I’ve been really looking forward to Ramadan this year. I look forward to it every year actually, and usually look to its long days and rituals as something of a spiritual retreat, an inner vacation and a time of heightened awareness and togetherness with fellow Muslims far and wide that I don’t often have the luxury of the rest of the year.
But this year it’s just a little bit different. This Ramadan has come like a reprieve from a nightmare of trials and transitions the likes of which I have never faced before in my life. There’s virtually no aspect of my life that’s not in crisis right now, and that spans from my body to my mind to my pocket book and the empty spot where my checkbook used to be.
And along comes Ramadan to save the day. If not materially in tangible ways, then most certainly as a demilitarized zone of the soul and the mind that will give me a space to breathe. It comes as a place and time that takes precedence over all other concerns and worries. These problems don’t go away, of course not — but they do have to shut up and sit down and kneel to the Absolute Authority.
Ramadan is the time to connect, reconnect, revitalize and participate in that Absolute Authority whom we call Allah. In the breath of that participation, that revitalization, everything else is mundane. It is the trials, the lot He has given us to make us whole and make us accept His will over our own. I read something the other day, a quote from a book by Hamid Dabashi about the great ‘Ayn al-Qudat. It went something like this: If the Beloved gives you adversity, would you exchange it for prosperity?
Better perhaps to sit back and quietly take stock of that adversity and what is required to embrace it, understand it, learn everything there is to learn about it and perhaps see what it is pointing us at in terms of understanding other people and their trials. And then maybe once we “get it” completely, we’ll be gently moved to the next big thing Allah has for us. And maybe if we have already gotten it, or gotten it a thousand times; maybe we have forgotten it, or it’s become just words of the mind and mouth and not the heart and soul.
Maybe we can never escape adversity without that understanding. Maybe there is no Get Out of Jail Free card, and our incessant desires and even prayers for release are the very proof that we still don’t get it, not really.
The true magic, for lack of a better word, of Ramadan is the fast itself. It’s all the things about the month that we claim to love and secretly hate and struggle with. But it’s that clarity created by detoxing from all the foods and chemicals we usually flood our bodies with that gives us the space, the cloudless summit from which we can behold the crumbs of truth that provide the needed spiritual nourishment.
And maybe, as wonderful and fun as they are, all the feasting and festivities of iftar might be undoing some of the benefits we gain from the work of the day. Maybe the flood of sugars at night washes away the stark realizations so hard won during the day. And maybe a whole month of fasting, not from all food of course, but from the foods that cloud the mind and body might yield more than we could possibly imagine and teach us something about ourselves, and the connection between that mind and body and soul thing everybody keeps talking about from doctors to New Agers. Just a thought.
So here I am. Making a list of all the things that are wrong with “this picture” right now and taking stock of how I can fix them. And then again, maybe some of these things Allah doesn’t want fixed, not yet anyway and it’s His Will that I soak in them a bit longer.
At the end of the day, some things just can’t be fixed, and I have to take a deeper look and ask myself, what can I do with this? What can I learn from this that will make me better, stronger, more compassionate? And what can I take away from this that will be of use to others in their struggle to “get it” and move on.
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.