A chronic illness has prevented me from fasting for a number of years now. Initially I felt like I was missing out on Ramadan because I wasn’t doing it ‘properly’. I went to extremes – packing the month with extraordinary intentions to ‘make-up’ for not being able to fast. As the years pass I am learning how to experience Ramadan beyond the outer forms and cultivate a deeper appreciation for the essence of this blessed month.
1. Develop Gratitude
Develop gratitude for whatever hinders you from fully participating – this has been incredibly hard for me to do, and I’m still working on it. Illness can be very difficult to be grateful for, particularly if it is accompanied by pain. Mevlana Rumi refers to our trials as guests:
Darling, the body is a guest house;
every morning someone new arrives.
Don’t say, “O, another weight around my neck!”
or your guest will fly back to nothingness.
Whatever enters your heart is a guest
from the invisible world: entertain it well.
[Mathnawi V: 3644-6, translated by Kabir Helminski]
Some guests may stay longer than expected, but we never know what blessings are hiding among the luggage they bring with them! Allah has decreed that I cannot fast, and He/She knows what is best for me.
2. Set Intentions
During working-life it can be difficult to think past the grumbling-stomach’s countdown of how long until iftar. Doing the obligatory prayers, squeezing in some supra-obligatory offerings, and reading the Quran leads to a full and exhausting day. So the abstaining-from-abstaining person can really make the most of setting intentions during this month. The danger here is in going overboard… I have yet to complete reading the Quran in the one month. Or finish the mountain of books I start off with. Keep intentions manageable and simple. This year I’m doing an ecourse on the Ninety-Nine Names of God which includes Quran verses and simple practices that I can do throughout the day.
3. Offer Assistance
One of the best aspects of Ramadan is the community time – we make more of an effort to break our fast together and pray together. If you’re not fasting (and if your health allows for it), offer to cook for those who are fasting and working. Go shopping for a fasting neighbour. Even offer ready-meals on busy weekdays. Ramadan is not an excuse to have a feast at the end of every day(!) but little gestures can be such a gift and an ease for our lives.
4. Be Kind
During Ramadan we make extra efforts to be conscious and aware of our voice, manner and behaviour. It’s easy to be kind to those we know and love, but what about extending this to work colleagues who challenge us, neighbours who disturb us, and strangers who cross our daily journey? I recall one Ramadan as I navigated challenges in my work place, I decided to approach everyone with loving kindness. The effect was extraordinary – colleagues, who would normally always act from a place of defensiveness, started being more open and helpful. The more I was able to open and act from my heart, the more I found others responding. These lines from Shams always speak to me:
To the best of your ability,
look at your enemy
with consideration and love!
If you go to someone’s door
with caring love,
it pleases him or her –
even if he or she is an enemy –
because when he or she is expecting hostility
and harshness from you,
but instead sees your love,
he or she will be pleased.
[Rumi’s Sun: The Teachings of Shams of Tabriz, translated by Refik Algan and Camille Adams Helminski]
This may not always be possible, especially with very difficult relationships, but practising consideration and love in easier quarters may help carry us through some of the more challenging spaces. My teachers remind me that I can cultivate a vibration of love that affects my heart and my environment – but ultimately I must start in the mirror. Being kind and loving to myself has been one of the most difficult aspects of my journey, and not just during Ramadan!
5. Enjoy Yourself
Ramadan is truly a joyous time: sharing food and tummy rumblings, praying and cooking together, posting inspiring and motivating reflections on social media (or images of delicious food to tantalise and tease!). Sometimes Ramadan is wrongly attributed to experiencing hunger and deprivation. This is not the meaning of Ramadan – we cannot limit our empathy and compassion to one month a year!
O you who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you
as it was ordained for those before you,
so that you might remain conscious of God.
[Quran 2:183, The Light of Dawn, rendered by Camille Adams Helminski]
Fasting is a means to bring us into nearness with our Rabb, our Sustainer, and as we develop this nearness, Ar Rahman, the Infinitely Compassionate, will bring joy and ease into our hearts.
I wish you a blessed month, full of spiritual abundance and bodily health.
[Originally published on AltMuslim 2018 #30Days30Writers Ramadan series]
Saimma Dyer is a children’s publisher and freelance project manager. When not busy organising interfaith events, she can be found exploring the Divine Feminine and how to be a Sufi Feminist @SaimmaDyer