Ramadan in Lebanon – Lessons in Compassion, Love & Comfort

 

Sunset, fast-breaking time, in Beirut, Lebanon; image source: Pixabay

This is Day Three of the 2018 #30Days30Writers Ramadan series.

There is a beauty about this blessed and holy month that fills one’s soul with ease and comfort. But having recently moved to Beirut, Lebanon for my career, being without my tight knit family during Ramadan is not easy to swallow. I can be without food and water but being without the love of my family has proven harder than fasting.

Ramadan is a time when the family makes every effort to be at iftar (breaking of fast), sharing news of the day and enjoying a meal after a long day of fasting together.

I have a handful of immediate family members in Lebanon, ten to be exact. They are the extension of my parents and siblings, and my refuge in Lebanon. I am grateful to have them by my side. But …

Those darn commercials got to me.

I watch commercials daily on Arab television channels showing families gathered together, laughter in the air, delicious meals filling the table, and children standing behind their parents, in prayer and dua (supplication).

These commercials make me cry. Every minute of the day on every channel I flipped through, they fill the screen. It makes me ache to be home and with my family in Dearborn, Michigan.

Tradition mixed with modernity.

In some parts of the city of Beirut, men walk the streets with drums during imsak (beginning of fast), a traditional way to wake people to eat and pray. Colorful tents fill pockets of crowded neighborhoods where people gather together in the evening, whether to share a meal, hookah (water pipe) or sit together in supplication.

For those who choose to take it easy in the evening, Turkish and Arab dramas fill the television guide, immersing Lebanese of all faiths in stories of family, love, betrayal and suspense.

I hear children in the neighborhood playing outside and brothers and sisters of all ages calling out to one another as they prepare their meals and anxiously await the call to prayer, so they can break their fast. The street fills with those who rush to congregational Ramadan prayers and services at nearby mosques. It is glorious to watch in this bustling city.

I’ve never witnessed the beauty of Ramadan in this region before. It is just the beginning, and it is absolutely lovely.

God sends us angels.

Right before Ramadan commenced, I was ill and hospitalized for several days. Scared and far from my comfort zone, I needed to be strong to get through this. I had never been hospitalized outside the U.S. and being coddled by Mama was not an option. Though I speak to my family in Lebanon almost daily, nothing is like the comfort of a mother and father when you are sick.

My sister, Samira, worriedly called, telling me, “Who is going to take care of you? You’re a baby when you’re sick!” Laughing through my pain, I told her I not to worry, that I was surrounded by angels, and everything was God’s will.

There is power in prayer and dua.

Prayers and supplications during my first month in Lebanon always focused on God keeping me guided and surrounded by faithful and God-conscious friends. Though I continue those dua, I know that God has heard me and showered me with that blessing.

I woke my first morning in the hospital to find a new friend holding my hand, prayer beads passing through her fingers. She didn’t leave my side during my time there, bringing comfort and ease in a foreign place. Through my pain, I kept expressing my thanks. She told me to stop saying it; that there are no thanks between sisters. Her words were sincere and pure. “I could not imagine you in here alone. I know what it’s like to be without family and didn’t want you to wake with no one there to support you.”

Angels on earth do exist.

Open hearts and homes.

Prior to Ramadan commencing, friends and family began calling to ask what my plans were for iftar each evening. They opened their hearts, offering their homes each evening so I am not alone. Each call serves as a reminder that some people simply become your family.

As iftar dinners fill the calendar, I am anxious to see what the city vibe is like as we progress. I’m reminded of Dearborn as I watch spiritual leaders prompt Muslims to stay focused on faith and avoid being immersed in television dramas and evening hookah sessions.

Whether Beirut, Lebanon or Dearborn, Michigan, the reminder is needed in this digital world that we live in. Reading Quran, reciting dua, giving charity and showing kindness and compassion towards others is what Ramadan is all about. Embrace and bask in it.

God is always with me.

On Ramadan’s first day, I sit here in my living room, alone, looking at the empty table in front of me, and I am grateful. The days leading up to this month give me hope and fill my soul with love and reassurance that I am not alone.

A time of reflection and resolve, it is a reminder that God is always with me. Taking these quiet moments to myself, I will work to focus on strengthening my relationship with God and in a world filled with instability and suffering, I will be reminded of our shared humanity.

Ramadan Mubarak to you all.

About Suehaila Amen
An Arab and Muslim American activist, public speaker and global traveler, Suehaila Amen moved from her native Dearborn, Michigan to Beirut, Lebanon to work as the International and Diplomatic Relations Consultant for a MENA regional banking and finance firm. She and her family were featured on TLC’s "All-American Muslim" reality show in 2011-12. You can read more about the author here.
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