Ramadan was always an exciting time for me, even before my spiritual awakening. It was the only time of year I practiced Islam and chose to refrain from eating, arguing, and enjoying myself excessively. I was a changed person; I was a Ramadan Muslim and proud! My routine was the same every day – I would wake up early and make the most delicious breakfast ever just to go straight back to bed, sometimes forgetting to pray the dawn prayer.
Ah, the relief from the pangs of hunger when I broke my fast was incredible. The sheer effort of fasting from dawn to dusk left me feeling extremely proud of myself. Some days I prayed all five prayers; other days I prayed whatever fit into my busy schedule. Apart from being a pillar of Islam, the only purpose of Ramadan I was aware of was to experience the hunger felt by those less fortunate than myself. When I heard of a Muslim that did not fast, I thought they were bad Muslims – ‘real’ Muslims fast in Ramadan.
The whole family attended the Eid prayer to mark the end of Ramadan. I would wear a loose dress my mum had bought back for me from hajj – that ugly thing! It had a silver neckline and horrendous shoulder pads. Urrgh! I shuddered whenever I looked at myself in the mirror. I would unwillingly wear it to the mosque with a loose scarf draped on my head. After dodging anyone I knew on the way there, I eagerly removed it upon exiting the mosque. Who on earth designed these things anyway? As soon as the month was over, religion rarely crossed my mind until the next Ramadan when I repeated the same ritual.
Following my awakening as a ‘conscious Muslim’, I paid more attention in Ramadan to praying five times a day and reading the English translation of the Quran as and when I could. I had improved from my previous state, but Ramadan was still about refraining from food and drink. All the practicing Muslims around me were deeply in love with Ramadan, but I didn’t understand why there was so much excitement about going hungry from dawn to dusk. Was I missing something? I had no-one to ask; everyone I met would assume that due to my ‘born Muslim’ status, I knew everything there was to know about Ramadan. Left to my own devices, I picked up information through general conversations and at Islamic lectures.
My Ramadan transition came in the second year of my awakening in 2006. In the run up to the blessed month I attended a seminar where the real purpose of Ramadan was revealed to me: to gain taqwa (God-consciousness). I was oblivious to the conditions of fasting, encouraged forms of worship, and many opportunities to gain endless reward. I was shocked to discover that Ramadan wasn’t just about going hungry, but rather a month where prayers are accepted, good deeds are multiplied, and sins are forgiven. In hindsight, I can boldly say I had merely been dieting the previous years.
This insight marked a new era for me and my routine changed drastically. A few days before Ramadan, I was excited and ready to implement all I’d learnt. The month of the Quran, in which it was revealed to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), would arrive in a few days and I wasn’t going to waste a minute. I prepared myself mentally, physically, and spiritually. I may have missed out in previous years, but not this Ramadan. Taking a proactive approach, I set realistic goals, wrote daily schedules, assigned times to read the Quran, and made a prayer list. The day the announcement came that the moon had been sighted and we had entered into the blessed month of Ramadan, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Implementing my new routine, I woke up 2 hours before the dawn prayer, recited the Quran, prayed in the middle of the night, and read through my prayer list. Twenty minutes before Fajr, I ate a light meal before praying the dawn prayer.
In my day-to-day life, every opportunity was used to indulge in the remembrance of Allah. Each day I pushed myself to read more, pray more, and purify my heart as a means of getting closer to Him. I barely noticed how hungry I was when breaking my fast, just grateful I had been granted the opportunity to do it properly – a second chance. No longer a ritual to be repeated each year, I truly felt the essence of Ramadan. As the weeks went by, I could feel myself evolving and forming a bond with my Creator on a deeper level than I had ever experienced.
During the last few days of Ramadan, a great realisation dawned on me – the spiritual month of mercy where the doors of Paradise and forgiveness are wide open was departing by the minute. Filled with sadness, I wept; I didn’t want to slip back into my old ways, and was desperate to preserve the spiritual high. I made a resolution to use Ramadan as a training ground and a means to plant the seeds of change in my life. If I could exert myself in this holy month, what was stopping me from continuing all year round? I was not ready to abandon fasting and other good habits I had developed, but could I truly continue after Ramadan?
Yasmin Egala is a blogger and a Human Resources professional who originally wrote this post for her blog,‘Reflections of a Born Muslimah’. Through her blog, she shares reflections of her journey of self-discovery and identity challenges as a ‘born’ Muslim.