I had a terrible Ramadan, and that’s okay.
People say that there’s no such thing as a terrible Ramadan, but when it passes without you even realizing it came, then it most likely was not the best.
I had easily one of the hardest years of my entire life. From an academic, mental, and social point of view, my abilities and my strength to keep going were tested to the maximum. MIT is not an easy school, being far from home took a toll on my health, and my best friend and roommate, Aliza Akhtar, passed away in a car crash involving a drunk driver. All of these things happened within a year of me starting a new life away from home.
I know a lot of people claim that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, or that tests can make you magically closer to God, and while I am not denying that this happens, I do feel it isn’t emphasized enough how long it truly takes to make such progress, or make it to that level.
Too many times, people only write after the struggle is over, neglecting the very journey that resulted in their story. That is precisely why I’m writing this article when I am NOT at that level. I am in a place where I have not yet processed or let myself feel all my emotions, cried on the prayer rug to Allah, or felt peace in a long time.
When Ramadan rolled around, these feelings didn’t go away. If anything, I actually felt worse. Finals began, and I failed to allocate much time to my spirituality. I fasted just for the means of fasting, prayed for the means of praying, and went about my day as though I did not know that Allah was ready to forgive all my sins or accept all my duas, if I just tried. In my head, everything was the same; perhaps even more difficult.
Before college, I was a self-righteous teenager who believed she could do no wrong. Every Ramadan, I baked for the entire mosque, helped clean and cook, and prided myself on praying all 20 rakats of Taraweeh. I easily judged those who didn’t. I judged those who didn’t fast, those who didn’t pray five times a day, or those who failed to come to Taraweeh. After all, it was Ramadan no? Surely, there couldn’t be an excuse.
My first Ramadan in college, however, all of this changed. My parents called me everyday telling me to pray Taraweeh, sleep early, read Quran, and wake up for suhoor. They never knew, however, that I never slept till suhoor because there were not enough hours in a day to do everything I needed to do.
They didn’t know that I couldn’t go to Tarweeh because finals were killing me. They didn’t know I barely read Quran because I would fall asleep on its beautiful pages.
But what I realized is that in those high school years, I wasn’t judging those who didn’t fast or pray. I was judging the single mom who worked till midnight to support her children, the the drug addict who finally turned their life around, or the convert who was struggling to deal with a hostile community.
I was judging people who, for all I know, might have been accruing more rewards, blessings, and forgiveness than I ever could with my 20 rakats of Tarweeh, or endless baking for the mosque.
It took a change in my comfortable reality to get me to question my own approach to spirituality. I realized that the Ramadan you feel the most disconnected could just be the most impactful and transformative Ramadan of your entire life. Although I had a terrible Ramadan according to the textbooks, I know that I became a less judgmental, kinder, and a more understanding person, and that’s all that truly matters.
So keep striving, and every Ramadan could be a good one if you just try. Even if it doesn’t feel like it. I promise.
Charity (Sadaqah Jariyah) for Aliza Akhtar
My closest and most dear friend at MIT passed away in a car crash involving a drunk driver. If you could take a few moments out of your day to donate to one of the charities below, it would mean the world to her family.
In Islam, we believe in the concept of Sadaqah Jariyah, charity that continues to give long after one’s death. Even if it is a small amount, it would make a great impact. Ranging from planting a tree for a dollar to sponsoring an orphan for a year, these charities all support causes she was very passionate about. Aliza was granted a full ride at Yale, MIT, and Princeton, and we had no doubt she was going to do amazing things for this world. Since she is no longer here, please do an amazing thing on her behalf.
Please keep her and her family in your prayers. InshAllah May she be granted Jannah (Paradise) and peace. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ) is a part of a verse from the Qur’an which translates to “We belong to Allah and to Allah we shall return.”