One Woman’s ‘Spiritual Rejuvenation’ Is Another’s ‘Unholy Act’

“Perhaps a great deed is belittled by an intention. And perhaps a small deed, by a sincere intention, is made great.”- Abdullah ibn Mubarak

Ramadan is a time that we all look to to charge our ‘Spiritual batteries’. We prepare for it with trepidation and excitement. We make (or in my case, order) samosas by the hundreds, set our social schedules accordingly and make plans to attend extra Taraweeh salah. It means food, family, tests of patience, challenging ourselves physically. We push through work and daily routines with parched mouths and exhaustion. We think twice before snapping at our kids or partners, getting irritated at the telemarketing call from ‘Jason in Ottawa’ [who we all know is ‘Vikram in Chennai’] or before flipping the bird to that jerk who cut us off on the highway.

We muddle through the days without our midday coffee or chai.

We yearn for quiet in our hectic lives for a moments’ peace and tranquility to get lost in worship and remembrance.

Some choose to completely devote themselves to reading Qu’ran and praying at any available opportunity during this most blessed month and pretty much stay away from anything other than that. They reject anything other than supplication and refuse any activity outside of devotion. I have been advised that anything else is “wasted time and wasted good deeds”. Anything other than complete Ramadan-mode is a ‘waste’.

Some in the community cancel gym memberships, reschedule appointments, take ‘days off’ of volunteering, delay tasks and other to-dos if they aren’t related to Ramadan.

I don’t and I refuse. There, I said it.

Don’t get me wrong. I pray, I do dhikr, I also get in a few extra rakats before suhoor. I love this month. I love the local Ramadan sales at the grocery store. I love the memories it brings.

But what I also do is ‘carry on’ with my normal activities.

Hands of Fatima by Laila Shawa

My understanding of Ramadan, since growing up in a small city with a very small Muslim community, was that Ramadan is an intrinsic part of our lives. Our commitments do not end in this month. In fact, our chances for acquiring blessings are magnified although our task list is increased. Why would not include that into our schedules? Why put off gardening, or tending to the needs in the community. Why not have Ramadan as a part of our daily lives? To make a sincere intention to keep strong and keep going forward. To know that is is possible to step up our worship and still be productive and meet our own needs spiritually and personally.

Fasting is quite taxing physically and psychologically. Not only are we asked to refrain from food and water, we are asked to be patient and use restraint. To be mindful of our actions, words and how they affect others. How they affect ourselves. So, why would we isolate ourselves and shy away from the greater community while fasting?

I have been challenged by well-intentioned *cough* people who think that my activities and efforts may be questionable, at best, in the Holy Month.

This past few Ramadans, much to the dismay of others, I have attended the sangeet and shaadi of the cherished daughter my dear Hindu neighbors. I have hosted their extended family in our home. I have attended a Catholic Church wedding ceremony of my good friend. In some situations, breaking fast could not be accommodated so I tried to work around the schedule. I accept invitations where I can and try to tweak out possibilities.

I even went on a quick work trip to Mexico with my partner and went scuba diving. Yes, in Ramadan. (*cue horrified people*)

I continued take my children swimming daily (as it is the summer), the library, write my articles and keep up the ordinary and boring. Whether it was to coaching my daughters’ team or meeting with non-Muslim friends from out-of-town, I stick to those commitments and do not feel that Ramadan is an excuse to bail out or ignore. Recently, I had a friend visit from the US and she was aware that I was fasting. Instead of sitting together and eating, as I usually do with friends..or anyone…we went for a long walk, sat under some trees and talked. On the way to drop her home, I went through the drive-thru and got her an iced cappuccino from Tim Horton’s ( it is practically Fardh for Canadians to treat guests to Tims…).

There is more Mercy and opportunity in this Month. The chance to use my intention to make everything I do an act of worship. It is not a specific list of duties but an understanding that this Month is powerful and greater than us. That much of what we do, even if it isn’t speed reading Qu’ran and praying all of Taraweeh will count. And it does count.

