Reframing Ramadan

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Meaghan Brittini looks back to her initial expectations of Ramadan and how that has changed today.

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My first Ramadan was an absolute chore.

I remember despairingly counting down the days until the new moon, eager for the month to end so that I could get back to my normal life.

But I don’t feel like that about Ramadan anymore.

Now I know that it was the mindset I had, heading into Ramadan, that caused me to feel as if there was a big, grey cloud looming above me.

You see, before my first month of fasting, I was gifted a helpful little book on the fiqh (jurisprudence) of Ramadan and fasting to help prepare me for the road ahead. I also registered in a daylong workshop organised by a local Muslim association on the same topic. This was a sort of ‘Ramadan 101’ course meant to inform newbies like myself on the ways we ought to behave, as well as to remind other Muslims who might have forgotten over the past 11 months.

To give you an insight into the theme of this particular course, here is an example of one of the actual discussions in this workshop (not the original quote).

If you tie a string around a grape, and lower it down your throat and into your stomach, then pull it out again, you are not invalidating your fast. But, if you lower that same grape back into your stomach, you invalidate your fast, because you are putting the stomach fluids that touched the grape back inside of you.

To think that this was the first impression I had of what to expect during the holy month: to be wary of dangling unchewed foods down my throat!

I sat in the lecture and listened attentively while taking notes. I tried to remember all the fine details of the speaker’s legalistic points and to make sense of them so that I could apply them during the upcoming month. Even if the lecturer was giving endless examples of situations I could honestly never imagine myself in.

That year, along with the book where I studied strictly fiqh-related discussions on Ramadan, I spent my days trying hard to not break my wudu until after maghrib, (fearful that I might accidently inhale a drop of water and break my fast), weighing the decision of whether or not it was better to go on stinking or to apply my scented deodorant (which the lecturer has said was makruh!), and avoiding situations where I might overhear someone’s music (another evil I had been warned to avoid in this month).

Although I knew there were great rewards and the gift of God’s pleasure in fasting and in completing Ramadan, it didn’t feel like a holy month at all. It actually felt pretty scary and intimidating. Not to mention, it was quite stressful to be constantly worrying that I wasn’t being cautious enough or that I was doing something that might be seen as wrong, at least according to the sources I had at the time.

Even if I had had heard of the spiritual goals of Ramadan, I doubt that there was even enough room for my my heavily saturated brain to give them any thoughtful consideration.

Nevertheless, after having expanded and evolved my understanding, I now know that Ramadan is more than just abstaining from food and trying to not slip up on the sharia. It’s a holistic attitude of getting closer to the divine, recharging your spirit, reviving the body, and hopefully increasing your religious morale.

I missed out on all of this during my first go at it, simply because my preparations had revolved around a purely legalistic approach where fine attention to small details took precedence over spirituality. While I was busy stressing over these details and grumbling about my hunger, I had turned Ramadan into a judicial affair and missed out on the bigger picture of the occasion.

Instead of feeling like I was living in a month abound with mercy and blessings, I felt like I was tiptoeing around the brink of punishment or failure at any moment!

Although I admit we have to be conscious of acting in the way that we think God is asking of us, thinking purely in terms of fiqh the entire day didn’t do justice to such a beautiful and inspiring month. I am grateful that I was able to reframe Ramadan so that I can now enjoy it to its fullest.

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