Originally written for Gulf News: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/offthecuff/on-being-the-only-one-who-doesn-t-fast-1.1359213
Published July 2014
Like a lot of people who observe and celebrate Ramadan, I generally anticipate its arrival way before the month actually begins. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that I plan my entire year around it, look forward to its arrival and feel saddened when it bids us farewell.
This attachment to the month could be for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that for me, on a personal level, Ramadan has always brought forth positivity. Be it major changes within my own mental makeup or minor ones on the bathroom scales, Ramadan has been, for me, a bringer of glad tidings. Not surprisingly, it has witnessed some of the best moments in my life. At the very essence of it all, there is of course, the act of fasting and in general an increase in worship, the kind that generates from the heart and brings lasting peace and tranquillity to it.
What then, am I to make of this particular Ramadan, when I am for medical reasons (pregnancy, to be specific) not able to fast? Before the month began, I was secretly happy that I wouldn’t have to brave the heat and discomfort during the long day from dawn to dusk without food and water, but when the moon was sighted and everyone around me began to fast, I felt — well, there has to be only one for it — deprived.
The blessed meal of suhour has a charm about it that has to be experienced to be understood. You eat what you can (sometimes half-asleep) and as soon as you realise it’s time, you stop eating and drinking for the sake of your Creator alone. And then when, hours later, after a demanding day, you take your first gulp of water at iftar, you just want to praise the Lord for the sheer pleasure it brings. You suddenly feel content and there’s no emotion in the world that can parallel that.
I didn’t realise how much I would miss all that. I didn’t realise just how much fasting does for you on a spiritual level — indeed, this time it doesn’t even feel like it’s Ramadan. I have the vague sensation of something extremely precious flowing away without being able to catch it, taste it or experience it. It’s as though everyone around me is taking full advantage of something special while I am on the sidelines, observing them, twiddling my thumbs even as I waddle around the house, with my tummy entering every room a few seconds before I do!
One could of course argue that if I can’t fast, I can surely pray the night prayer, ortaraweeh — the prayer specific to the nights of Ramadan. Certainly, if I can get past my swollen feet and larger-than-life ankles, the (unlimited) restroom runs that just seem to be around the corner and that lovely, calming sensation of perpetual heartburn — and oh, did I mention the mood swings that even I can’t explain?
And it is not entirely easy to feel enthusiastic about standing in prayer for long hours at night, when you’ve played mom and homemaker for the better part of the day, slogging away resolutely, mustering up just about enough strength to carry along all of those extra pounds your body currently sports.
I do perhaps sound a little more frustrated (disappointed?) than I should be, because my situation brings with it a joy that is extremely precious and life-changing and truly makes everything worthwhile. As always, there is a strong case of looking at the glass half-full and finding ways of making this Ramadan wonderful and memorable too.
After all, doesn’t Allah look at your intentions and is it not the heart that is made content, regardless of whether you are able to fast or not? Isn’t it about connecting with your almighty on a profound spiritual level? Then I, for one, should know that exhausted, frustrated and inadequate as I feel, it takes only a moment of earnest seeking to find that which I’m looking for. Perhaps it’s just that one evasive tear that refuses to fall from my eye or that one suppressed supplication that hasn’t yet escaped my lips that will make this Ramadan even better than the last. Here’s hoping that I too, will be able to partake in the blessings of this special month and it won’t go by without transforming the negatives into positives and somehow bringing about yet another new beginning.
Mehmudah Rehman is a Dubai-based freelancer.