I remember when I was first introduced to the month of Ramadhan. It was a typical hot summer’s day ten minutes before the end of my Qur’an class. The last ten minutes were usually spared for either an introduction to Islamic practices or narrations of episodes from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). It was just one month before Ramadhan therefore it served as perfect timing for our teacher to introduce Ramadhan to his young pupils.
The last ten minutes of Qur’an class was usually a time marker for my peers – it meant that they had ten minutes left until they could go out to run and play. It did not make much of a difference to me because unlike them I was unable to run and play. I was unable to be a part of that ritualistic something they were all a part of after class due to my physical ‘disabilities’. For my part, that last ten minutes of class was something I savoured – something that I wanted to prolong without wanting it to end.
It may have been a typical hot summer’s day ten minutes before the end of class but I found that class to be somewhat different from other days. I found it different because the introduction of Ramadhan meant the introduction to the concept of breaking the fast at the ending of Qur’an class. That meant that instead of the ending of class there would be extra time spent in the form of preparing food and breaking the fast together instead of my peers leaving to play. It was a chance for me to spend time with my peers after Qur’an lessons without the fear of not being able to catch up or being excluded.
After that day, I would count the days with my fingers as to when Ramadhan was going to arrive while also rushing back home after class to read more about Ramadhan while my peers would go out to play. I came to learn about the Islamic spirit found in Ramadhan which meant everyone regardless of race or age would gather together to break their fast whilst in the remembrance of Allah (SWT). The more I read the more I wanted to be included – to be part of something beautiful in the name of Islam, especially with my peers.
At long last, the month of Ramadhan was just few days away – I felt the rush of excitement because I was about to not only feel the Islamic spirit during the month of Ramadhan but also be included! I was about to be part of something – part of the Islamic community.
The night before Ramadhan I happened to catch a cold – I was prone to catch the flu easily due to my physical ‘disability’*. I tried my best to hide my illness, but my weakness from it was not something that could be easily hidden. I was rushed to the hospital to prevent me from having my flu develop into pneumonia. I then found myself admitted to the hospital for three weeks.
My heart sank. I was missing out on Ramadhan and I was unable to fast or even break the fast with fellow Muslims. All I had were Islamic books with me to read on the Islamic spirit on Ramadhan, but it was as if I was on the outside looking in – I was not part of it and I was starting to lose hope that I ever would be.
I was let out of the hospital the final week of Ramadhan but was not able to go to Qur’an classes for a few days. There were three days remaining of Ramadhan. I beseeched not only my parents but also Allah (SWT) to not only let me get the chance to attend Qur’an classes again but also to fast – to fast with my peers.
Allah (SWT) is the hearer of cries and answerer of supplications – before I knew it, I found myself attending the last two days of Qur’an classes. I was not allowed to fast on the second to last day, however, therefore I was not able to break my fast with my peers. A part of me broke inside because I was not only feeling left out from the Islamic community but also starting to feel left out from Allah’s (SWT) favours. I walked back home with tears on that second to last day of Ramadhan; firstly because I didn’t know if it was the last day of Ramadhan due to the sighting of the moon and secondly because I did not know if an extra day would make anything better due to the high chance of not being included again.
The last day of Ramadhan arrived and, although I was unable to wake up before dawn, this day was different – I refused to eat or drink. I hoped Allah (SWT) would have included that day of fasting even if it were for only half a day. I trusted that Allah (SWT) would give me the chance to be included amongst the Muslims when breaking the fast.
I went to the mosque that day feeling a sense of triumph – I was able to break a fast with my peers! However, I began to feel somewhat shattered when I saw my peers showing each other on their fingers the amount of fasts they had made just as I had used my fingers to count down the days until Ramadhan. I felt excluded more than ever because no one assumed I even fasted, but I tried to reassure myself in thinking that at least Allah (SWT) knew and that I was still a kid therefore their assumption was to be expected. However, years passed in which every Ramadhan was the same as this one, even after hitting puberty – I missed a lot of fasts but even if I did fast it was usually overlooked.
It was only last year that I was able to keep all my obligatory fasts and I still had my childish habit of excitingly counting the days of when Ramadhan would arrive. Last Ramadhan was when I began to feel included, but also now noticed the emphasis by Muslims both young and old on the number of fasts performed or the number of verses read. The focus seemed to be on the quantity over the quality and I then began to realise that was why I had been easily excluded during Ramadhan throughout my life. The quality of fasts was not really given much importance. One member of the Ummah would feel helpless and not necessarily feel part of the Islamic Ramadhan community, even if they made just one fast with the purest and the most eager-filled intention. Therefore, if Muslims want to include one with physical disabilities or those new to fasting, then the Islamic society as a whole should try to focus on and encourage others to value the qualitative form of fasting as opposed to the race in terms of the amount of fasts. By doing so it would build a more inclusive environment for those who struggle more than others when it comes to fasting. After all, Allah (SWT) does not reward according to the amount of fasts but rather the quality, especially if done in difficulty. Therefore, try to focus on the quality to guide your quantity of fasts – and console those who have difficulty in quantity because there is hope that their quality is far greater and better.
* A person is considered disabled due to dependency but we are all in essence dependent on Allah (SWT) with different ranges of abilities and inabilities. There is no clear cut categorisation, which gives a sense of ambiguity as to what determines one to be ‘disabled.’
Sa’diyya Nesar is a writer who hopes to uplift others through words by helping them focus on their abilities. Read more from Sa’diyya on her blog: www.sadiyyanesar.tumblr.com.