With the end of Ramadan approaching faster than you can say “Ameen,” Muslims around the world are buckling down, and trying to figure out how best to maximize these last few days of our annual holy month. But as everyone reflects on what this Ramadan has meant to them, and all the progress they’ve made as Muslims, each year around this time, I usually can’t help but feel like I’ve failed.
I struggle with depression, eating disorders, and chronic insomnia.
As a result of my family’s only recently-ended denial of these conditions’ existence as actual medical conditions that require treatment and that cannot be simply prayed away, my parents and siblings and I frequently argue, making my obligatory daily calls home feel more like a chore than the privilege I instinctively know them to be.
Even worse, a part of me has begun to resent my faith for the restrictions my parents placed on me in its name when growing up, though I now realize many of those justifications were shaky at best.
Now having moved out of my house, I go to parties with my friends from college, wear clothes that would send most aunties into cardiac arrest, and have not only dated, but dated a cringe-worthy number of non-Muslims who I knew from the beginning I likely did not have even the smallest chance of marrying.
In short, you could say my relationship with traditional religion is a little complicated.
It’s not as though I actively try to be a “bad Muslim.”
On the contrary, I’ve tried and failed to bond with my school’s MSA members who all grew up in vastly different communities than me (i.e., the majority of them actually had the opportunity to go to school with Muslims that weren’t their siblings), and go out of my way to make sure that, if nothing else, I’m still following the five pillars, including fasting, even during my 12+ hour workdays during Ramadan, and rearranging my class schedules to ensure I have enough room in my schedule for my 5 daily prayers.
And yet, I find myself drifting. Maybe it’s a result of my family experiences, of the completely whitewashed culture I grew up with, but I feel too distant from the various pods of Muslim communities I’ve come into contact with to feel like I’ve ever really belonged to any of them.
And Ramadan, a time that we should look forward to as Muslims each year, makes it worse. It’s the time of year that I most desire a community that understands the background of my complicated relationship with Islam without the judgmental or disapproving glances I get when I generally tell my story, the time of year when I try hardest to “fix” myself – only to disappoint myself with my lack of progress.
But this Ramadan, I finally figured out what I’ve been doing wrong: I realized I am not “broken.”
My journey may have more twists and turns than a lot of other Muslims’, and more than most Muslim girls’ in particular, but the way I choose to practice doesn’t make me more or less Muslim than the person to my left or to my right.
After all, what determines a “good” Muslim? Is a person who passionlessly follows every Hadith and Qur’anic ayat to the letter without any real feeling truly better than one who wears a short dress, but who sincerely believes in the Oneness of Allah (swt)?
I personally fail to see how that can be true, given that we are taught that only Allah (swt) is the one true judge of our actions.
That means that my faith and what is in my heart is between me and Allah, not between me and my father, not between me and my Catholic boyfriend, not between me and the auntie next door—thus, if I am only working to improve my deen to satisfy the expectations of those people, it may as well be for naught.
So this year, instead of worrying about the fact that I haven’t been to the masjid as many times as most other Muslims—or so I’m guessing from the number of masjid selfies on my Instagram newsfeed—I took a break from the Ramadan anxiety and remembered instead a Hadith: As Abu Hurayrah reported, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, “The deen is ease.”
The deen is ease. As in, not something that should be so difficult that it’s making me feel bad about myself on the daily, or being overly burdensome.
With this in mind, this Ramadan, I stopped counting those aforementioned masjid selfies, and did my Ramadan reflections with a more realistic perspective.
Would it have been nice to go to taraweeh? Yes, but not only do crowds increase my anxiety significantly, but I’m also interning in a city I’m unfamiliar with, unable to access the masjid without paying more than my daily transportation budget allows for.
And instead of stressing about the fact that I was too tired after my workdays to come home and read a substantial amount of the Qur’an, I made extra dua during my prayers and focused my limited energy on rebuilding my relationship with my family.
Most importantly, I spent less time stressing about all the things I wasn’t doing “right” or was doing blatantly “wrong,” and gave myself time and the mental room to breathe.
And while self-care may not be an explicit Qur’anic principle, it was the most important thing I did for myself during this Ramadan.
By learning to say “no” to doing everything for everyone once in a while, and instead focusing on myself, picking up hobbies I enjoyed but had forgotten–as I had let my work take over my life–forcing myself to nap after Maghrib, and spending more time with my unconditionally supportive and caring roommates, I learned the importance of self-love, and found that the happier I was in my daily life, the easier it was to turn to Allah, and the less I struggled with guilt.
Unlike when it had seemed as though I was simply going through the motions of the things we’re “supposed” to do during Ramadan, I finally felt like I had made some sort of progress and grown something other than my waistline as a Muslim this Ramadan.
While Allah knows best, there will be people who read this and think I’m absolutely wrong. And they are, to some extent, correct. Guilt can be a good thing, and we should always remember that we are accountable for all of our actions, and fear Allah.
But if we let ourselves be consumed by our guilt, I have found that we become more and more unhappy with our faith, and become in danger of losing it altogether.
Instead, by remembering that deen is ease, and focusing on easing our consciences and reminding ourselves that we are all human, and therefore inherently flawed, we have more room in our minds to focus on loving Allah however we are able, and becoming closer to Him and His Mercy.
Next Ramadan, you probably still won’t see me at the masjid, and I will probably be too busy to get through the entire Qur’an, but I will be focusing on my self-care again.
Traditionally “good”? Not at all. But an effective way to actually improve my deen? Absolutely. And that is what Ramadan is all about.
Written by a guest blogger who wishes to stay anonymous.