Ramadan brings to mind an array of sights in the mind’s eye – eager faces turned up to the sky as they wait to witness the beauty of a slight crescent moon which signals the start of a month filled with peace, serenity and forgiveness; laden iftaar tables just waiting to be set upon by hungry worshippers; masjids filled to the brim with Muslims eager to pray in congregation and benefit from the added reward of it. Ramadan is so filled with community, what then happens when that community can no longer be accessed? Is it still Ramadan without all the traditions that have come to be associated with it?
When I was eighteen, I experienced my first few fasts living apart from family and community. I’d travelled several thousand kilometres away to study and, as it happened, Ramadan began whilst I was still writing exams. That year, I’d chosen to live in a dorm and due to both the less than convenient system for applying for some sort of packed meal that I could eat at sehri and iftaar time combined with the fact that I would only be spending a few days of Ramadan away at university meant that I elected to simply eat snacks in my bedroom.
It was the first time that I spent iftaar all alone and I can’t deny that it did feel strange. Something was missing – more than just the obvious food and family, that is. When I look back on that year, it still feels as though I was in some weird kind of limbo where Ramadan hadn’t truly started yet. Getting back home a few days in, it felt like the month only truly began when I woke up for sehri alongside my mother the morning after I arrived.
Fasting is so much more than the physical abstaining from food and drink but I can’t deny that a lot of emphasis is put on it in my community. From weeks in advance when the preparation of savouries begins to gathering together around a table to eat after a long day of fasting, food plays a great role in the fasting that I grew up with.
My second year at university, I spent all of Ramadan away from home. I’d moved into an apartment with a friend that year and we spent a lot of that Ramadan together. That year felt a little closer to the traditional Ramadan I’d grown to expect after so many years of traditions. We cooked together, ate together and made some very special memories. After she’d left to go back home however, I was left alone once again. I still had access to a full kitchen and still made myself some great meals. I should have had all the same atmosphere that I’d had whilst with my flatmate. But something was missing.
“…many of us find ourselves without companions to share this holy month with. As a result, we find ourself searching for the heart of Ramadan…”
Up until then, I’d thought the food was what had been missing. Not so. Company and community are what make Ramadan for a lot of people and back then, that was what made it for me. The atmosphere was only there when I had someone to experience it with. Alone, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing.
Last year, I spent several fasts alone again. But this time, something was different. I no longer felt a loss when I sat down to break my fast alone. I was different. I’d been gifted with the realization that Ramadan is a month to grow closer not only to one’s community and close ones but also to one’s Creator.
Through a variety of circumstances, many of us find ourselves without companions to share this holy month with. As a result, we find ourself searching for the heart of Ramadan, for the spirit that seems to be an almost tangible presence in the room at times when we’re particularly fortunate. Alone, that spirit seems unreachable and many feel disappointed by the loss.
The truth is that the spirit of Ramadan is found in many things – in the masjid when people gather to pray to Allah, at the iftaar table when family and friends sit down to enjoy a meal together, and within you as you allow the peace and serenity that are poured down from the heavens to reach your heart and draw you still closer to Allah.
If you can’t find it in the external world, look for it internally. You might have to look a little harder but sooner or later In Shaa Allah, it’ll come to you.