Up until a couple of years ago, I used to dread the ‘R’ word. The thought of long days, short nights, hyper-active kids, working nine to five, mounting housework on zero caffeine was enough to make me bury my head in the sand until well after Shab-e-Barat* had passed.
I don’t dread it anymore. In fact, I positively look forward to it. Why? Because I look forward to that time of year when I get carte blanche to be the bestest version of me. The Ramadhan version of me. Like it or not, this month compels each and every one of us, wherever we are on the ‘religiosity scale’ to improve aspects of ourselves, so totally, that it is almost hard to imagine what we were like for the rest of the year.
These days there are almost hourly reminders on social media constantly reminding me that Ramadhan is a-coming, together with well-meaning non-Muslim friends who are, more than ever before, clued up on the challenges of the month ahead. Last week, a work colleague helpfully left a Ramadhan flyer from the local supermarket on my desk. I’m not exactly the chapati-machine mum type, but thanks for the heads up on the special offer on rice, flour and cooking oil.
Talking of the ‘F’ word, I am looking forward to meals being reinstated to their proper function in life: a source of nourishment. I’m not the instagram-iftar-right-before-Maghrib type either, and Ramadhan is the perfect excuse (for me anyway) to spend even less time in the kitchen than I usually do. I’m praying there will be much barakah in my hastily prepared simple meals.
My virtual world is steadily filling up with healthy suhoor recipes, iftar ideas, kid’s activities and Ramadhan hacks; with innumerable soundbites and inspirational quotes thrown in for good measure. Much of the chatter in my real world from sisters involves coping strategies, waking/sleeping timings and that perennial favourite, what to stock up on in the freezer. My mother insists on giving me a selection of home-made savouries every year, lest we wilt without our daily dose of deep fried food. (When I recently announced to the children that their grandmother had sent a big bag of ‘frozen stuff’, they were not impressed, not least because it wasn’t of the Disney variety. Oh well, more samosas for me then.)
It normally takes me about six or seven days before settling into a blissful routine of peaceful suhoors, mindful salah, increased productivity at work, and somehow managing to pull near miraculous levels of patience out of the bag. Of course, not every day of Ramadhan is perfect and there are days and times when body and mind are equally drained but it’s during those weakened times that supplications seem strengthened and more sincere. The pre-Ramadhan worries and niggles melt away some time during those first few days and it seemingly gets easier and easier as the month goes on.
Surprisingly, the word Ramadhan is only explicitly stated once in the Qur’an which only adds to its unique inimitable character.
‘The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.’ (Surah Al-Baqarah:185)
And grateful we should be. Absurd as it might seem to non-Muslims looking in at our devotion to prayer and abstinence, when else do we get the chance to commit fully to perfecting our prayers, repairing our relationships, savouring our supplications and taking our taqwa to an all-time high?
Admittedly, this is the only time of the year that I ever make a real concerted effort to try to understand, reflect and act on the messages of the Qur’an. One of the best things about Ramadhan, for me, is that journey of discovery that takes place between the pages of the Book. I gave up trying to race through all thirty parts years ago and concentrate instead on understanding the layered meanings contained within the Qur’an and finding ways of putting what I have learnt into practice.
This month can be a long winding road or pass by in the blink of an eye. However long it seems, the blessings are there for all, for the taking. Like the clear light of the moon, the altered rhythm of our nights and days illuminates what is right and what is wrong about ourselves and forces us to shine a realistic torch on our thoughts and behaviours. It’s our annual get-out-of-jail-free card, whilst Shaytan is safely locked away in said jail. So, whatever the previous year has brought, these thirty or so days give us time to reflect on the eleven months before, learn from our mistakes and make firm resolutions for the year ahead until next Ramadhan.
How I wish that the totally enhanced version of me would stick around for a few more days, hours even, after the last Eid presents have been unwrapped. But alas, year after year, the Ramadhan spirit vanishes as quickly as it arrives and I only ever manage to hold on to just a glimmer of the Muslimah I want to be. But that doesn’t mean hope is lost with every departing Ramadhan. No, it just means I look forward to the next one with renewed vigour and anticipation. And that’s what makes it so special.
Yes, I am very much looking forward to being re-acquainted with my better self. If this is the month of self-reflection, I am ready for my close-up – warts and all. After eleven long months, I’m well overdue for an iman-upgrade. I am Ramadhan-ready. It’s time to install some self-discipline, sync with the ummah, detox the body, declutter the mind, supersize salah and dial up those duas. I, for one, can’t wait for a date – or thirty – with Ramadhan me!
*Laylatul Bara’ah/Night of Salvation
Sazida Desai is a married mother of two boys from the North West of England. She works as a Press and Community Liaison Officer to a British Member of Parliament and volunteers as a School Governor. She likes to spend her spare time gardening, writing, knitting and travelling. She always enjoys a good pun.