I set off on a voyage a long time ago, and now my ship has reached the seas of Ramadan. The moon has been sighted, taraweeh prayers have begun, and my heart-sails have been unfurled and now fill with the winds of joy and anticipation at the powerful potential this beautiful month has for lasting change, growth, and evolution.
This year I enrolled in the “Evolve during Ramadan” workshop by LaYinka Sanni. The four week course was a dock of sorts, where I pulled my ship in, and underwent necessary repairs to ensure my ship was “sea-worthy” leading up to this beautiful month.
Repairing the hull, reflecting, and learning
Pulling into port and undergoing ship repair looked like this: reflecting on myself, who I am as a person, learning about how past challenges or “failures” are actually opportunities to learn something, opportunities to identify where I am, where I’m going, and where I want to be; Opportunities to re-chart the course of my journey, and realize that I do not simply need to retrace the route of Ramadan voyages past. I can set a new course, explore new facets of myself, and ultimately exit this Ramadan (body of water) having attained taqwah.
I wanted to share a gift with you, something I discovered during my time spent in port. (I’m having too much fun with these nautical metaphors!)
This will be the fourth Ramadan running where I am not fasting. This year I am at peace with that. Not only am I at peace with it, but I am also incredibly grateful for it. I want to share my journey to this place, in the hopes that those reading this who are setting sail on a similar journey can develop this feeling and be buoyed up by it.
Becalmed & Unsettled
The winds still, and the waters silence; dark clouds gather rapidly on the horizon, threatening a storm of catastrophic proportion. And the little ship sits uncertainly in the sea, the water’s current suddenly nowhere to be seen, and any way to avoid the gathering storm is a distant dream.
This is exactly how I felt during the last three Ramadans.
The first Ramadan that I wasn’t able to fast, I was mid way through pregnancy and battling hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition that causes electrolyte imbalances and severe nausea and vomiting. I could not keep down water at all, and not much food either; I had been in and out of hospital due to dehydration, I’d lost over 10 per cent of my body weight, and now weighed less at 20 weeks pregnant than I had before getting pregnant. Physically, I was very weak, and unable to stand in salah (prayer). I was struggling with the realisation that fasting was not an option for me.
I cried a lot, saddened because, I felt like I was disappointing Allah, and letting myself down. I knew that not fasting Ramadan was a concession for those who were unable, but I wanted to fast.
So much of my Ramadan experience was tied to fasting and going to iftaars breaking the fast collectively. Spending time at the mosque, that first sweet sip of water or bite of a date after 14 hours of fasting, the spiritual heights of spending hours suppressing hunger in an effort to seek my Creator’s pleasure. I wanted that. I didn’t want to be so sick and weak that at times my salah consisted of head movements only.
Thunder and lightning crashes, and abundant rain pours down on the ship. The hope of blue skies and plain sailing are woefully far away.
The second Ramadan that I wasn’t able to fast I was breastfeeding an infant, and still recovering from the physical toll hyperemesis gravidarum had wreaked on my body. I felt disheartened and resigned. I’d tried fasting some days sporadically leading up to Ramadan, and it hadn’t worked out well; aside from that I feared losing my milk supply. I looked for articles online, ideas for how to get that Ramadan ‘feeling’ when not fasting. There were plenty of ideas but my heart wasn’t in it. I tried to do what I could, tried to pray the full amount of taraweeh prayers at home on my own, but eventually, between sleepless nights, exhaustion, anaemia, (one of the left over results of 10 months of near starvation where my body kept breaking itself down to find energy to keep going), and my infant sons’ natural & frequent demands for milk, I ran out of steam.
The little ship had come to dread sailing into Ramadan waters; sad and longing for pleasant, spiritually reviving Ramadans of years past.
The third Ramadan, alhamdulillah, I was pregnant and once again battling with hyperemsis gravidarum. This year I was hopeful that I would still derive some benefit, and had more practice with not fasting. I looked for little things I could do to feel connected to Allah and gain the benefit of this month. I worked on my relationship with dua (supplication). I tried to find a deeper peace and connection in salah, active toddler noises notwithstanding. Still a large part of me longed to be able to fast.
The goal of Ramadan is not to fast. The goal of Ramadan is to attain taqwah. Said another way, the aim is to develop an intimate relationship with Allah that steadies you and keeps you on course for the entire voyage of your life.
A Loftier Goal
So here we are. I’ve pulled out of the port, and sailed into Ramadan; the journey is the same, but my outlook is poles apart from year one and year two; a huge development from year three.
My little ship bobs on the Ramadan sea, and my eyes are on the horizons not on fasting, but on a loftier goal: taqwah.
This is what I want to share with you. The goal of Ramadan is not to fast. The goal of Ramadan is to attain taqwah. Said another way, the aim is to develop an intimate relationship with Allah that steadies you and keeps you on course for the entire voyage of your life. Fasting is of course a wondrous means to attaining that connection; alhamdulillah, for those that fasting is not an option for, there are still abundant means to working towards taqwah.
You have been gifted with a different path to achieving that same lofty pursuit. Do not despair. Instead, make a choice.
Make a conscious and intention filled choice. Receive your gift from your Rabb. He has bestowed it on you for a reason. Think and reflect on the lessons can be learned, the good that can yet be attained. Work with your strengths and your weaknesses. What strengths have you been blessed with? How can you use these to attain your goal, to draw closer to your Lord?
With the answers to these questions, set forth on the Ramadan seas with winds of hope, and gratitude, towards greater consciousness of your Lord.