I set off on a voyage a long time ago, and now my ship has reached the seas of Ramadan. The moon has been sighted, Taraweeh prayers have begun, and my heart-sails have been unfurled and now fill with the winds of joy and anticipation at the powerful potential this beautiful month has for lasting change, growth, and evolution.
This year I enrolled in the Evolve during Ramadan workshop by LaYinka Sanni. The four week course was a dock of sorts, where I pulled my ship in, and underwent necessary repairs to ensure my ship was “sea-worthy” in the lead up to this beautiful month.
Repairing the hull, reflecting, and learning
Pulling into port and undergoing ship repair looked like; reflecting on myself, who I am as a person, learning about how past challenges or “failures” are actually opportunities to learn something, opportunities to identify where I am, where I’m going, and where I want to be; Opportunities to re-chart the course of my journey, and realise that I do not simply need to retrace the route of Ramadan voyages past. I can set a new course, explore new facets of myself, and ultimately exit this Ramadan (body of water) having attained taqwah.
I wanted to share a gift with you, something I discovered during my time spent in port.(I’m having too much fun with these nautical metaphors :D)
This will be the fourth Ramadan running where I am not fasting. This year I am at peace with that. Not only am I at peace with it, but I am also incredibly grateful for it. I want to share my journey to this place, in the hopes that those reading this who are setting sail on a similar journey can develop this feeling and be buoyed up by it. Becalmed & Unsettled
The winds still, and the waters silence, dark clouds gather rapidly on the horizon, threatening a storm of catastrophic proportion. And the little ship sits uncertainly in the sea, the water’s current suddenly nowhere to be seen, and any way to avoid the gathering storm a distant dream.
This is exactly how I felt during the last three Ramadans.
The first Ramadan that I wasn’t able to fast, I was mid way through pregnancy and battling Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I could not keep down water at all, and not much food either, I had been in and out of hospital due to dehydration, I’d lost over 10 per cent of my body weight, and now weighed less at 20 weeks pregnant than I had before getting pre-pregnant; Physically very weak, and unable to stand in salah (prayer) I was struggling with the realisation that fasting was not an option for me.
I cried a lot, saddened because, I felt like I was disappointing Allah, and letting myself down. I knew that not fasting Ramadan was a concession for those who were unable, but I wanted to fast.
So much of my Ramadan experience was tied to fasting, going to iftaars breaking the fast collectively. Spending time at the mosque, that first sweet sip of water or bite of a date after 14 hours of fasting, the spiritual heights of spending hours suppressing hunger in an effort to seek my Creator’s pleasure. I wanted that. I didn’t want to be so sick and weak that at times my salah consisted of head movements only.
Thunder and lightning crashes, and abundant rain pours down on the ship. The hope of blue skies and plain sailing are woefully far away.
The second Ramadan that I wasn’t able to fast I was breastfeeding an infant, and still recovering from the physical toll Hyperemesis Gravidarum had wreaked on my body. I felt disheartened and resigned. I’d tried fasting some days sporadically leading up to Ramadan, and it hadn’t worked out well, aside from that I feared losing my milk supply. I looked for articles online, ideas for how to get that Ramadan ‘feeling’ when not fasting. There were plenty of ideas but my heart wasn’t in it. I tried to do what I could, Tried to pray the full amount of taraweeh prayers at home on my own, but eventually, between sleepless nights, exhaustion, anaemia, (one of the left over results of 10 months of near starvation where my body kept breaking itself down to find energy to keep going), and my infant sons’ natural & frequent demands for milk, I ran out of steam.
The little ship had come to dread sailing into Ramadan waters; sad and longing for pleasant, spiritually reviving Ramadans of years past.
The third Ramadan, Alhamdulillah, I was pregnant and once again battling with hyperemsis gravidarum. This year I was hopeful that I would still derive some benefit, and had more practice with not fasting. I looked for little things I could do, to feel connected to Allah, to the benefit of this month. I worked on my relationship with dua (supplication). I tried to find a deeper peace and connection in salah, active toddler noises notwithstanding. Still a large part of me longed to be able to fast.
A Loftier Goal
So here we are. I’ve pulled out of the port, and sailed into Ramadan, the journey is the same, but my outlook is poles apart from year one, and year two, a huge development from year three.
My little ship bobs on the Ramadan sea, and my eyes are on the horizons not on fasting, but on a loftier goal. Taqwah.
