So why should I fast anyway?

Originally written for Gulf News Opinion

dates iftar

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.


The Spirit of Ramadan


A collage of some images in my gallery

Published today in Gulf News:

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.

Ramadan Reflections

Parched lips. Throat dry as a bone. I felt dizzy, proverbially dizzy, almost like Tom in ‘Tom and Jerry’ with the stars and birds circling around his head when Jerry had somehow managed to knock him out (yet again). I felt knocked out too. It had been nearly twelve hours since I had consumed anything and my head felt woozy for want of a big, refreshing mug of tea – right after a bottle of chilled water. All I thought about was food. Sigh.

I made a lazy, half-hearted attempt to pray the next salah, yawning through the raka’as. And then the laptop caught my eye!

Would a little bit of Friends hurt? And oh – did I remember the next episode of the serial I was watching would now be on YouTube? Fatigue? Who remembers fatigue when some fictional characters can make you laugh and smile? Fifteen minutes later, I am giggling like Phoebe. But just an hour later I feel like the biggest moron in existence. Can you relate? Read on.

So I just wasted a precious hour of Ramadan, of fasting in front of the TV/Internet. I might as well eat and drink. What just happened in this one hour? I lost the special relationship I had cultivated with Allah over the last few weeks, my eyes committed the act of looking at non-mahrams, I laughed at jokes that were less-than-respectable, and I angered Allah – all of that whilst fasting. And I used precious time which could just as easily have been utilized for worship.

My heart feels like a deep hollow and as I look at my face in the mirror, I realize that just an hour or so ago, it had been glowing, but not anymore. I look at my hijab hanging on the cupboard and feel like a real hypocrite. Here I am curbing my physical needs from dawn to dusk – only to indulge in sin? I’m sure Satan has a fun time with me outside of Ramadan – because it looks as though I don’t really need him to goof up! The stuff I do with him locked up would doubtless encourage him.

Actually this Ramadan is so precious, so important, and a blessed guest who comes and goes far too quickly. Allah gave us a whole thirty days to get forgiven, to find peace and success in Dunya and Akhirah. Like the desert sand slips away so noiselessly from a closed fist, so does Ramadan slip away. Before we know it, two weeks are gone, and we’re still covered in sin. More sins in fact, than when we started off. God, what a sorry fate for me if I can’t grab this golden opportunity with both hands and somehow get myself in Allah’ good books, once and for all.

If only I hadn’t wasted time watching something as silly and useless (in fact harmful) as the stupid TV show. I could just as easily have clicked on the beautiful recitations of the wonderful imams or I might have listened to some cool Islamic lectures. Like this one which I would strongly recommend to anyone who feels they’re wasting their time in Ramadan:

So this Ramadan, dear sisters and brothers I just want to stop wasting my time. No matter how hungry and tired (or dizzy for that matter!) I am, I will not while away valuable moments in front of the idiot box or the Internet. I could just take a short nap if I think I need a break. Or some mild stretching and yoga might even be good.

I think the TV guys are in tune with so many of us who plonk ourselves on the couch in the hope that the strenuous day passes quickly. So many channels now have ‘special Ramadan transmissions’ – a lot of which includes more movies and soaps than usual. Also, so many of us log on to Twitter and Facebook and before we know it an hour has passed and we’ve just been checking out a whole lot of random profiles and pictures and ‘liking’ useless stuff, all the while concerning ourselves with other people’s affairs! Not exactly wise, is it? Allahu Akbar! Let’s stay away from it all and make this Ramadan REALLY count! ‘Cause you know that hadith right where Angel Jibrael (Alayhis Salam) cursed certain people?

A part of it here:

Prophet Muhammed (Sall Allahu Alayhi wa Sallam) said: When I climbed the first step, the angel Jibraeel (A.S.) appeared before me and said

“Destruction to him who found the blessed month of Ramdhan and let it pass by without gaining forgiveness”

upon that I said ‘Aameen’. 

(Hakim, Baihaqi)