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?

Me and myself celebrating Eid

This past week when thinking about what I would do for my first Eid, I started to feel a bit disconnected again. Eid is a time for community, family traditions, and celebration with loved ones. I will spend it alone.

But I remembered when I started Ramadan I had the same thought. While I did spend much of it on my own, I was not really alone. Some of the time was spent in a normal day-to-day manner at work. I was also incredibly fortunate to spend some of my time in Dubai where I met wonderful people with whom I hope to develop lasting friendships. And friends checked in on me on nearly a daily basis and stayed up late with me via text messaging on a few occasions.

I admit I also spent a fair amount of time connected to the world via the internet: perusing articles by fantastic bloggers like yourselves, relishing stories of Ramadan experiences around the world, staying caught up on the achievements of Muslim athletes at the Olympics, and reading the news from Burma, Syria, Egypt, the US, etc.

All of this has made me feel inspired, disappointed, energized, horrified, elated, and a little bit scared.

We all know that the depiction of Islam in the mainstream media is imbalanced and overwhelmingly negative, and others have written far more eloquently on this topic than I could — but the question that keeps running through my head is how – in this environment – do I explain to non-Muslim friends and family that I chose to follow Islam because at its core it is about peace and benevolence? And what is my responsibility in all that is happening in the world? Ramadan and Eid are times for charity, which is hugely important, but it is enough?

So, as I think about how I will celebrate Eid, first I will be grateful as I realize I will spend it in a lovely apartment, in a safe neighborhood, and with plenty of food and clean water to drink. Alhamdulilah! I am blessed.

Next I will begin to establish my own Eid traditions. Remembrance of my sister and other loved ones who have passed, perhaps a pancake breakfast followed by a long walk by the river, and calls to friends and family (even if they do not realize they are celebrating Eid with me).

And finally, I will pray for guidance for how best to represent and communicate the beauty of Islam to my non-Muslim friends and family during the next year, and for guidance on how I can be a positive force in the community. (Suggestions are welcome!!!)

What do you think about the happenings in the world during this Ramadan? What is our responsibility as Muslims in all this? How do you think we can shift the negative perception?

Rockin’ the covered look at the Dubai Mall

I was not sure what to write regarding my time in Dubai. It has been a collection of bits and bobs — small happenings and observations, many of which occurred at the Dubai Mall. Okay, I know that sounds shallow and I should not be so frivolous during Ramadan even if I am on a much-needed vacation. However, the mall was nearby and air conditioned, and there were many things to be explored and contemplated….really! (Though, I will admit to a bit of shopping as well.)

The diversity of the community here is something to see. For those who live here I am sure this is everyday for you and perhaps even a superficial view of Dubai, but it was the best people watching ever!

There were those dressed in traditional Arabic, Indian or African dress – to name just a few. And, of course, those in typical western dress ranging from mini skirts to business suits. Everyone was there together with no one ‘type’ getting odd glances or glares. Certainly there are many places in the world with a great deal of diversity, but not too many where it all seems to be so accepted. (Okay, I was a little bit judgmental about the mini skirts.)

I also visited the Aquarium and Underwater Zoo that was located, you guessed it, in the mall. I have mixed feelings about any zoo-like arena as I worry about how well any animal can live in captivity. But who doesn’t love to watch penguins swimming, jumping and waddling. And to view sharks, stingrays, jelly fish and giant spider crabs up close personal is just…cool. These are all so clearly some of the many ‘signs’ for those who choose to see.

The mall was also where I wore hijab everyday. I am becoming quite comfortable wearing hijab to the point that if feels odd to leave the hotel without wearing it. And yesterday a sales lady told me I was ‘rockin’ the covered look.’ She said this with no prompting from me I assure you!

And yes, I did spend time in other places. The most memorable being with an amazing couple to whom I was introduced via a mutual friend. They included me in two Iftars with their family and friends. They were so generous and welcoming. For me, it was a taste of the Ummah along with amazing dinners….. a sampling of what it is like to be included as a fellow Muslim, though there were non-Muslims at both dinners as well.

Finally, I had several dreams during my time here about various friends and family finding out I was Muslim. The only problem is that my dreams never showed me how they responded, just that they had found out. I guess their responses are something I will have to find out in my own time.

All in all, I feel incredibly blessed for the chance to get away and relax.

While I had a great time here, I am also thankful to be heading home. Maybe I will try rockin’ the covered look there as well. I am off to the airport now. Wish me a safe journey!

And I pray that you are all having a happy Ramadan so far.

PS: In the day during Ramadan, many of the restaurants and cafes are closed in Dubai and eating in the mall is prohibited. I felt quite bad for all the tourists. If they were not aware that they had arrived in Dubai in the middle of Ramadan, what a shock it must have been to go to any public area and find all the restaurants closed! I even saw a poor old man get busted for eating an apple in the mall. (Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone starved as I noticed several restaurants were open for take-away food and I am sure the restaurants in many hotels were still serving in the middle of the day.) But now as I head back home, I will have to forego the luxury that others will not be able to eat (at least in public) when I am fasting. I think it will be good for me though. Toughen me up after these short days of fasting. 🙂

Coming home

I am enjoying my first Ramadan so far. There is a rhythm that develops in the day around prayer and food – and sleep. I am not sure why I don’t feel this all the time. But I guess that is the point of Ramadan – to slow down and notice.

