This is Day 27 of the 2017 #30Days30Writers Ramadan series – June 22, 2017
By Eman Hassaballa Aly
I had one job this Ramadan, and that was to finish reading the Quran. I’m writing this on the 25th day, and I’m two juz’ (chapters) short of that goal. Honestly, I didn’t care if I didn’t pray one rakat of Tarawih (special night prayers in Ramadan), because all I wanted to do was do a complete reading of the Quran this month.
It’s something I’ve never done before. I always start out strong with my one juz a day plan. I even devised a plan to read six pages at each prayer, and in small bites so I would finish. There’s always something that gets in the way, like my period or traveling or exhaustion from fasting.
But this was going to be the year I was going to finish. I almost had no excuse this time, I’m relieved of fasting this year due to medical issues, and so the guilt from that was strong enough to motivate me to plow through the Quran, even with a ten-day menstrual cycle this year.
I knew, for two reasons, that this exercise was going to be healing for me. The first was that this past year has been a year of healing for me on many levels. And, Ramadan followed suit and became very rejuvenating for me emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Since last year, I decided that I’m going to take my physical health by the horns and tame the wild animal of obesity that has plagued me since I was eight years old. That journey has been a difficult one. It got worse before it got better. On the scale, I’ve barely lost 30 lbs., but, it’s closer to 50 because of fluctuation, which included a 10-pound spike around the presidential election.
Taming this beast unleashed a new one that surprised me.
With the weight loss, I experienced a vulnerability that was alarming. For many reasons (that I don’t have time to expound upon here), I hid behind my weight. And, I had convinced myself that I could be fat and happy. Even if I was happy, which I wasn’t, I was not healthy. The vulnerability came from a place that had quietly convinced me that losing weight would solve all my problems: physical, emotional and spiritual.
But it did not. I felt exposed and unsafe. That led to a journey that I am still on and will be for the rest of my life. God knows, it has been a rough one. But what Ramadan has brought with it was a renewed sense that I can do this, because I finally did something that has haunted me my whole adult life, and that was completing a full reading of the Quran in Arabic.
The Quran, in and of itself, is a healing force. I don’t know how true this is, but I was told that there is a chapter that is meant to be read with the intention of shifa (a cure) — it is the one chapter that did not have a “fa” in any of its verses (I’ll give you a hint, it starts with a fa). And, luckily for me, I read that chapter at least 17 times a day when I am praying.
In reflecting on the meaning of the verses, I am profoundly in awe of the healing nature of the verses. I am not a scholar, but I’m sharing what the verses mean to me — so take that grain of salt with what I’m about to share.
The first few verses puts the universe and everything in it in order. The fifth verse is a reminder of where I should direct my energy. I try to be wholly focused on my afterlife, even in my worldly affairs. Based on the teachings of our Prophet, peace be upon him, if we concern ourselves with the afterlife, God will handle our worldly affairs.
He really has. And I could not be more grateful.
The last two verses are so curing to me because the chapter ends with a prayer: A plea to be guided on the straight path, a path that is paved with favors. I also pray at least 17 time a day to not be from among those who evoke anger or are led astray.
Speaking of anger, I am as angry as hell is hot.
I know the prayer seeks refuge from those who evoke anger, but anger is not always a bad thing. Anger is a bi-product of a primary emotion, and I have lots of reasons to be angry in the last few years.
Whether it’s the harm of children while they’re learning the Quran, or the spiritual abuse through secret marriages, terrorist attacks against and by Muslims, and the most recent tragic event, the murder of 17-year-old Nabra who was killed in the early morning returning to her mosque in Northern Virginia, we have seen too much violence, hate, racism and terror in our community.
This doesn’t even consider what has been happening outside of the Muslim community with the rise of white supremacy, issues with the criminal justice system and the list goes on and on. It is a time of tests in which Caliph Ali, may God ennoble his face, said that each calamity will erase the memory of the previous one.
Why am I angry? Having been at the table for some of these crises, we have not done our part in protecting the most vulnerable among us. Violence against our women is still one of the biggest problems in our society, and many times it is perpetrated by the people we entrust to lead the community.
I have had to heal and rebuild the relationship I had with God, because I had built it on the backs of people. When that tumbled, as it would, because humanity is imperfect, I was reminded that God said worship Me and not others. It’s not that I worshipped others, but my reverence allowed for me to not be objective.
When it was just me and God, let me tell you, there were a lot of awkward silences between us. I am forging a new relationship, and it is a work in progress. In fact, I am a work in progress.
But, I still have hope, I have fueled my anger into working towards whatever cause I am called to. Without sounding too pretentious, I want to be the Aaron to Moses of our community. Moses, peace be upon him, asked God that Aaron (from his family), peace be upon him, be appointed to increase him in strength and help him in his task so that they may exalt and remember God.
I consider the human race my family, and I ask that God make use of me in a similar manner.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably groggy from a night of seeking forgiveness and hoping for reward from God on a powerful night. It is my honor to greet your tired eyes and empty bellies. The hope that we can maybe improve the world around us even incrementally is incredibly healing.
I have to get to those last two juz’ in the Quran. I am happy to have been able to heal the old wound between me and my relationship with the Quran, and when I finish, I can say “God almighty speaks the Truth” as is encouraged, when one finishes reciting with a renewed energy and pride in my Book.
Now, can someone throw me an Ameen party?
Eman Hassaballa Aly works in digital communications, is a trained social worker and has been focusing on Muslim-Jewish relations in Chicago. She recently started dabbling in fiction writing at Story Street Labs.