This is day 12 of the #30Days30Writers 2016 Ramadan series.
By Edina Lekovic
For me, Ramadan is a deep spiritual spring cleaning for the soul. Like many Muslims, I set goals each year even, as I dread its arrival and the disruption it causes. The lost sleep, the hunger pangs, the crankiness — challenges inside and out. But that’s also the beauty I find in it as soon as I enter: The disruption in my regular routine forces a kind of reset to my senses and a chance to identify and break through stubborn habits.
A few weeks ago, as Ramadan was creeping ever closer, I got that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had been working a lot, not sleeping enough, snacking a lot and relying on caffeine for energy. Oh, and co-parenting two kids under the age of five.
But by the middle of my first day, I fell into the feeling of Ramadan. For me, refraining from food and drink has the most powerful effect on my thoughts. Instead of thinking ahead to the next “treat” or indulgence to offset stress and activity, my mind doesn’t get that luxury and instead find itself thinking more (albeit more slowly) about other things that have higher value.
Plus the length and pace of a day feels completely different. I have a great deal of creative energy because I have the incentive of making the day go by more quickly and boy, have these past 10 days been busy ones.
A week ago we experienced the moving celebration of the life of Muhammad Ali, and ess than two days later, the devastating heartache of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. I find myself in a deep state of emotional upheaval and yet, I remain determined to live the words of the Quran: “Repel evil with what is better and see how the one who is like your worst enemy can become a close friend” (41:34).
My highest spiritual moments in these first 10 days have taken place not in prayer but in the act of togetherness. Last week, I mourned Muhammad Ali with every single person I came across and felt connected by a collective charge of love and commitment to speak your truth. It was the first time in a very long time that I felt Islam could be viewed as truly American faith, and American Muslims valued for their contributions.
On Monday night, I stood on the steps of the Islamic Center of Southern California with more than 100 of my fellow Angelenos — Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist, LBGTQ of a slew of races and ethnicities — to join hands and hearts in love and solidarity and reject violence and hatred in the wake of the Orlando mass shootings. I heard the leaders of my community declare their solidarity with LGBTQ people, who have stood for human and civil rights of American Muslims time and again and deserve the same from us.
On Tuesday night, I was at L.A. City Hall for its annual Interfaith Iftar, which honored L.A. Muslim pioneers (including my boss MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati!) and included a moving testimonial from a gay Latino Muslim man about grieving Orlando from his intersectional identity. The mayor and a host of officials gathered to recognize Muslims and express their solidarity and appreciation for American Muslims’ contributions in community bridge building and service.
In every one of these settings, I felt my community of people express love in honor of God and our common cause. At some point in each gathering, I felt myself tune in to the divine spirit of God. It’s a moment of internal hum that is the closest I have ever experienced to a moment of inner peace. The union of hearts inclined to goodness and mutual support — particularly in dark times — is the purpose of faith in my book.
I’ve been blessed to get a heaping serving of that nourishes my empty stomach and fills my aching heart.
For me, these “togetherings” have acted as a supplement to the ritual act of prayer that I have also been trying to cultivate more. They feed my desire to speak to God and find connection, and for that I am especially grateful, because I have struggled with finding some kind of “zing” in my prayer life for years now.
Getting to spend my Ramadan intertwined with my overlapping circles of friends, colleagues and communities pouring beauty into the world is a big part of what actually drives me to pray, to express gratitude to God for the blessings among the unrelenting crises. For helping me see the opportunity for good in each crisis we face — the “crisortunity” that can allow for massive good to come out of horrendous situations.
This spring cleaning for my soul came right on time. Not how I pictured it but exactly as I needed it. It’s an affirmation of the power of community in all shapes and forms and the interconnectedness of human life.
My biggest lesson so far this Ramadan? You can access the powerful zing of connection to the Almighty through what Muhammad Ali put simply in a two word poem: “Me. We.” And God and love are the glue.
Edina Lekovic is a communications strategist, with more than 15 years of experience of making lemons into lemonade through her work with the Muslim Public Affairs Council. She is a proud board member and co-founder of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.