A Ramadan Prayer for Special Needs Families

Am I preparing for Ramadan? Yes and no. With my in-laws out of town right now (it’s the first Ramadan we’re spending apart in several years), I am not worrying so much about pre-cooking and freezing things for dinner and iftaar (in efforts to free up my time from the kitchen during Ramadan). My nine-year-old plans to fast more this month with me (“Mamma, you’ve got to let me fast more than four times like I did last year,” she says to me. Ok little girl, I think. Just you wait until you try and go for 16 hours of fasting! Ease into it), and my husband and I are trying harder to keep things simple.

After all, we’re fasting, right? So even though we’re human and think about the things we want to eat when we break our fast, focusing on food and preparing goodies kind of defeats the purpose, right?

I’m more focused on what I can do to maximize the spiritual benefits of this month and help my family to do so as well. I feel for my husband, who as a physician is on his feet a lot and doesn’t often get to always sleep in after his suhoor (pre-dawn, pre-fasting meal). A nap during the day? Forget it. Making it out to tarawih (night) prayers every night is just not in the cards for him and thus not for me either. We are advised to focus on ibadat (worship) and engage in a variety of worship — from reading the Quran to doing dhikr to doing extra prayers in addition to our five daily prayers. But for him (and so many others I know), after making it through the work day while fasting, it is very much of a challenge to search inward and worship more.

I’ve been blessed in the years past to have my in-laws around during Ramadan. Just them being here and fasting with us adds such a beautiful flavor to the month. They are in a special stage of life when they have all the time to focus on whatever is important to them – and Allah and Islam and maximizing the benefits of Ramadan (and spending time with family) fill their lives. They are a living example of goodness for me and the kids, and things seem more, well, Ramadan-y when they are here.

But this year they are away,  so I shall take that mantle on of making this a good Ramadan for me and my family. The kids and I attended a lecture last week on different ways to make the month meaningful for ourselves and our children. We’re putting up our lights and decorations this weekend, including our Ramadan Moon-and-Star-Advent calendar.  And, some dear friends and I have organized a weekly children’s halaqa (study circle) to teach our young ones some basic aspects of our faith, including the virtues of Ramadan, and mix all that in with a fun play date.

But more than anything, I pray for a Ramadan blessed, not a Ramadan despair, a low point I felt two years back. In some ways, I look forward to Ramadan in the summer because it gels well with Lil D’s schedule (my eldest son, who has severe autism). He attends school during the day and has a strict bedtime routine that has him asleep usually by 8:30-9 p.m. — which leaves me time for night worship and a chance to take the younger kids to tarawih prayers (as long as I’ve got someone to hold down the fort at home).

For the most part, I’m over the pain I felt early on in my parenting life when I realized that Lil D may never be able to partake in certain aspects of our faith, like fasting in Ramadan (God knows best) or attending community iftaar dinners and  tarawih prayers (I’ve tried, and it’s too late in the evening, too much of a sensory overload for him and frankly too stressful for me to manage). But I still feel the pangs sometime of the rest of us coming together in Ramadan without him.

But I figure God is bigger and more all-knowing than I can ever realize. I figure that Lil D has that connection, that Ramadan spiritual high within him all the time whereas we all have to work for it.

To all my fellow Muslim special needs parents — I feel you. I really, really do. I pray this month is easy and blessed for you and your children. I pray our mosques and community centers make a place for all our children. I pray all our Ramadan prayers are granted. I pray the Imams recognize special needs families and encourages the congregation to make efforts of inclusion. I pray you get the respite you need. I pray you get the help you deserve. I pray our children make strides and breakthroughs and always always always have peace and happiness.

I pray for you, Amal. I pray for you, Hamza. I pray for you, husband of mine. And I pray for you , Lil D.

In the smile that spreads across your face in your happy moments; in the sing-song babble you utter and whistling noises you make that cause your brother and sister to exclaim that singing is your special talent; in the glorious moments when you tell me “more” when you want more to eat or “hep me” when you need me to help you put on your shoes; in the spontaneous moments when you go to your iPad and inform me that you need to eat fries; in the times when I lie down on the sofa and you lie on top of me and dig your sharp chin into my chest and breathe your hot breath on me; in the times I watch you from my kitchen window as you swing with reckless abandon on the hammock, arms drawn into your shirt, making your happy noises; in pride I feel when I see you vacuuming up your own mess of chip crumbs or wiping your own spill on the kitchen counter, in the times we go grocery shopping and you help me in the check-out aisle.

In the times I kneel by your bedside and recite Subhanallah, Astaghfirullah, Alhumdulillah, Allahu Akbar while you peep at me from under your blanket.

Those are the moments of glory and happiness and triumph I want to hold on to this Ramadan and beyond.

About Dilshad Ali

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