The chance to reach out to other people in kindness, the chance to share our experiences and the chance to actually sow some seeds of humanity. To reach out to our friends.

There are many women I know who to suggest that this month is for personal benefit. Why would I engage with others in a manner that would do me no good in the hereafter?
Why would I help out a friend with a project not related to Islam or Muslims? Why would I be that shoulder to lean on for non-Muslims? It certainly doesn’t “benefit” me, they argue. Why would I just not choose to partake in itiqaf and reject all these distractions?
Clearly, our definitions of “benefit” are quite different.

I don’t feel that reading Qu’ran all day and ignoring my other responsibilities is plausible. Having children also gave me persepective. Some days I was just.too.tired. Simply completing the days’ events was overwhelming. Not that I didn’t crave an opportunity to hear different recitations and be a part of a devoted community for 30 nights. But, I never took my young children Islamic Artto Taraweeh prayers, had them scream and run around while disturbing others as I continued to pray. Often I prayed at home or passed out, and my partner went. Although the most enjoyable experience was to pray with others late into the night, but by any means necessary? After one particular incident where my clothes were peed on because the Mother beside me was too busy praying to tend to her childs’ pamper, I vowed to have balance.

After an awkward exchange and a non-apology, she told me after that every Ramadan she felt it was fine to ignore the cooking and cleaning and ‘normal duties’ in her home. Nothing was as paramount as her worship, prayer and Qu’ran. She felt it was her way of reclaiming her self-care time. She didn’t want balance. She wanted to get in all she could and reap the many rewards of the Month.

I totally respect that. I appreciate her taking ownership on her spiritual journey. I just feel differently. I feel that my worship is in many different and small things. It may be in attending a religious ceremony of a friend, it may be in supporting a friend. It may be in me making an intention to please God by strengthening my self.

In all Ramadans, I have continued to play my beloved football. I have always felt a connection and a type of empowerment from continuing my athletic activity while fasting. A type of “Superhuman skill”. I feel tremendously lucky to be able to continue to play in Ramadan. That God Almighty has given me the capability to continue. Am humbled that He has blessed me with the mental and physical strength to bulldoze through the heat and the competition.

I have been scolded and reminded that I am wasting my time on the pitch. WHY would I continue to play when I could worship? Sadly, it may not occur to some people that being aware and totally thankful for the ability to play and quietly remember my Creator as I sprint and shoot, is a form of worship.

I am cognizant of the power of this Month. I feel tremendously rewarded after completing mundane tasks. Getting my grocery shopping done and taking the cat to the vet -WITHOUT COFFEE- makes me feel like a total shero. I think in the positive.

That I am healthy and strong enough to do this is a blessing. And I am grateful for it.

That I have enough to prepare for my family at iftar and we are unbelievable blessed with an abundance of food and resources and family is a blessing.

It is in remembering , whispering His name and supplications whenever possible. Listening to Qu’ran in the car. Listening to the stories of others with patience and appreciation. Clap when a father and mother are giving away their daughter in joy, although it is a very different tradition. Being kinder. Being aware. Being more.

It is being able to take the lessons and experiences from this Month and carry them forward to the rest of the year. To take our supererogatory worship and implement it, not shelf it until we can do it again next year.

There are those in my city who work on incredible initiatives in Ramadan. They make baskets for the needy, they collect presents for children who may not get any, they offer support and respite for all people Muslim and non.  I am inspired by their efforts, above and beyond their normal jobs and routines. They see Ramadan as a chance to accomplish more, much more. And I am taking the challenge. So, I will continue to re-energize the way that makes it personal. The way that makes is relevant to me and increases my connection with God. What others consider small and meaningless is powerful to me. It may be unpopular but that is my spiritual self-care.

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  • About the autor
    Shireen Ahmed

    Shireen Ahmed is a writer and advocate focusing on Muslim women in sports, regularly contributing to Muslimah Media Watch. You can follow her on Twitter @_shireenahmed_

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