So why should I fast anyway?

Originally written for Gulf News Opinion http://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/so-why-should-i-fast-anyway-1.1850796

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The clock strikes four and I gulp down the water quickly. I hear the distant call of the Fajr (dawn) prayer and realise that for the next 15 hours, I can neither eat nor drink anything. I think warily of the fact that the girls have school almost half this Ramadan and pick-ups must be braved in the searing heat. It’s not the food I mind giving up, I say grudgingly to myself, it’s the water and the caffeine — and the sleep that gets interrupted when I wake up to eat the pre-dawn meal. I’m a grouch early in the morning and the idea of not being able to get a long lie-in irks me.

“Why must I fast anyway?” I ask myself in a moment of restless, bleary-eyed grumpiness. There’s a voice inside me that tells me to come to my senses, but another stronger voice pipes up, “Because everyone fasts during Ramadan”. I complete the Fajr prayer lazily and throw dirty looks at the clock that just doesn’t seem to move on. As the day wears on, my mood thankfully improves, much to the relief of my family. The conscience is uncomfortably guilty as I question myself again, this time wide-awake and pleasant enough — why, at any rate, do we fast in Ramadan?

The obvious answer of course would be that because Allah commanded us in the Quran to do so. He also told us that He intends ease for us and not difficulty, and that those who are unable to fast due to reasons such as ill-health, travelling and child birth are exempt from doing so. There is also great reward in paradise for those who fast. Just that should be enough for someone of sound faith to want to fast, but I want to delve deeper into this question.

Let me, for starters, examine my relationship with God. When things are going well, I don’t really talk to Him much. I pray mechanically, almost like I just want to tick off a task in my day. But when the going gets tough, I earnestly talk to Him, in the darkness of the night and during the day when no one but Him understands my whispered pleas. When I feel inadequate, unable to do everything that’s expected of me, I reach out to Him and tell Him everything, safe in the knowledge that His mercy is greater than His wrath and that He, alone will not judge me.

One thing about people is that they’re quick to judge you. Say, a woman might be having an illicit affair and people would condemn her for being a two-faced hypocrite, but the only One who knows her full story and still has the door of mercy and forgiveness open for her is Allah. When you’re in the wrong — say things you dearly regret and actions that you’d give anything to eradicate — Allah is the One and only who understands you and still loves you and appreciates the fact that you came back and said sorry. Just the thought is emancipating.

Another beautiful thing about this relationship is that Allah knows me better than anyone, imperfections and all. He still loves me and listens to me every time I need to talk — no matter even if it is too trivial and I can be myself. He takes care of my requests, provided I ask like I really mean them. Even while I prayed and fasted like it was a chore, He continued to bless me with every passing day with gifts such as a functioning body, my family and countless other things.

I feel like a very selfish person — all I seem to care about is MY comfort, MY coffee and MY entertainment. I feel shallow, insincere — but one thing I do not feel is despair, because I know that the moment I reciprocate the love He shows me, Allah will give me another chance.

Outward signs of practising religion are indeed a part of it, but the actions are weightless if the conviction of faith isn’t behind them. I reflect upon the fact that I have this One friend that I have counted on in every moment of need and found Him to be true and incredibly caring and merciful. He continues to love me despite the fact that I mess up way too often. The more I know Him, the more thankful I am to Him and the more I want to show Him my love and devotion too. From hereon, I will fast because I want to, because He said so, because it is a privilege to be able to worship Him in the way He wants me to.

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Do some soul-searching during Ramadan

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This image is one I took and designed last year for Ramadan.

Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff” http://gulfnews.com/opinions/offthecuff/do-some-soul-searching-during-ramadan-1.1206472

It’s one of those things about life; it takes us to the lowest possible ebb, and just when we’re ready to throw in the towel, it gets us to rise again. I remember last Ramadan with a mixture of sadness and fondness. It had been a tough year for me, perhaps one of the most turbulent phases of my life.

About a year ago, I wrote about how Ramadan was important to me because it wasn’t just about abstaining from food and drink, it was about clearing my heart and letting go of every malicious thought, every grudge and ill-feeling that I harboured against anyone.

I wanted to truly forgive and forget and I wanted a clean slate. Those days turned out to be, in many ways, a turning point in life for me.

I could have either given up on everything and everyone or I could have moved on into the light, brushing aside the cynicism and the negativity.

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I was tired. I was tired of the way things had been, I was tired of myself and I was very conscious of the fact that I might never see another Ramadan again.

When the Ramadan moon was sighted, it brought with it a hope as faint as the moon itself, and as I searched the heavens for a sign, I saw a hazy sliver of silver suspended in the faraway sky and I wondered if that little bit of light would somehow, miraculously brighten up my world too. I had known all along: it was time for change.

The change that had always made a case for itself but I had ignored the fact that it was even, in any way, needed. I decided that I would let this month be a sort of new beginning.

That meant only one thing: a fresh perspective, some serious soul searching and hoping, praying and trying desperately for the changes I so badly, urgently needed to make within my own self.

Ego issues

The ego of a human being is the single greatest thing that stands between a person and total happiness and peace. I wanted to conquer my ego, I wanted the realisation of my own errors that would help me break down and cry, and start again from scratch, without a ton of unnecessary baggage weighing me down. I wanted to humble myself, and I knew I had to take responsibility for everything that had gone wrong.

Holding myself, and just my own actions accountable for everything that had happened was where it all began. When I finally came to terms with the fact that our present is a direct result of our decisions and behaviour in the past, it looked as though the grime was finally shifting.

When the mosques were full and people beseeched Allah in the blessed nights, I too prayed for a miracle. And then just as quickly as it had come, with so much hype and hope, stealthily, the month of Ramadan passed me by.

I wondered if the changes I so desperately wanted would occur and if they would manifest themselves. It is said that if you take a step towards Allah, He in all His might and glory takes ten towards you, and if you walk to Him, He runs to you.

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Feel free to share this pictorial, click for a larger image. This one was designed a long time ago by me.

About a year later, I say this with moist eyes — change did happen. It happened from within. Perhaps that’s why I could I see the world clearly, because my own vision was no longer altered with an omnipresent layer of dirt.

I don’t know how, I don’t even know when, and I certainly don’t know why — but all I know is that sincere remorse, no matter how lost you are, and being honest with yourself is the best way to pick yourself up again, and to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

As I wait again for another Ramadan, I am filled with joy, gratitude and a sense of wonder and a warm feeling of hope and positivity. The blessed nights are truly special.

PS: What does Ramadan mean to you? How was your best Ramadan, do you remember it? What are your favourite tips for a great Ramadan?

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.