The second of Ramadan. I had a late cup of coffee and now, unable to sleep, I have decided to use this midnight hour to come back to my beloved blog.
Ramadan Karim. Ramadan is generous and bountiful. This could sound coninterintuitive to non Muslims. A time when a believer will go without food, or drink , refrain from using any of the foul language that has crept so casually into many of our vocabularies, and refrain from sex, among a few other things from sunrise to sunset does not seem to jive with our usual sense of bounty and generosity.The phrase Ramadan Karim asks us to reconsider the meaning of these concepts. I am greatful for that.
My time spent in Arab culture has given me the opportunity to hear about the bounty Ramadan has to offer. It is said that those who practice Ramadan by fasting, praying and otherwise consecrating their general existance to the Cosmic Oneness that is Allah for the duration of the 30 day month have the opportunity to receive many blessings. Prayers are more valuable and more powerful, the act of fasting in itself is prayer like (At this time of year in North America, it is a 17 hour daily prayer, with sunrise coming just after 3 am and sunset just after 8pm). During Ramadan, Muslims stay up late at night to pray for many hours longer than usual. It is a concerted meditation, physical and vocal and a very energizing and emotionally powerul experience. This is the bounty of Ramdan for me – it brings people together. It helps build that spiritual energy that occurs when tens, hundreds and tens of thousands of people all open their hearts and quiet their minds together.
And therein lies the challenge of practicing Ramadan in North America. For five years I fasted in Arab countries – for the first three of those years I had not stopped to consider whether I was actually interested in the religion itself but simply sought to synchronize my life with the lives of the Arab people I enjoyed living among and learning about. I went to mosques and prayed the eveing prayers. I broke fasts with families. I listened and I learned and I began to feel inspired and I began to enjoy the feeling of the communal, consecrated fast.
And then we moved back to the USA, just about 2 months before the start of Ramadan 2010. 8 or 9 months pregnant at the time, I did not fast. And I missed it. I watched my husband fast and longed to join him but it did not makes sense for me at the time. The following Ramadan, I began to write my Master’s degree thesis while working a full time job the same week that Ramadan began and again I did not fast for all 30 days. Now, in 2012, I have begun to fast again. But I am missing somethng. It is not like it was in Morocco or the UAE. Busy with a very full time job, opposite schedule from my husband and taking care of our young son, I do not go to the mosque for evening prayers. Wrapped up in what I have experienced as a very fast paced American lifestyle, I have not found (or taken) the time to seek and join a community of Muslims here even though I live in the extremely diverse city of Cambridge, MA with a mosque not 15 minutes’ walk from my house.
It is a conumdrum. I long for the Arab world more than ever at this time. I miss the radio stations playing the Qur’an all day long – the recitation rhythmic and soothing. I miss the slight shift in the work day schedule- most schools and offices will open an hour later and end an hour earlier or otherwise adjust their timetables to allow everyone to at least try to get the amount of rest necessary for people who are fasting and spending a significantly longer amount of time praying each night. It is an allowance for spiritual rejuvenation which I am so hungry for but feel unable to completely take hold of in my busy life in the US.
I miss being surrounded by many others who are also fasting – those who can look at one another and understand.
My conversion to Islam came, in great part, from my love of the community and culture that it grew out of and that have grown from it. I will be spending this Ramdan honing my new, heightened consciousness of what bounty and generosity can mean in a time and place where my gut reaction is that my life is lacking in the space and time for spiritual rejuvenation.
I am hoping that other fasting Muslims in the US and abroad will comment here. I hope that I will be able to rebuild a bit of the sense of community I am missing so badly in this time.