Monday, July 30, 2012


Ramadan began about a week and a half ago. Every Ramadan is somehow eventful, whether it is full of mistakes and regrets, filled with refreshing changes, or a series of epiphanies. This is no surprise when you think about what this month is about. Its when the shayateen (devils) are chained up in Hell, so you are less inclined to commit evil out of a spur. Its when God pours blessings into the world, so if you look for it, it is much easier to find in this month. I have been extremely blessed because I grew up in an environment that constantly encouraged me to see the world a little bit more clearly. To not have blind faith in something that is based on nothing.

When I was little, Ramadan was exciting because of the special food, and the overall feeling of celebration. Living in a Muslim majority nation, we had the privilege of fasting as a whole nation. We would eagerly wait to sight the moon, run around in excitement when we could see it with our own eyes from the backyard and tune into special TV programs released specifically for the Eve of Ramadan. Sometimes, the moon was sighted really late at night, and mum would have to began cooking when its time to sleep. We would wake up a few hours later, stuff ourselves with as much rice and curry as we possibly could, pour in some water if there was space, and go back to sleep as soon as we could. The whole day would be either spent reading the Quran, or reading something else, or watching TV, or sleeping, or playing - anything that would distract us from food did its job. In the evening, we would eat things that we would not normally have the time or energy for. Once again, we would stuff ourselves with the most unhealthy things possible. Ma did try to implement some sort of health rules, and we would often have a few pieces of fruits in addition to the above!

When asked why I fasted, I could tell you the reasons that were taught to me, reasons that I practically had memorised, but never truly internalised. I fasted to feel how the poor people felt. I also knew that 'Ramadan' means 'to burn'. And I knew that this is the month to burn sins. However, that is as far as my knowledge and understanding went. This was okay until I reached puberty, because, no sins are incurred before that. So, even though I may have slipped in a few snacks here and there, without letting any other human beings know, it was okay.

The problem starts when you reach puberty without the proper understanding of implications of your actions. My knowledge and understanding of Ramadan did not really improve, so I was stuck in a repeated cycle of trying to 'force' myself to follow something that I did not understand. Yes, I had hope, that I would be forgiven, because Ramadan is indeed the month where sins are burnt, but at the same time, that hope was pretty baseless and often resulted in me just blocking out the thought of the consequences altogether. This doesn't mean every single day of every single Ramadan was spent like this. There were times when I truly had love, hope and fear. But there were also times when I gave into my temptations.

My first fruitful Ramadan, that I can remember, was in 2007. I had specific goals that I wanted to reach, I understood the meaning of dua and I explored my understanding. I came out of it a changed person. In 2007, a lot of things happened that did indeed change me for the better, alhamdulillah. However, the years that followed were not so good. But the important thing is, that every single mistake that you make can be remedied, every sin can be repented for and every blunder can be learnt from.

In Islam, it is emphasised over and over again, that the life of this world is merely a testing ground for the life of the Hereafter. It is short, and unfair, and things would happen that you may not like, but in the end, what matters is the decisions that you make. Yes, there are consequences for your decisions that you must bear. But, your entire life is not a series of consequences. It is a mixture of new tests, and consequences of past tests. So, whether something results in worldly success or failure has not much to do with the real success/failure. At the same time, you are expected to be a responsible global citizen, thus, live a life that is sustainable. So, in a nutshell, the aim is to strive for balance. You need to focus on both your ownself, and on the world. You cannot help fix the world in a sustainable way if you are a mess. Also, you would be very selfish to only focus on fixing yourself up and let the world slide in its problems. All of these, must be done in the light of love, hope and fear of God. Because God loving, merciful and just. So, by responding to all tests in the way that God wants you to respond, you worship Him. And that is the purpose of us, as explained by Islam - to worship God. This can be applied to every single situation, and in a very practical way.

In light of our purpose, Ramadan is a mercy from God. Because it is a relatively safer time to take care of one's faith, and also, a time that is filled with blessings, so, every reward for every good deed is multiplied. So, it is a month where we find that balance. It is a time to detoxify ourselves and go back to a state of inner peace - the essence of Islam.

The other implication of putting this life in context of the Hereafter, is that, you realise that in reality, you have zero power. After death, that's it. Your book is written, no more negatives are taken out, nor positives added. You don't know where you'll end up. And you don't know when death will come. Thus, you are solely at the mercy of God. Thus, in Islam, as well as the emphasis on inner peace and balance, the concept of gaining forgiveness is also emphasised, over and over again. In this way, all of the purposes of Ramadan are tied together. The Prophet said: anyone who fasts the month of Ramadan, out of faith and confident anticipation of God's rewards, will have their past sins forgiven. So, by gaining that balance, by relying completely on God, with actions and intentions, can one truly understand what Ramadan is about. And if that is done, this month truly becomes a special, life changing one. 

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