I must admit though that a friend had to talk me off the ledge on day two. While making food for Iftar, I popped a green bean in my mouth without thinking to see if it was cooked. Then nearly choked on it when I realized what I had done and promptly spit it out. (I was assured that small tastes in the cooking of food was okay. :-))

Anyway, I am feeling less uptight now. And am in Dubai!

The Food here is amazing and the shopping is great. But I am trying to stay focused on Ramadan.

And yes, I am wearing hijab! I have to admit that I have a mini-crisis each time I put it on – most definitely feeling like Olga. But I am fine once I am out the door.

I have read many stories of the experience of women when they first put on — or take off — their hijab. The words that are often used are ‘liberating’, ‘respected’, ‘noticed’, ‘un-noticed’, ‘special’, ‘hidden’, ‘loss of individuality’, ’empowered’ and many more.

For me, I simply feel…like me. Normal.

And that is sort of how this whole Ramadan feels for me so far.

One the one hand, there is still so much I don’t know and haven’t figured out. At the same time, it all feels perfectly normal. Like I was always meant to be doing this. Like I have come home.

How is your Ramadan so far?

Apps and the Modern Muslim

So far I am enjoying Ramadan. Moving more slowly, not rushing anything, paying attention. Its nice.

To help pass the time during the day I have been reading a lot, including online news and information on Ramadan and Islam. And one of the articles I came across was a piece questioning how Islamic apps and other technology are impacting the community. The author wondered if Islam was becoming too commercialized – and was all of this putting Islam and special times such as Ramadan in danger of becoming exploited like Christmas.

Currently I don’t live in the most Muslim friendly environment and the Islamic community where I live is primarily German speaking. I know my German should be better than it is. I can speak restaurant-,shopping-, take out-, and taxi-German – but I cannot hold a conversation.

The point of all this is that I have had to find other means to learn about Islam, learn my prayers and begin learning Arabic.

And I have to say for me, the abundance of information available via apps and online has been a life saver. Alhamdulilah! Apps on Islamic topics are fantastic, and they are typically free or at a very low cost. (Though I realize this still assumes you can afford a smart phone and computer. I am blessed.)

What I have learned on apps:

  • Prayer times that can be adjusted depending on where you are – great for those who travel
  • Direction of the Quibla from a compass in the app
  • The prayers themselves of course. I found I needed a few apps to complement each other along with YouTube videos so that I could learn the pronunciation and proper movements.
  • Qur’an apps where I can listen to its recitation while seeing the words in Arabic, the transliteration and the English translation
  • The Arabic alphabet: essential for those beginning from scratch. I unknowingly started with a few apps to learn to read the Qur’an that assume you know the Arabic alphabet already.

As for the internet:

  • As mentioned above, sometimes you have to see how prayer is done and YouTube is fantastic for this
  • Free web sites with the full Qur’an and many Hadeeth
  • Muslim clothes shops – of course!
  • Amazon.com to find loads of books on Islam
  • And – of course – Facebook, Word Press and other social sites to connect with the Ummah around the world

I also would hate to see Islam and Ramadan become too commercial but I am very grateful for the modern technology that has facilitated my learning. (Though I try to always double check information with a trusted friend — just to be sure.)

I realize apps and the internet are not essential and people learned what they needed since the birth of the religion without technology. But I, for one, find it a blessing.

What do you think? And if you have a favorite app or web site, please share!

Ramadan Newbie

I am so excited! My first Ramadan is just around the corner.

I must admit though, I really have no idea what I am doing. As usual, I am flying by the seat of my pants – or abaya in this case.

I have been reading blogs on Ramadan (thank you fellow bloggers!), reviewing advice from Productive Muslim, and asking lots of questions.

I think I have the basics of fasting, prayer, and how it fits together during Ramadan. I figure if I can get the basics right that will be a great first Ramadan.

However, I don’t have any Muslim friends who live in the town where I live and I don’t have a local Mosque. (I realize this sounds odd in this day and age, but what can I say — where I live is not the most Muslim-friendly environment and my German is very limited.)

The thought of spending my first Ramadan all by myself in my apartment is too depressing. I realize this should be a time of self-reflection – and what better way to self reflect than when you are alone – but I also want to experience the traditions of Ramadan with others.

So, I’ve decided to spend the first half of Ramadan in Dubai. The days are shorter in Dubai than where I live, and the hotel where I am staying will provide Iftar and Suhoor. I’ve also been connected with friends of friends in Dubai for which I am very grateful.

I am looking forward to going to Mosque every day, sharing Suhoor and Iftar with others, wearing hijab (learning to embrace my inner Olga), and reading the Qur’an and books on Islam as well as studying my Arabic.

And I have to admit that I am also looking forward to shopping in the fabulous Malls that are nearby to explore Muslimah fashion.

I will post how my first Ramadan goes and I would love to hear from all of you how you are spending Ramadan – be it your first of fiftieth.

Ramadan Mubarak

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