Dreaming of the ultimate spirituality and serenity this Ramadan, my plan was to quit my 9-5 job a couple of days before Ramadan started. I’ve always had this fantasy that taking a vacation for the whole Ramadan gives you more space for spirituality and religious rituals. Think of days full of Quran recitation, Zikr, Terawih prayers and even Qeyam! It would be definitely the Ramadan of all Ramadans!
I couldn’t have been more naïve.
To be honest, I have accomplished the part that always seemed impossible: I quit my job! But that turned out to be the easiest part of the mission.
Domestically, my mom welcomed my quit decision with high expectations. Now that I have more free time, I’m expected to give a hand in the housework. Which I don’t mind at all, except for one territory that I have never been in good terms with: the kitchen. I have always been the nerdy bookworm who gets in the kitchen in between chapters of the books that I read, only to drink water or, in the best cases, to take a bite of anything edible in the fridge. Eating is not really my thing. For someone like me, the oven is a home accessory that I could easily get rid of – why waste my precious time reheating the food when it could be eaten cold? Why?!
Now that we are in Ramadan, my mom expected me to prepare Iftar for the family every other day. But, ahem, I know the only bare minimum when it comes to cooking! And the expected result was: I ended up preparing none of the Iftars this Ramadan, and this frustrates her so much. But I tried to lessen my mom’s frustration and please her by following the “fries policy”: fried potatoes, fried kobeibas and fried atayef (that I was unsure what to prepare for its filling, hence ended up serving them plain, but at least I didn’t forget to soak them in sugar syrup first). And once I prepared a banana-cherry smoothie as the Iftar drink. It was so tasty that my mom’s eyes glowed in delight, but once she finished her last sip she gave me that look and said: but this is not cooking, Yasmeen! Yeah, I know, mom! Please give me some credit for stepping into the kitchen. This is a huge move from my side!
So I found some of my precious Ramadan time consumed in my attempts to explore the kitchen territory and the realm of “cooking” to cool my mom’s frustrations down.
But I wish all the distractions that came my way this Ramadan could be conquered with fried potatoes the same way I did with my mom’s frustrations. The situations in Gaza, Syria, Iraq and even in my homeland, Egypt, couldn’t get any worse for a time as holy as Ramadan. With all these news on the massacres and brutalities committed by the Israeli forces in Gaza to the atrocities perpetrated by ISIL in Iraq (ISIL not ISIS, please! the latter is an Ancient Egyptian Goddess!) to the cycle of violence that does not seem to stop in Egypt, could anyone find serenity in Ramadan with all this non-ending chaos that intensifies every moment?
This brings me back to the thoughts whirling inside my head: What does serenity entail? Is it just peace of mind and a surrounding that keeps the divine connection with God always present and alive?
How can one attain that state? Is it –really– attainable?
After some contemplation I came to the realization that all these things are not the real reasons for me not getting the Ramadan that I wished to live.
The utopian dream of a serene, peaceful uninterrupted Ramadan is a myth created to justify shortcomings, both of this life and of humans. But there is no need for such justifications. We just have to grow up and accept the fact that life is not and will not be perfect. Humans are flawed by design. You can’t have it all. Despite that fact, we have to strive to get as close as we can to that state of perfection. Try as hard as we can, bearing in mind that: “Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity” (Quran 2:286).
A friend of mine shared an insight of a friend of hers; it goes with the same context that has occupied my mind:
“When I was younger I used to pray Terawih in Ramadan, especially in the last ten days. And when midnight came in I used to pray as much as Allah has enabled me. Yesterday, I exhausted all the attempts to stop the cries of my newborn, that’s when I realized the wisdom behind all of this. I think that what Muslims were asked to do [in terms acts of worship] in the last ten days to anticipate Laylat Al-Qadr (Night of Power) is an evidence of Allah’s lordship…. The prophet – may peace be upon him – guided his wife, Aisha – may Allah be pleased with her – with nothing more than the duaa “O Allah, You are pardoning and You love to pardon, so pardon me,” nothing more. It’s a simple act that suits everyone: the sick, the traveler, the settler and mother with a baby like myself. That’s what Allah wants from us; if asked to do more, many of us wouldn’t be able to do it. Alhamdulela.”
Thanks Allah for giving me the gift of living this Ramadan. Try harder next year, Yasmeen.
For more on MMW’s Ramadan series, and to read the rest of this year’s Ramadan posts, click here.