When I worked in corporate America (for forty years), I used to be afraid of the month of Ramadan, and could not wait for it to be over. For me, then, it meant pangs of guilt when I missed fasts, anxiety that I would not perform well at work if I did keep the fasts, and exclusion from all the fun food activities in a corporate office day- the coffee break with chit chat, the lunch breaks, and so on. I was never able to keep more than 10 or 15 fasts. Having been raised abroad in so many different countries, my parents were never able to follow all the traditions, and therefore were very lenient about it, which I am grateful for. It meant there was no pressure to incorporate a pretty hard religious practice with our busy schedule of commuting, traveling, caring for kids, etc.
As I grew older, and finally retired, my view has completely shifted. Now it is a month to look forward to as a means of spiritual development through reflection, atonement and lots of prayers and meditation, not to mention the fad of intermittent fasting for physical health. As I jokingly tell my friends, I am becoming a Muslim in America, as age and Islamophobia helped me along! Of course, the biggest influence on me has been my association with the Jerrahi Mosque and the beautiful teachers, such as Shaikh Yurdaer, who teach the true spirit of Islam in so many fascinating and thought-provoking ways. Now I cannot wait for the “sohbet” (sitting, dialogue) that happens after the Saturday zikrs (remembrance of Allah) ceremonies, because I know I can go inward even more deeply. As the Shaikh said at the last sohbet, it is in life’s difficult situations that we learn more about ourselves and deepen our self-knowledge, which is key to happiness.
Along with the excitement of developing spiritually, given the little time we Baby Boomers have left, we also look forward to the community building through the practice of Iftar (fast-breaking) that Ramadan provides. Last year Ramadan came at the peak of the pandemic crisis, when we had already been in lockdown for 40 days, so we had no such opportunity. This year we are blessed to be able to go eat out with friends. In fact, we were invited to a nice brunch at Shahnawaz Palace, a Pakistani catering and hall, by Javaid and Fauzia Syed to do a daytime meal together before the first of Ramadan tomorrow. Today we prepare ourselves mentally and physically for the first fast, and for our spiritual development. And already more invitations are already coming for joining Iftar ceremonies, which enhances the community feeling and bonding.
Writing as a privileged American Muslim, I feel sadness, shame and anger too about the many Muslims who go hungry already day in day out, and can never be assured a meal. While many Muslims will be giving their zakat (annual community tax) to many relief organizations, it will be a drop in the bucket only. Our prayers are with all of humanity that is suffering, and so this month is a reminder to be more active too in helping others, which is a teaching of all the faiths in the world thankfully.
I wish all my family and Muslim friends a reflective, peaceful and transformative Ramadan. May this be a month of spiritual blessings and openings for you. May this Ramadan deepen our connection with our Creator and our compassion for all Creations. May we learn to treasure each moment, each person in our life, each meal, each of the bounties we get to enjoy in this life. And may we increase our generosity and pay it forward even more intensely to spread love in this life for all of humanity. Ameen.