So much to learn and so little time!
For all Muslims around the world, the month of Ramadan is a great month. It is the month in which Allah revealed the Qur’an as a guidance for the whole of mankind, the month during which we find Laylat al-Qadr, the month during which the gates of heaven are open and the gates of Hell are shut, the month during which the shayaateen (devils) are tied up and the rewards for good deeds are multiplied… But what is the month of Ramadan like for converts?
Mostly of course, the month of Ramadan is really great for converts. The unity amongst Muslims that seems to have gone missing over the months comes back during Ramadan, which means a lot more support is offered to them and they get to meet a lot more brothers and sisters than usual. They are offered great food, invited to different Iftars and are immersed in different Islamic activities.
But, to be completely honest, all that excitement and all the stories I hear about Ramadan also really make me nervous sometimes. Last year, I was just a brand new convert when Ramadan came along, so I just focused on praying and fasting really. I was still learning to pray properly so I took it as a challenge to be able to pray correctly, learn a few short suras, and fast.
However, now that I have been a Muslim for over a year, I have had the time to learn about all the other things that are important during Ramadan. Fasting is not just about food, in fact, its more about behavior than it is about food. Someone that is fasting must not have any form of sexual contact, must pray as much as possible, read the Qur’an as much as possible, learn new suras, avoid backbiting, mind his/her language, dress appropriately, eat enough but not too much, have people over for Iftar and never refuse an invitation for Iftar… And this is only what I know, I am sure there are many more things out there.
When a convert does not follow all of these guidelines, people are quick to remind them of what they should be doing and how they should be doing it. I know that this is mostly meant well, but for a convert it is also extremely overwhelming. For example, reading Qur’an: for someone who has been a Muslim from birth, it was much easier to learn to read Arabic than for someone who is starting in their 20’s or even later. On top of this, there are so many other things to do and learn during Ramadan that a convert is often left with little time to learn Arabic. This means having to read a translation of the Qur’an, which is considered less than the original text.
A second example would be dressing appropriately. Considering the fact I used to almost never wear long sleeves and certainly never any loose fitted clothes before I converted, my closet is not exactly fit for a fasting Muslim woman. Although I have been a Muslim for a year now, changes occur gradually, and you have to take into account the reaction of your friends and family and the prices in many Islamic clothes stores in the U.K. This means that by the time Ramadan comes around the corner, my closet does not include enough loose fitted clothes to be able to be 100% Hijab every time I walk out my front door.
These are only two examples that show you how a convert often has to compromise amongst all the different things he or she needs to do during Ramadan and that can be very frustrating. I wish I could read the Qur’an! It would also make it 100 times easier to learn new suras because at the moment I have no idea what they mean unless I read the translation. I wish I could dress perfectly ‘Hijab’ everyday, but sometimes some of my clothes are in the wash, so I need to wear something slightly too tight or too short.
The point I am trying to make is that Ramadan is an amazing time for a convert, but it is also a time of pressure. Sometimes I really feel like I am letting Allah (SWT) down because I don’t know something or I am unable to do something. Allah (SWT) has blessed me by putting Islam on my path and I sometimes feel like I can not thank him enough.
My advice is to set specific goals, such as ‘Read the entire (translation of the) Qur’an’ and ‘Learn two new suras’, and stick to them. This will keep you from dividing your attention between so many different things that you end up learning very little. I am curious to hear about your Ramadan experiences and what your goals are. Do you know any converts yourself? And be sure to read all about the life of the Prophet (SAW) in our Ramadan Project!