Ramadan is one month long, but one month is not long enough for me to convince myself that I am not responsible for my mother’s illness. On the second fast I keep, she goes to the hospital. My hands tremble during Isha that night. I remind myself that Ramadan is also about recovery.But we do not recover. We let the sickness sink in, and then we live in it – with a positive outlook because that is my gracious, optimistic, ever wonderful mother. We live in it with weekly blood tests and patches on my mother’s skin. Daily injections that she has trouble taking. The nurses show her how to do it twice: pressing gently, firmly, onto her thigh. But when we get home and she pulls up her skirt every night, she can’t do it. She thinks it’s psychological. Never been afraid of anything before, my mother.
I feel like a 6-year-old girl in a falling-down house in Pakistan, asking my khalas why my grandmother suffers so much if she’s such a good Muslim, why there’s so much bitterness etched on a forehead that kneels down five times a day. They give me the same answer I give myself now; some perfunctory mumbles about “God’s will” and “everything happens for a reason.”
So when her medication fails, there must be some godly reason, because otherwise I feel ready to quit with Islam altogether. The doctors’ faces when they see her tests are gaping, sporting real shock as though it had been painted on them. Apparently the medication only reacts this way for 1% of patients. One percent, and my life has always been about solidarity with the 99%. Numbers are funny that way sometimes.
God’s will, be it a place or a concept or an angel on my shoulder, I haven’t been able to locate. So I turn to alternate explanations for what Ramadan brought us this year. I spend hours on prayer mats, thinking that had I fasted more diligently, “God’s will” would have been kinder; had I made humbler iftaris this would not have happened; had I been willing to go through with God’s and my parent’s intended nuclear family there would not be punishment now. That maybe if I was smarter, purer, straighter, then Allah would not have visited chaos upon my family.
This is not what prayer mats are meant for, but I can’t seem to find their inherent healing powers anymore. Namaz just leaves me curled inward and empty, my mind hanging on all the namazes I didn’t pray. Islam falls down like dominoes, leaving me wondering how strong my iman was in the first place if it only takes one gust of wind to leave it hanging on by a thread. Maybe someday, some Ramadan in the distant, blurry future, I’ll look back at this time and think that, well, everything is in God’s plan and it did happen for a reason, but today all I know is that I’m losing my mother and my religion. Ramadan has always been a period of change for me, for better or – in this case – for worse.
For more on MMW’s Ramadan series, and to read the rest of this year’s Ramadan posts, click here.