My husband's heavy breathing assures me he is sound asleep. I cautiously tiptoe out of the darkened bedroom, careful not to stub yet another toe on a piece of furniture, and make my way downstairs to the kitchen. As I begin to prepare the French toast and tea, warm smells fill the first floor of our home, but at this early hour they do not strike me as appetizing: it is 4:30 a.m. and I am putting together my and my husband's sehri.
As I repeatedly call over the incessant ringing of my husband's alarm in my attempt to awaken him, I feel the irritation creeping in. The trumpet to sound the arrival of Judgment Day could not possibly create the clamor of this alarm, so why is he still asleep? And here I am, standing on the stairs at the crack of dawn shouting over this blaring ringing, all the while rubbing sleep out of my eyes and fretting over whether or not his French toast remains warm and crisp. It strikes me that, at this moment, I resemble my mother. A few years ago, it was she who would impatiently call up the stairs as I lay in bed, willfully ignoring my alarm, and she who would be overly concerned about the temperature of my omelet. I miss her and I miss her omelets.
When my husband finally makes his way down the stairs, my frustration abates and he and I sit across from each other and share our early morning meal. We speak intermittently and keep one eye trained on the clock to ensure we finish our food by the time dawn prayers begin. Despite the sparse conversation and the hurried meal, I enjoy the feeling that we are both beginning our obligatory fasts together, as a unit.
Once I have cleared the table and said the dawn prayer, I sit beside my husband as he begins his ritual, early morning recitation of the Quran; I listen to his clear, seemingly effortless pronunciation and feel remorseful that I did not practice my Arabic after I completed the Quran at the ripe age of nine, as is customary in Pakistani culture. As an adult, I always read the English translation of the Holy Book, missing the rhythm and melody of the lyrical language in which the Quran was originally revealed, but finding gratification in understanding the wisdom and application of Allah's guidance. While the Arabic language remains alien to me, I pray that through the mere act of listening to these holy words, I will earn Allah's pleasure and through some process of spiritual osmosis, will become a more pious human being.
Once we lay down to sleep, I guiltily recall the tinge of envy I had felt as I had crawled out of bed while my husband lay fast asleep; it is now he who, in another hour and a half, will abandon sleep and trudge downstairs to change and drive to the office to push through a long work day. As I burrow deeper under the cozy covers, I reflect on the balance Allah has created in our relationship and those of many of our equally fortunate friends. Many of the Muslim wives I know find the limits of their patience tested through caring for their capricious little ones while feeling the fatigue a fast brings on. They ignore the rumbles of their complaining stomachs while grocery shopping and set the pre-dawn alarm to prepare daily sehris.
Their male counterparts, on the other hand, endure long, tiresome work days without the welcome lunch break, and make the daily drive to the local mosque to perform the special evening prayers of Ramadan. In this month, more than any other, we push though these difficulties in the hopes of cleansing our corroded hearts; we find relief in sharing our trials, small and large, with our spouses. As I drift off to sleep, I say a silent prayer of thanks to Allah for the food and the companions with which we begin and end our fasts.
A Husband's Perspective
It is 2:00 p.m., and the hunger is starting to peak as it does every day at this time. It is about the time I start counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds until I will be on my way home. I am imagining how sweet that lone date will taste on my parched tongue, how the cool water will feel as it rushes down my throat and fills my empty stomach in an instant. It is now 2:02 p.m. Clearly these thoughts are not helping to pass the time.
But eventually the clock strikes 6:30 p.m. and it is time to rush home to discover what delights my wife has prepared for iftar. Impatient and unable to wait the 15 minutes it takes to get home, I call from the car to find out what is on the stove and to squeeze in my last minute request for rice over roti. I get home to see my wife busy cutting fruit in the kitchen while stirring something in a large pot, pausing intermittently to glance over one of many scribbled recipes in a small spiral notepad. In these moments, I envy my wife for the spiritual rewards she receives through this seemingly routine act of preparing a meal. By providing me the means with which to break my fast, she obtains the rewards for both of our fasts on a daily basis throughout the entire month. In this manner, Allah has bestowed an immense honor on any Muslim, male or female, who spends the last hours of the fast, when the hunger is most intense, standing over a hot stove, tantalizingly staring at and inhaling an aromatic blend of meat, vegetables, and spices while unable to indulge in even the slightest taste.