading the Quran, working on my university classes, and keeping up with my yoga & meditation practice.
I take time to pray and reflect everyday. But something about Ramzan is especially unique. Yesterday, after iftar (when we open our fast at sunset) my sister in law and I were talking about faith. She was saying how that now is the only time she can “force” her kids (7 & 10) to go to the mosque and inculcate the desire in them to fast, even though she thinks they are too young, so that it becomes a part of their lives and they continue to fast as adults.
Most people I have met who fast, started very young (in their teens) and continue to do it as adults. This in no way means that most of the people I know don’t undertake fasting and Ramzan as a particularly spiritual quest. But it got me thinking about my own journey here.
I was never forced to pray or fast. In fact, my parents tried to get me to read the Quran in Arabic but by 12 I had in my style stubbornly walked away from the task – with good reason (I still think it is good reason) that if I can’t understand it why should I read it? Sweet Valley High on the other hand seemed like a much better option to me.
Yet, there was always spirit in our lives. There was the festivity of Eid, the togetherness at iftar, the aazan (call for prayer) 5 times a day. And Ramzan was my favorite month of the year. Especially because it was almost 30 days of no alcohol in the house. And Ramzan Eid because I would be gifted with envelopes filled with fresh crisp money 🙂
somewhere around the age of 11 I started to question it all, along with so many other things. And I had 2 friends that I explored these questions about God with. By the time I turned 15, God, as far i could see, didn’t exist. In fact, I was angry at God.
For years I stayed stuck in my anger, and fueled my disbelief. And so many times when life handed me challenges through my mother’s addictions, or my own, or broken relationships I repeatedly turned to drugs, alcohol, and reckless behavior to help myself.
3 years a go (feels like ancient history), it was Ramzan and I was living in Toronto. My workplace was full of Muslims, and I saw something really special after a long time. I wanted to fast. I had never had that urge before. So I tried. I fasted for 4 days and then my body gave up. And my ex-husband said to me, “oh god, for a moment I got scared that you were turning Muslim on me.”
Within 6 weeks of that day, our relationship, built on years of togetherness, a marriage contract, a mortgage, and countless other unwritten commitments began to end.
And somehow, I wish I could remember what or who it was that guided me, I started to pray. I had never learned how to pray properly so I went on YouTube and searched for Azan. I just listened to the Azan a few times and felt so comforted. I tried to pray and then rested my eyes after a long time.
Slowly I started to pray whenever I felt that overwhelming feeling of loss and fear. At work I would stop and pray. I would wake up and pray. All with my Iphone speakers in my ears while listening and following the namaz on YouTube.
My cousin came to visit me on a cold December’s day in Toronto, 2008. I had come home from work and she was there holding me at the end of what must have been a torturous crying session. She said, hold the Quran, ask for guidance and open it, and read whatever comes up on that page.
Surah Baqarah, verse 216: “Fighting is ordained for you, even though it be hateful to you; but it may well be that you a hate a thing the while it is good for you, and it may well be that you love a thing the while it is bad for you: and God knows, whereas you do not know.”
I will never forget the strange peace that followed reading those lines. That was it. My ex and I used to fight so much. We loved each other, no doubt, but it was so hard to live together. Suddenly, maybe, just maybe, there was something I didn’t know and I slowly started to surrender myself to a higher power.
I wish that I could say that after that everything was easy and I let go. But it wasn’t and I didn’t. In fact, the months following reading that passage, I resisted my reality with a vengeance. I became depressed, suicidal, and again turned to my reliable friends: drugs and alcohol.
My first Ramzan back in Karachi, I didn’t even try to keep one roza. I was praying but I wasn’t ready yet. And then last year, after coming home from Yandara, something shifted. I realized that I could give up eating and drinking for God, because God is what gives me life, my breath. God had graced me with forgiveness, healing and gifts that are too many to mention and too majestic to comprehend. In fact, I understood that fasting in the name of God was a privilege, such a small hardship to endure when faced with the awe of the perfectly woven tapestry that is my life.
This time around, its more familiar to fast, but not any less meaningful. In fact, the kind of year I’ve had its amazing to me that again I’ve come back to God. Almost 2 months of sobriety behind me, no cigarettes, and no parties I am feeling a strange kind of clarity, peace and joy. I also have attracted what seems like the perfect environment to develop further on my path. And anything seems possible.
A few months back in a mindfulness group that I was attending, someone there explained, “La illaha il lala” (There is no God but God) in a way that perfectly sums up my journey. She said, that one must first not know God to know God. That we must experience the opposite, the negation, before we experience the affirmation. And wow, am I thankful for each little bit of experience that helped me get to where I am today.
Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving, it doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times.
Come, yet again, come, come.
Inscribed on Rumi’s shrine in Konya, Turkey.