It has been difficult to engage with other Muslims in my area for Ramadan (this wasn’t a problem for me last year). It’s a challenge to get to the masjid in the evening for the month’s special tarawih prayers, a soothing time to listen to the entire Quran over (approximately) 30 days. Where I live, fasts are 17 hours long. With full-time work occupying my weekdays, non-fasting hours are mostly spent trying to catch up on sleep and rehydrate.
When I try to think about what I enjoy most about the month this year, then, it is the solitude, the collective (yet wholly individual) introspection, embarking on newly-set goals (both spiritually and more generally). While at times it seems like everyone is celebrating the more collective, communal activities the month brings, it’s often not as common to hear people discuss how Ramadan quietly affects them on a more personal level. Sana’s post from last year, along with Nicole’s and Izzie’s from this year beautifully highlight an individual peace that comes with the month.
I enjoy the seeming creation of time the month brings, the clarifying space and quiet that results from taking a bit of a break: from food consumption, a normally-busy social calendar, swearing, and television, in my case (I’m still working on trying to cut back from the interwebs…). These benefits are unique to the individual, and have less to do with one’s spiritual goals than they do towards improving one’s habits generally. Or at least that’s how it seems at first…
Many daily activities, as a result of the mental clarity the month brings, become meditations: from going for walks around a nearby tree-lined lake, to preparing meals for iftaar, having a conversation with my sister, and sharing homemade bakhlava with a friend. There are so many moments like these in our lives that we rarely take the time to be thankful for.
Then there’s also the food. Although I go without it during the day, the meals that I do eat are so thoughtfully prepared, either by myself or so lovingly by others. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to slather tamarind chutney with nearly every snack I eat during the month.
A few days before Ramadan started, I was out running errands and happened across a lovely independent used bookstore. There was a wonderful selection of Islamic books (that put my local Barnes and Noble section to shame). There, I picked up a copy of Al-Ghazali’s On Disciplining the Soul and on Breaking the Two Desires. Really, life is amazingly serendipitous at times. I’ve been making my way through it slowly this month and am struck by the significance of developing oneself both spiritually and in one’s character—how completely intertwined the two are in Ghazali’s interpretation. We are unable to develop spiritually without building our own character.
This brings me back to the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the month, the breaks that I mentioned at the beginning of this post: there isn’t a strictly spiritual goal in the bunch that came to mind as I wrote them. And yet, these sorts of goals are ones that so many of us make during the month, alongside so many others, and in addition to the more conventionally spiritual goals we set for ourselves. I think Ghazali would posit that all goals are really one and the same. Valuing one over the other is a fruitless activity. Valuing the collectivity of the month versus the solitude of the month is equally fruitless: it is necessary for both to exist alongside the other.
Perhaps that’s where the importance of the month comes in: that it allows an opportunity to connect with others, improve our characters, be grateful for the many moments we take for granted in our lives, and focus on spiritual goals all at the same time. That is, to me, what Ramadan is all about. Some of us celebrate the month more quietly than others. However, we all receive the opportunity to work towards perfecting ourselves in ways that are fantastically unique and amazing, as I’m reminded as I read through my fellow MMW sisters’ beautiful posts again this year. That’s something that everyone can partake in, regardless of if you’re fasting—the opportunity for growth and introspection remains ever-present this month.
May everyone find a bit of quiet introspection this Ramadan.
For more on MMW’s Ramadan series, and to read the rest of this year’s Ramadan posts, click here.