In the past few years I have realized that the one-Ramadan-arrangement-fits-all actually fits none. The Ramadan experience is as individual as each one of us, and in order to be successful we need to identify what works and what does not. These are things that I have learned in the past four years:
1) Experience Ramadan. Sometimes it seems that our communities are much more concerned about whether we eat (or we don’t because we have our periods), drink or wear hijab during Ramadan. However, Ramadan is much more than that. It entails a lot of soul-searching and quality time with our communities, ourselves, and Allah.
Vancouver 2012. That’s where I spent last year’s Ramadan.
2) Seek Knowledge on the Scriptures. This gets me every time. Don’t read just to please people! I often show up to the mosque, see a bunch of women reading the Qur’an, but I realize that they are just doing it because imam-such-and- such recommends it. Ramadan is often a great opportunity to look beyond our own barriers. It is a chance to learn and research. Expand your horizons beyond imam-such- and-such…
3) Set goals. Being a convert, I see Ramadan as a new-year type of thing. It is a time for renewal. Thus, I like to take the time to think about my long-term goals for the upcoming year. It is also a great way to connect with other fellow Muslims. Past the month of Ramadan connections based on friendship and common goals last forever.
4) Seek time for yourself. A lot of us converts spend a lot of time visiting friends, mosque lectures or taking care of family. While there is nothing wrong with that, Ramadan calls for quality time with Allah. It invites us to reflect on our actions, our beliefs and our plans. Now, although prayer is often described as the time to reflect, some of us get more inspired while performing activities that we enjoy. My one-one-one time with Allah (aside from prayers) happens while I bake… Yes! That’s where I feel the freest and the most creative.
Home-made Marble Shortbread
5) Share. When I talk about sharing I do not mean going to every iftar you are invited to or going to the mosque because you feel obligated. Rather, we should be strengthening the ties with those that make us whole. In my case, I spend a large part of Ramadan with my non-Muslim family, with my fellow converts and with Muslims and non-Muslims that elevate me to a whole new spiritual level.
6) Be good, Be inclusive. We all have bad habits and bad behaviours and we can’t probably get rid of them in one day. We like to exclude others and criticize them; we call certain things a “sin” because we don’t agree with them. We think less of others based on race, gender, sexuality and religion… well, Ramadan is the perfect opportunity to expand our horizons and live our life while letting other live theirs. Be nice and good to others… it goes a long way.
7) Give. Not everyone has the money, but we all have something that we could give out or share. Giving our time and sharing our goods is not only rewarding but it actually helps others. Some of the most innovative things I have seen in the last few years include women in my community organizing clothing drives for women’s shelters, assisting single mothers looking for jobs, babysitting for low-income women, volunteering in seniors residences and hospitals and providing skills support for immigrant men and women. You can also come up with some ideas to include children in the giving process.
8) Fast. Now, I know you know about the food, drink and sex issue. However, the way I see it is that fasting entails more than restrain for certain things. Ramadan teaches us that we have self-control, that we can seek discipline and achieve goals. Therefore, fasting for me includes acquiring new skills and problem solving. For instance, I have always been very bad at managing my budget. So this year, part of my fasting entails acquiring the skills, the discipline and the self-control to successfully save money towards long-term goals.
9) Be flexible. One of my problems attending the mosque during Ramadan is that I feel as a weird specimen. Some non-convert women in my community watch me (and other converts) all the time and check on me… From how I pray to the color of my socks, having people looking over my shoulder makes me feel unwelcome and angry at times. However, it has taught me that there are greater things in life and that we must be flexible. Ramadan is about striving for better spiritual connections, loving relationships and self-awareness, and there are several ways to achieve that. So, let’s be less concerned about what others are doing “wrong” and let’s focus on being flexible, loving and welcoming.
Breaking the fast in the beach was a great experience.
10) Enjoy it! Sometimes there is a lot of pressure. Pressure to follow particular rules, rituals and customs, and this can be intimidating and challenging for a lot of new Muslims. Yet, it is very important to enjoy Ramadan. Try to relax, work at your own pace and seek support in those that can provide it. At the end, Ramadan is about learning and seeking spirituality and only comes once a year. It is time to celebrate!