No, I’m not in Sing-Sing or on death row, but some would find my position even worse: I’m a female Muslim convert with no family or community masjid, and whose Muslim homies are scattered around the globe and accessible only through Facebook. I’m kind of a solitary soul anyway, so most of the time that’s okay. But during Ramadan, the loneliness hits home like at no other time. I hear about all the wonderful iftars and then wander off to the kitchen to make my solitary fare or go out to one of the halal joints for an iftar buffets and watch everybody having the times of their lives.
But there’s more to it than that. While missing out on the community and the reality checks that only other Muslims can provide, I navigate the mysteries of fasting and give more focused attention to Quran and hadith and the intellectual components of a shared faith. There is no missing out on the unique personal trials that come with the holy month where, Alhamdulillah, no Muslim is left behind and where Allah makes certain everybody gets their share.
I always marvel at how remarkably different and distinct each Ramadan is from all those that preceded it. Some years, it’s a miracle I was able to fast at all — I wandered around like an addict, white knuckling it and, truth be told, sometimes failing and grabbing some guilty bit of food. This year, couldn’t be easier. Physically, I almost don’t even notice it. Maybe it’s the right combination of hydration and nourishment in the morning, maybe it’s something I could never hope to figure out; maybe it’s just mercy.
There’s a lot on my plate this year that has come to a head during Ramadan, including my car dying on the first day. It’s still not fixed. The result? I’ve been walking everywhere and lost weight and have improved the arthritic swelling in my left knee. How can I complain? Then there’s this whole people thing. Yeah, I’m not at the big iftar with friends and other Muslims for the reality check and sharing insights and enlightenments, and that really sucks. So I put all that under the microscope of the Ramadan fire and examined the array of feelings that accompany this.
Sure, I would love a bunch of wonderful friends to hang with at a nice friendly masjid. But, in my deepest heart of hearts, is it because I long for other Muslims to help me keep to the straight and narrow and so I can contribute my share to the local ummah? Or, because I just plain want more groovy friends and am trying to pass that off, even to myself, under a veneer of pious aspirations? Or is it somewhere in between — and where along that continuum am I willing to step forward and admit?
And then there’s the du’a to Allah about direction and guidance. I have to say, He has spoiled me in this life far beyond anything I deserve. Not in material prosperity or unfettered ease, but in faith and certainty in Him. And my gratitude knows no bounds. But, He’s always known my numerous weaknesses and kept His guidance clear for me to see without any doubt. But now, I’m at a major crossroads, one that’s endured for many, many months, and that guidance is not forthcoming. Or so it seems. He’s not being so obvious this time. And it’s driving me NUTS! I’m begging Him every day, all day, to show me! SHOW ME! And still … that wonderful Batin silence engulfs me like a glove.
I have to ask myself — and be really honest — what is it I really want here? Guidance and a clear direction of how my Allah wants me to serve Him? Or immediate relief from the suffering of uncertainty and a desire for the satisfaction and comfort of knowing one’s way? And where along that continuum am I willing to step up to the minibar and be honest with the congregation of my interior being?
So there it is. Ramadan in solitary. And yes, I’m even grateful for the solitude. Knowing myself as I do, if I was partying with my buds every night at iftar and at the masjid, even in the prayer itself, I know I’d be distracted by people from the work that’s on my plate along with my nightly food. So maybe Allah keeps me in my solitude because I’m weak and really do need all the time alone to face and swallow the trials He has so generously given me. But soon, maybe next year, I’ll find my way to the table at iftar.
Save me a place.
Aaron Vlek converted to Islam in 1975. After wandering a circuitous and solitary path, she ended up where she began and has authored two novels and a work of nonfiction essays on various topics of Islamic interest.
This piece is part of our ongoing series on Ramadan, featuring reflections, stories, and articles from Muslims and non-Muslims on their Ramadan experiences. Keep checking altmuslim for new pieces throughout Ramadan.