Ramadan Reflections 2015

Ramadan Reflections 2015

Assalamu Alaikum

Apologies to readers for I have again taken a long time to write something new and have been neglecting responding to new comments. I really am most grateful to all of you.

I had been thinking about a new post for Ramadan this year, and had thoughts about what I would write but am only now coming to the page.

My hesitation was that I felt a bit like I was back to where I was for my first Ramadan and Eid – alone in Switzerland. Had I really made so little progress in the past four years?

Never the less, I decided if I was going to be alone I would turn it into a sort of spiritual retreat.

I was off work for holiday the last two weeks of Ramadan. I did not travel anywhere as I had just flown to California for my niece’s graduation, so was tapped out financially.

My plan was to spend my days in prayer, reciting and reading the Quran, trying to learn Arabic and read some Islamic history, and meditate on Allah (swt), life, etc.

Well, I did some of that, but mostly I was really hot, tired and thirsty. We had a major heat wave during the whole month of Ramadan and I just could never get cool.

By the end of Ramadan I must admit that I was going a little stir crazy and was quite lonely.

I suppose I imagined my spiritual retreat to be a week of calm and insight – and maybe that is not how it works. It was valuable though. I did come to a few conclusions / decisions about where I wanted to take my life. And, as always, I reminded myself how much I have to be grateful for.

However, the biggest surprise was afterwards. I logged onto my blog after several months of absence, and I saw huge activity the days before and on Eid, and specifically the blog viewed was my first Eid blog and the search terms to find it were relating to spending Eid alone.

I realised that there must be so many others out there like myself who spend Ramadan and Eid alone.

So, here’s the thing — I enjoyed my Ramadan and Eid, and I am very grateful for the tremendous blessings Allah (swt) brings me every day – but it is hard to be without family for these holidays.

I think about the holidays I grew up with and, in a way, I value them even more now – especially Christmas. Not because of the religious tradition – but because of the tradition I shared with my family. Now, I don’t come from some perfect idealised family. We drive each other crazy and being cramped together during Christmas at whoever’s house we are staying at is stressful. But we love each other and have memories, customs, and familiarity.

If I had a husband and family of my own I am sure I would be learning and sharing Ramadan and Eid traditions with them. But I don’t. I won’t feel sorry for myself because I have too much in life to whine about what I don’t have.

For everyone out there who spent Ramadan and Eid alone (or at least you felt alone because you could not share it with those around you) – I get it. I understand. It’s hard. It’s lonely.

But that does not mean there are not moments to enjoy.

For me, I would go on walks each morning and each evening – before and after the worst of the heat. I sometimes listened to my favourite podcasts or just let my mind wander. During one of the podcasts a man was equating the tests given to us by Allah (swt) as the process of being chiselled into beautiful sculpture. We would all like to have things easy in life but then we would remain some amorphous blob – the tests turn us into something beautiful. It is a beautiful reminder for me when I am feeling stressed, anxious or upset.

Finally, though I probably should not admit this, I thoroughly enjoyed my first cup of coffee the morning of Eid.

What were your best moments this past Ramadan and Eid?

Family Matters

I did it. I told my family – at least some of them – that I am Muslim.

I can’t tell you how scary it was. I did it because some of my family were coming to visit me at Christmas, and I thought that even if I don’t wear hijab or pray in front of them they will likely see the books in my house and the prayer rugs kept under my bed. (My apartment is not that big.) As well as the fact I don’t drink alcohol anymore, which would be quite noticeable by them on New Year’s Eve.

But mostly I just wanted them to know. I have felt so detached from them for so long. I am very close to them and I hated them not knowing about such a big thing in my life. And at the same time I really feared that by telling them I could lose them.

It really impacted the rest of my life and relationships too. I mean, if I could not tell my sisters – my best friends – who could I tell?

So — what happened? I decided to call my sisters first prior to my brother and his family arriving here to visit.

My first sister was shocked and upset, but was careful to stay calm and assure me that she loved me and would accept my choice. She became more upset as time went on, but mostly because she was afraid for me based on everything she sees in the news. She was open that it was her hang up and prejudice, but it did not stop her from being upset. But the key here is that she accepted it.

My second sister was a bit surprised, but seemed fine with it. She was quite funny in fact. She has a work friend who is Muslim so knows that Ramadan is right in the middle of summer for the next few years, and she told me I better not cheat during Ramadan. She was even fine with the fact she might one day see me wearing hijab.

Finally, I told my brother when he was here. I waited until after Christmas in case things went badly. However, while he said he did not understand it, he also said that he did not care as it was my decision. I think it upset him more than he said as he was a bit distant for the rest of the day and he did not want to talk about. But things seemed to go back to normal after a day or two.

A few days later I told my sister-in-law. She was actually happy for me. She said she was glad I found something. There are many things she does not understand about Islam or my choice, but was ultimately very accepting.

Interestingly, all of them were adamant that I should not tell my parents, noting that they think my parents would never accept it or ever get over it.

Even though I had the same thought, it was a very tough message to hear. I certainly won’t tell them anytime in the near future. But can I really not ever tell them? On the one hand if it will upset them so, I should be careful not to hurt them as they are my parents. On the other hand, shouldn’t they know who I am? What if there was a circumstance such that it would be inevitable that they know. Wouldn’t they be more upset that I waited to tell them?

Ultimately, now that my siblings know, I am sure my parents will find out. And knowing I won’t lose my brother and sisters – and that they will support me even – I am okay with whatever happens.

It is really life-changing that they know. I know not all of my old friends will be as understanding as my family. And I know that my family will not understand everything. But having faced this fear it gives me more courage to continue this journey.

And I feel even closer to those in my life who already know and who have been supportive all this time. I feel incredibly blessed. Alhamdulilah.

What was your experience telling your family and friends?

Christmas mourning

I am in the process of moving house, going through everything in my apartment and deciding what will and won’t go with me, and sorting through boxes in my attic and cellar, some of which I have not unpacked since I moved in seven years ago.

Not surprisingly, I am coming across many things that do not fit into my new life as a Muslim and I have to decide what to do with them.

Some things are obvious, like my cellar full of wine. To be honest I had almost forgotten about it as I have not been down there in nearly a year, since before I said my shahada. And while some of the bottles of wine are closely associated with memories of friends, trips and special occasions, the decision to get rid of it all is an easy one.

Then there are things I am not so certain about, like some of my wall hangings that depict the human form. There is nothing indecent about the art and I certainly do not view any of it as items of worship, simply an aesthetic that to me is still beautiful. I will keep these for now.

And then there is the big box of what I call “Santa barf”, that is Christmas ornaments, decorations and keepsakes.

Though I converted to Islam less than a year ago, I was never one to celebrate Christmas once I moved out of my parents’ home. The exception being when I visited my family at the holidays, and I viewed it as a family and cultural tradition, not a religious one. I love spending Christmas with my family, but I have also spent many a December 25 not celebrating Christmas without a second thought.

The box I mention is filled with items given to me by family and friends in the spirit of trying to put me in the spirit – beautifully painted glass ornaments and hand-made decorations.

Much to my surprise, I find myself filled with emotion. This box represents what I have left behind. It reminds me that even if I do spend December 25th with my family, I am separated from all of this now.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that I have gained so much more with Islam. Never-the-less, despite the fact I was never sentimental about the holiday, I feel its loss looking at this box of keepsakes. So today, I am taking the time to mourn Christmas. (And I decided to get rid of all the Santa barf except the Christmas ornaments made by my nieces. These transcend the holiday.)

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