So much has happened in my life in the last one month. Yes partly because of Ramadan, but mainly because this year’s Ramadan was different. For several weeks I’ve been journaling about my family reunion – a time full of excitement, uproar and surprises of all sorts. When four generations of women (and a lone male) came together from all corners of the world to celebrate the holiest month of the year, it ended up being an unimaginable experience for everyone concerned. But today as I prepare to bid farewell to Ramadan (and to my family) I have some realizations – even revelations – about our time together that will hopefully make for smoother family gatherings in the future, as well as better observances of religious holidays like Ramadan.
First and foremost, my worries about not having enough personal time for prayer, contemplation and study were well-founded. Before my guests arrived I had wondered if they would inadvertently interfere in my routine of fasting, and that certainly did happen. With so many people in the house, and especially because of our cultural and religious traditions of hospitality, I spent most of my days “in the group”. Despite the fasting, we all managed to do a lot of shopping and sightseeing – hitting the malls with my sister several times to find work clothes that are in short supply in Norway, taking my mother to art galleries to indulge her avid interest in art, even hauling all the children to the zoo despite the heat of the Houston summer. It’s no wonder that I just didn’t have time for special prayers or Qur’an recitations like I do each year.
But it turned out that every cloud does have a silver lining; the positive aspect of all this hospitality was exactly that: the hospitality. Knowing that serving guests is part of our expectations as Muslims, it seemed the ideal opportunity to serve and take care of those in my family that I don’t normally. Living in the U.S. with old parents and grandparents in Pakistan, I have always felt more than a little sad about the lack of opportunity to take care of them. This reunion then was a rare chance to not just have fun but more importantly do those little things for my elders that I miss out on a daily basis. Running to get water for my grandmother like I used to as a child, making tea for my mother before iftaar, collecting piles of dirty clothes for a wash-a-thon – everyday tasks took on a special meaning when done for special people.
Of course, family hasn’t been the only thing standing in the way of my “worship” this year. My responsibilities as interfaith liaison for the women’s group of my mosque have increased since last year, and instead of slowing down in Ramadan my work has seemed to roar full speed ahead this month. I organized three interfaith group discussions, helped put on a major interfaith iftaar panel event and wrote numerous articles about Ramadan and Islam for a number of publications this month. The true recognition of my lack of traditional worship this year hit me on the night of the 27th, when I woke up two hours before suhoor and decided to catch up on my writing instead of offering tahajjud prayers as I have done in years past. Although I felt sad about the missed opportunity, I also felt that spending my night in the discharge of my responsibilities for the sake of God would be the best worship I could offer in the circumstances. What a bittersweet acceptance of life that was!
Next year, Ramadan will be a lonely affair. While I’ll miss my family, the memories of this year will help pass the days and allow me to appreciate the silence and solitude a little more.
Read Saadia’s full Ramadan series here.