On being the only one who doesn’t fast

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.

Vague sensation

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.

The Spirit of Ramadan


A collage of some images in my gallery

Published today in Gulf News: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/offthecuff/the-spirit-of-ramadan-1.1058147

I can’t believe that we are halfway through Ramadan. Before the month of fasting began, I have to admit that I was a bit worried — what with the searing heat of Dubai and no food or drink for 15 hours! Then Ramadan began, and I was surprised when things began to feel relatively comfortable after the first few days.

As time passes it gets easier to ignore that big bottle of cold water every time you open the fridge, and it becomes less agonising to feed your little ones, who insist on eating chilled mangoes every few hours.

One thing, however, still remains difficult. Fasting was prescribed on us so that we may become better people, so that we become God-fearing individuals who improve upon their personalities in an important and spiritual way. Yes, our tummies are supposed to get a break too — but most of us tend to over-compensate at iftar when we come face to face with deep-fried golden brown samosas and their co-conspirators. However, the part about achieving a better spiritual state is the most challenging.

We abstain from giving in to our physical desires yet our hearts are just as burdened with ill-feeling as they were before. We still remember that high-school grudge, the friend who wronged or embarrassed us and the co-worker who always takes all the credit in front of the boss.

Dealing with envy

We all but seethe at the mention of certain specimens of mankind and yes — we eye yet others with that very debilitating thing called envy. Our hearts are still mired deep in resentment and we hold on to the mistakes of others and vow never to forgive them or forget what they did to us. We act as vitriol for own ill-feeling, and whether or not we consume food hardly matters.

When we introspect, we refuse to forgive our own selves too. Our hearts are hard, not just for the world but for our own selves. The bitterness overwhelms any positivity that the holy month brings — simply because we have become too accustomed to living life with a lot of unnecessary baggage.

As this month draws towards its end I hope to shed all that excess baggage, once and for all. I am not only referring to the excesses that reside peacefully around the waistline (someone hide the samosas at iftar!) but also to all the negativity that has all but become a part of me.

I want to let go of all those unpleasant memories that I subconsciously kindle inside my heart. It is to let go of that burning feeling of revenge I get every time I think of certain things — to forget about what so-and-so said behind my back or how I felt when such-and-such thing happened. Clean slate. I mean it.

In many ways this month is a celebration for Muslims around the world because the Quran was first revealed in this month. And what better way to celebrate than bring about a significant and much-needed positive change within my own mental make-up?

I already feel a lot lighter, and this has nothing to do with the bathroom scales which, it has to be said, remain as obstinate as ever.

Yes, it’s okay to be different!


A few days back I asked my readers what they thought about being one’s own person in a society that is all about conforming to the norms. I got interesting answers, and finally I thought about the issue myself. Here’s what I realized.

It’s far safer to conform, it’s so much less challenging to go with the flow. But some of us just aren’t made for that. I know I would be miserable if I stopped following my heart and my gut feelings. I know I’d never be satisfied if I wasn’t true with myself.

This is me. And I’m not about to change.

Is it okay to be me?

Weird title. I know.

I try not to say a lot personal stuff on the www, but sometimes you just gotta let it out.  I am someone who can be herself anywhere, everywhere. I am someone who doesn’t really lose a lot of sleep over what people will think. Like they type of woman who will do what she wants as long as she feels strongly about it.

I’m the type of person who would speak up in a group if she disagrees about something. Never really cared about ‘what people will say and think’. And believe me, they say and think all sorts of stuff about me. Sometimes to my face. And yet I continue to be me, ruffled only temporarily by a world full of people who judge not just me, but all who dare to be different, dare to be themselves in world governed by what society thinks, and by enforced conformity.

I don’t mean to say that one should simply reject everything society says, rather I mean that one should have the guts to follow one’s own thought, and believe in it — even if people think it’s crap.

Yet, lately I’ve been wondering – is it okay to be yourself in front of people? Is it okay to be someone who is straightforward and honest? Or do people judge you just too damn much and too soon?

Please share your thoughts. I’d love to know what you think.

Are we better off conforming to the ways of the world? Or better off being ourselves?

Pic detail: Traditional Pakistani shoes ‘Khussa’.

Five things that can change my life

1.       Positive self-image and self-esteem:

Now, I want to consciously build a positive self-image. And self-belief as well, that I can indeed conquer the odds. I sometimes get in that mode when I find fault with everything I do and I just feel bad about myself.

2.       Attack the piles of work like… right away, not tomorrow:

I’m going to take action and read and revise and actually welcome my exams. Delayed action is sometimes equal to no action.

3.       Eat healthier:

Intelligent snacking is a good way to boost energy levels and can help you concentrate. Mindless snacking is the exact opposite.

4.       Pray with a purpose:

Prayer is a beautiful thing and if done in the correct spirit it can be immensely relaxing (meditative) and it can take care of just about everything. I will make a serious effort to pray better – qualitatively first.

 5.       Forgive: me and the world:

I am forgiving everyone, for whatever they did to me, and I am forgiving myself for making mistakes, for being imperfect and for goofing up.

Stay blessed!

The power to JUDGE


Apologies to those who’ve done me the honour of visiting and following this space. The hiatus has been a draining few days, both physically and emotionally. All praise and glory to Allah alone who brings the dead earth to life, and who Alone helps the broken heart heal itself and breathe again.


The power to judge


When was the last time you were judged by someone? If you’re anything like me, you get judged very often. I say what I think, I don’t mince words and I call a spade, a spade. And because of my straightforward ways, I am a soft target to pick on. There is always something that I’ve said that gets me into trouble.

I never really acquired the art of moulding a serious insult under a pile of gooey sweetness. Diplomacy if you like – it never really has been my thing.  Chances are if I get upset with someone, I will probably let them know in a simple, straightforward manner. I am a person with feelings and sensitivity – and I deserve to be treated with respect. If I feel that somehow that aspect has been overlooked, I tend to make it known

People – who are in no way qualified to pass judgements – have told me I am a gutter snipe from the worst gutter. Not necessarily in those words but you get the point.

So what next? Do I let people judge me? Do you let people judge you? Who really is the one to judge any person or any action?

Let’s get something clear. The only one who has the POWER, the RIGHT to judge is Allah alone. Only the Almighty. Just Him.

I live my life wanting to please Him, humbly and with a God-consciousness that drives me. And I can’t possibly please all of humanity. Or mould myself into a boiled cabbage, for that matter!

Many years have passed and I’m still the same confident woman, who will not conform to what she doesn’t believe in, who will not do something unless she’s totally convinced about it. And just because people pass unqualified judgements on me I don’t think I’m going to change.

And you know what? Someday, if Allah wills, it’s this varying from the oft-trodden path and finding my way across uncharted waters that will bring me success, both in the world and in the Hereafter.

And Allah Knows Best!


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