Ramadan and I: It’s complicated

By Juwayriyah Shabir

I have a confession to make. Ramadan terrifies me. I shy away from acknowledging my guilty secret amid the tangible excitement in the lead up to the holy month. There is this peculiar nervous energy that matters the days before Ramadan. A palpable tension reverberates through the air. Is it the demons that are working overtime to squeeze fountains of sin from us, before they are shackled and bound? Is it the grating of the gates of hell, that try to contain the languishing pit of fire as it groans in rebellion to the embargo that is soon to be placed upon it? Or is it the fragrance of heaven that peeps through the gates of paradise as the latches are begun to be lifted? Maybe it is the bevy of angels incandescent with glee as they wait for the homes of the believers to be lit with the illumination of their Lord’s revelation. An atmosphere fulminating with pent-up hopes and eager hearts reaches a crescendo as we knock at the doors of Ramadan. Like humble beggars outside the gates of the King, with eyes rapt with an expectation that generosity will not be withheld.

Some knock fervently, pounding with a rapaciousness akin to a bee that has found a flower with an exorbitant amount of nectar. The sweetness of the honey that their arduous labor will churn out from the nectar entices them and beckons them forward, raving to consume the days ahead with unrestrained mirth. They know the honey well. They know how to make it so that it has equal parts of healing and deliciousness. They are skilled laborers with experience to fall back on. They can close their eyes and step back into a reverie of all the past Ramadans that had rejuvenated them. Unable to repress their beaming faces as they harbor a silent hope that this Ramadan might be the best yet. 

The growling of their stomach is much beloved to them. They long to embrace the nights with fervent prayers with as much impatience as long-estranged lovers reuniting at last. With their hearts softened like dough having been kneaded adroitly, their virtuous inclinations are thoroughly polished. So that they find themselves as generous with their wealth as the wind. As patient with their trials and angst as Job. Their gratitude to their Lord spreads warmth through their whole being. They find intimate moments where their eyes glisten with tears as they whisper to their Lord, The All-Hearing, imploring for his forgiveness for their shortcomings. They busy their limbs with good deeds. They bask in the glow of Ramadan long after it is gone.

Then there are those that want to turn away from the doors, having found themselves being swept up amongst the hordes, swimming with the tide, and finding themselves washed up rather unexpectedly at this shore. They are bashful and shy, with disheveled hair and ragged clothes. Embarrassed to meet the King in their shabby state, they ponder how they can make their escape. But there is no turning back. The gates are flung open. The throngs make their way.

Fraught with guilt, wracked with self-deprecation, they feel they have little to offer and little to gain. All the promises they made to abstain from said sin, all the oaths they took to try to understand God’s book flash before their eyes. They are left with the dismal feeling that sinks them lower and lower. That they are not worthy. Too tainted. Too flawed. Too weak. How can I present myself to The King of all Kings knowing that I have been heedless? Their Nafs chastises them and humiliates them.

Little do they know, this guilt is a gift. The realization of having wronged their souls is a testament to their hearts being still alive. God offers life to the dead earth, so Oh despairing slave of His, how can you believe that you are beyond His mercy? You do not know your Lord if you think His love has bounds. Your soil may not have produced crops in a while, but it is receptive to the rain and the light, life is teeming under its surface waiting to erupt. So rejoice in the struggle, for He loves the ones who struggle and not just those who thrive.

But what if your soul remains emaciated? What if hunger and thirst leave you drained? What if you do not feel the gentle caress of His speech that should have consoled you? Or experience the chill of fear that His admonishments should inspire? What if you are seized by a torpor during this spiritual regimen? What if lassitude chains your limbs and languor halts your tongue from uttering phrases of remembrance and praise? Perhaps the most lugubrious thought is the one that you could not have conceived. What if you were amongst the millions who were just…… fine? For how can one mourn when one does not comprehend that they have been deprived? This nonchalant indifference is truly a loss.

And the supplication of Jibreel still echoes through time. When he asked for the destruction of the ones that left this blessed month deprived of the forgiveness of The All-forgiving. To which the beloved of the beloved said, ameen. (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, 644)

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