A Look Back at my Ramadan in 2011
Since we are upon Ramadan this year I thought that I’d share a journal entry that I wrote in 2011 about my journey through last years month of fasting. Its a bit lengthy but it is a testament to how inspired I was feeling throughout the month. I intend to have an even better month of fasting this year and pray that Allah accepts my efforts.
In recent days different people have asked me how my Ramadan/fasting has been and because of that I wanted to write a journal focused on my experience with Ramadan this year in 2011. Hopefully this will shed some light on what a Muslim does during Ramadan besides fast from food and drink from dawn until sunset.
I went into this Ramadan having mixed feelings of doubt and hope because of where I was at with my spiritual practices. Prior to Ramadan my spiritual practices consisted of making the 5 daily prayers, making the morning prayers(Fajr) and night prayer (Isha) regularly at the Mosque, making the extra prayers that Prophet Muhammad (May Gods Peace be upon him - PBUH) prayed before and after each of the 5 prayers, reading the Qu’ran daily and eating less throughout each day to prepare for the fast that was ahead of me. On a typical day I would eat one meal generally around 12 PM and I wouldn’t eat or drink anything until the sun went down and I would do this with the intention of being prepared for Ramadan and to stay in a state of spiritual purity (wudu) throughout the day. I had finished reading the entire Qur’an just before Ramadan which I had started shortly after last years Ramadan. On a daily basis I was also reading chapters (Sura’s) of the Qur’an such as Sura Ya Sin, Sura Al-Waqiah, Sura Ar-Rahman, Sura As-Sadja which Allah (God) had allowed me memorize over the last few years. These practices of prayer, reading, and restraint from food & drink had me feeling good about my upcoming fast.
On the other hand there were a few things that I wanted to also fast from during Ramadan which I had somewhat of an attachment to. A lot of my free time was spent watching movies, playing video games online, and producing music. I was spending a somewhat significant part of weeks engaged in these activities and I knew that I needed to also break away from these things for a month in order to make progress during Ramadan. I had feelings of doubt because of my attachment to these things and I wondered “will I really be able to fast from these things as well this Ramadan?” Mind you, the fasting thats outlined by Allah in the Qur’an consists of food, drink, and sexual relations with ones wife from dawn until sunset. The extra things which I would be fasting from are not outlined in the Qur’an but once you begin to strengthen your relationship with God you can’t help but feel like you need to also fast from the things which aren’t necessary in your life as well. On top of that I had already committed myself to the same fast for the last two years and I knew that in order to make progress I need to take a break from art and entertainment as much as I could during Ramadan.
My doubts seemed to disappear during the first week of Ramadan. I set goals such as completing the entire Qur’an before Ramadan was over with, making at least 3 of the 5 prayers in the Mosque (Fajr, Maghrib, Isha), and substantially increasing my prayers during the night before the morning prayer. During Ramadan Muslims make a prayer called Taraweh which consists of standing in prayer nearly each night of Ramadan until the Imaam (leader of prayer) completes the reading of the entire Qur’an from memory. No, the Imaam doesn’t read the entire Qur’an each night but he reads around one thirtieth of the Qur’an each night so that he finishes it in 30 days or before the month of Ramadan is over with. My goal was to pray each night with the Imaam which general lasted from 10:30 until 12:00 PM each night.
I also set a goal of trying to complete a book on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) written by Karen Armstrong. My director at work had bought the book during our first few years of working together because he said “I wanted to learn more about the person he would be working so closely with.” So I asked him to let me borrow the book during Ramadan. The author actually is not Muslim but is a rather a scholar who writes much on religious history and culture. Her perspective makes the book more interesting as she paints a portrait of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as being a well rounded human being. I recommend the book for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
One of the most important goals that I strived for during Ramadan was to eat less at the time of breaking fast (iftar) and to not be wasteful with food. Some Muslims actually gain weight during Ramadan due to being greedy each day at iftar while some also throw away a lot of left over food. Both over eating and wasting food defeats the point of fasting in the first place as we are supposed to empathize for the poor who often times are deprived of having something to eat. Our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions used to break fast with merely a few dates, water and bread. They didn’t indulge in large meals.
During the last 10 nights of Ramadan Muslims greatly increase their acts of worship. This can be compared to running harder on your last lap during a race or closing out a basketball game in the last quarter. In the Qur’an God speaks of a night that is better than 1,000 months of worship that exists in the last 10 nights of Ramadan. This night is called the Night of Power. This is also the night in which the Qur’an started being revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The thing is no Muslim knows which 1 of the 10 exact nights that the Night of Power will be so this forces us to try to increase our worship each of the last 10 nights with hopes that we will be praying on the night of power. So during the last 10 nights common practices are spending the night at the Mosque, rising up at around 3:30 or 4:00 AM and making a prayer called Qiyamul-layl or Tahajjud. The last 10 nights are intense as Muslims sleep less and increase their acts of worship yet they still maintain their fasting. Many of us work regular jobs so we juggle all of these things at once.
I personally spent my nights at the Mosque and made a lot of personally prayer and congregational prayer with other Muslims in the early moring around 3:30 AM. This was somewhat of a new experience for me as I typically didn’t spend the night at the Mosque and I would normally just make Tahajjud at home during Ramadan. I felt a sense of spiritual joy that I had never felt during these last 10 nights at the Masque. Somehow my body had gotten used to sleeping between 1 and 3 hours each night between the Taraweh prayer and Qiyamul-layl. I could see that God had allowed for my ability to worship him to increase and this was a good feeling. After the Taraweh prayer I would often find my father in law and brothers in law cleaning up the area which everyone ate in to break their fast. There are great blessings in cleaning the Mosque so I also would tag along with them and help out so that I could get some of the blessings in that as well. I was looking for God’s blessings wherever I could find them.
During the last few days of Ramadan I fell ill. God knows best but this was probably because of my lack of rest, or maybe because I needed to get some of my sins removed. We as Muslims believe that when we are sick it is a way for God to remove sins from us before the great punishment that lies ahead for the great sinners in the afterlife. Even though I fell sick I would never take back the time I spent worshipping God and I hope that my sins have been forgiven.
After the last day of Ramadan Muslims have a holiday called Eid Al-Fitr. I spent my Eid holiday this year with the Muslim communities in both Clifton Cincinnati and Xenia. One of the highlights of the Muslims community in Cincinnati was that they all came together to attend Coney Island. I enjoyed seeing so many families and all the children having a good time. In Xenia the community made the Eid prayer and a few of us spent the rest of the day playing basketball, socializing and having a community dinner. I enjoyed the intimacy of the Xenia community.
Now that Ramadan is over I feel somewhat anxious to get back into socializing more with the greater community of both Muslims and non Muslims. For the last month I achieved nearly all of my goals by God’s graces and I was able to focus on self reformation. I now feel better prepared to serve God, my family and my community. I believe a lot of wonderful things lie ahead this year for our community and I am excited to see what God has in store for all of us.
Special thanks to you and everyone who read this entire entry or a part of it. Feel free to leave a comment or ask any questions. Also please forgive me if I have offended anyone as this wasn’t my intention. - Abdullah