There is no easy way to write this last piece for a number of different reasons. No one I know ever wants to say goodbye to Ramadan. It feels like just yesterday we were preparing dinner for the first blessed fast breaking. Like yesterday I was splitting a date with my dad by the couch to the sound of Quran and clanking pots. Yesterday, we were breaking fast around a hexagon table in Damascus, listening to my grandfather make his prayer before we eat.
I struggle though, to write about nostalgia and hope when the world continues to hurt. Watching Ramadan come to a close with the stories of Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, India—it’s almost unbearable to process. The past six days I’ve spent crying, debating whether or not to even write a final installment or just take a step back and grieve, but considering the relevance of this piece’s message—sacrifice—it’s worth sharing.
A part of this article started many Ramadans ago and I knew one day it’d become archived somewhere in the realms of my writing. As was usual, mama had Quran playing in the background as we all took in the blessing of fullness following a fast breaking dinner. I was washing the dishes, feeling the hot water spill over their royal blue hand-painted designs. I grew up knowing these dishes but only recently learned they were wedding gifts my grandparents gave mama about 30ish years ago.
It’s quite customary for most Muslims to increase readings of the Quran during Ramadan, but sometimes (as is expected with distracted minds) we end up losing focus and not paying attention to all the words our eyes are scanning. So for years and years, I’ve read over the coming verse, but that night, I really saw it for what it was saying, for the first time, because it was being read aloud behind me while I washed priceless dishes.
“Do people think that they will be left to say, “We believe,” without being tested?”
(Chapter 29, Verse 2)
For anyone who thinks Ramadan is simply a 30 day experience, brace yourself, I’m about to blow your mind: It’s not! Ramadan is only the beginning. It’s the physical, mental, and spiritual preparation for the year ahead. Personally, I never understand people who spent the month complaining about it (the hunger, thirst, exhaustion, etc.) but never seemed to mind when their gyms hosted nutrition and fitness competitions or signed up for high intensity trainings for tours and marathons. Are we incapable of sacrificing one month out of the year to go the little extra mile for a bit of blessings and rejuvenation from Allah? A push to revolutionize our internal environments in preparation for the external?
Every Ramadan is a time to spend reflecting on the past year and finalizing the blueprints for the coming year. Like I said in the first article, so many people struggle with its arrival because we fear facing ourselves. What were our strengths? What are our many improvement areas? Where can we grow? Who do we have to make amends with? How do we forgive ourselves? And how do we ask the Lord to forgive us too?
We watch our world crumbling but people still refuse to address their inner ethics—and I’m not entirely referencing religiosity here, but rather akhlaq, the morality and decency, of a person. The whole world and their mothers quote the following two verses often, but it always seems like lip service. Twice Allah (swt) reminds us in the Quran that He will not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves first—Chapter 8, Verse 53 and Chapter 13, Verse 11, so how do we induce this change and what is it exactly?
A long time ago I saw a friend of mine sobbing heavily on Eid morning while saying her Takbeerat so I asked her why. Wiping tears she said, “Allah gave us the privilege of living to experience another Ramadan, be forgiven, and now we’re here, unwrapping the gift of another year to continue being better.” Her words are forever etched in my mind and I think about them every Ramadan, especially on the last day. This year, I spent every Ramadan afternoon taking about a two hour walk (part of my resolutions for the month this year) and it yielded such an indescribable catharsis. While listening to Quran and podcasts, I soaked in a sun I neglected under pandemic, inhaled real air my lungs had been so thirsty for, and processed my present and future.
I cannot and will not prescribe methods for sacrificial efforts because they’re genuinely personal initiatives, but in too many recent encounters with peers, friends, family, and the media, I constantly come across the very enabling culture. The bare minimum is absolutely acceptable to the point where it’s become some relatable meme. As Muslims, we can’t just throw a hashtag beneath a solid colored post with a few dollars and call it a day. True, Allah (swt) requires financial jihad, but jihad of the soul always comes first in the Quran because that one is the greater effort with the greater reward. And the two aforementioned verses are stern but gentle reminders that there is a fine line between resting and enabling, and the truth is, we actually do know deep down when we’re blurring the two. If we want to change what is happening in/to our worlds, we need to change what’s happening within us and this takes that inconveniencing and hard work I described week one.
That’s why Allah grants us Ramadan, the preliminary phase to build better habits. The four weeks where we cannot necessarily escape from many of the things we often turn to like food, sleep, people/parties/entertainment, all the things that enable our avoidance of dealing with our truths—the good, that bad, and the ugly. So I’ll wrap up this final piece with a pray, asking Allah that may this year’s Ramadan be the one that finally readied our ummah for the necessary sacrifices.
May it have healed all those who were hurting. May it have strengthened all those who struggled with issues known or unknown, seen or unseen. May it have humbled us too caught up in egos and selves. May it have planted within our hearts a deeper love and commitment to our faith, our Lord, and our worship of Him. And may we please Him for the next 11 lunar months, and may He grant us the next Ramadan to grow again. Our ummah needs us.