This is what I want to share with you. The goal of Ramadan is not to fast. The goal of Ramadan is to attain taqwah. Said another way the aim is to develop an intimate relationship with Allah, that steadies you and keeps you on course for the entire voyage of your life. Fasting is of course a wondrous means to attaining that connection, alhamdulillah, for those that fasting is not an option for, there are still abundant means to working towards taqwah.
You have been gifted with a different path to achieving that same lofty pursuit. Do not despair. Instead make a choice?
Make a conscious and intention filled choice. Receive your gift from your Rabb:
He has bestowed it on you for a reason. Think and reflect on the lessons can be learned, the good that can yet be attained. Work with your strengths and your weaknesses. What strengths have you been blessed with? How can you use these to attain your goal, to draw closer to your Lord?
By not fasting, I am accepting Allah’s generous concession for me. I am gracefully and gratefully accepting it. He knows. He knows my circumstance and conditions, and potential, and longing to please Him. He has given me this opportunity and gift. How pleasing to the giver of the gift when it is happily received, accepted with grace.
With the answers to these questions, set forth on the Ramadan seas with winds of hope, and gratitude, towards greater consciousness of your Lord.
Alhamdulillahi rabbil alamin, All praise and gratitude is due to Allah the Lord of all the worlds. Just over a week ago the new addition to our family was delivered safely into this world. I can not adequately express what a privilege, honour, and humongous blessing it is to become a parent once more. How awed and humbled I am that this honour was written for me again.
It is not possible to thank God sufficiently for all the blessings that He bestows on His creation, but it is possible to try and remember to be grateful always.
I was looking back at some old blog posts on a different host site, and I stumbled across a long forgotten post from Novemeber 2010. In it I wrote
…So that’s what’s been going on with me. Well that and a stint in hospital, which I think had completely broken me.
I’ve not been able to write anything, which in turn has led me to be upset… but I just don’t feel things the way I used to. It’s weird and horrible, and I hope no one has to feel the way I feel.
My sense of humour has totally changed. Things I found funny before are now not nearly as funny. I have officially become an unenthusiastic person. It bites and I don’t know how to change it, or how to feel things anymore.
I’m not asking why. I accept that this is something that has had to happen, because it did actually happen, I just wanna know what to do about it.
Reading this seven years later and being confronted with that former version of myself is hard. My heart swells and remembers the faint echo of its old wounds whilst reading this post.
It was written shortly after I was sectioned under the mental health act and hospitalised. I am someone who is pretty open about this having been part of my life experience, though I feel where I come from, both from a cultural and religious standpoint, there is still at times a stigma attached to mental health problems, and being open about difficulties people face in that regard. I stand by my resolve to be open about my experience though, because it is through sharing, open discussion, and sincere reflection, that I believe we all learn, develop, and reach new levels of compassion and understanding.
What is very weird though, is that I’d forgotten that my writing slump coincided with my being sectioned. Prior to being sectioned, I would spend countless nights losing sleep because I was pouring out a new story idea, or working on a new poem, or just scribbling my feelings out in a journal. After being sectioned I just couldn’t do it. I tried, I tried to force myself to keep writing, I even attempted NaNoWriMo from my room on the triage ward, but it just didn’t pan out.
For perhaps the majority of my life words and writing have been places of refuge for me; from spending summers folding a4 sheets of paper in half, stapling them in the middle and designing books, writing endless stories fuelled by a youthful imagination, to journalling during my time in boarding school, even those angst filled poems that littered my teenage years. However, in the midst of one of my most difficult life experiences, that tool and solace was lost to me.
It was not that I couldn’t access writing, it’s just there was something off about it, even now it’s so hard to express this in a way that makes sense. It was almost as though in the same way that my self confidence had withered away during my time in hospital, the creativity I normally overflowed with when it came time to put my fingers to the keyboard or even pen to paper had shrivelled up too. I can still remember the desperate struggle to write, how huge of a mental block there seemed to be, how it was almost as though I’d lost not only the capacity to express myself, but also the will to do so. I believe this is very much a parallel to how things stood for me at that time mentally too. It took a lot of work to get back on an even keel, Alhamdulillah! I do feel that this experience, as much as it knocked me down, was useful in that it was a way to start rebuilding myself with a stronger foundation.
Eventually, painstakingly slowly my love of writing did return. I started of with a journal, a hot pink faux leather bound lined notebook; no dates or days, just blank lined pages a year after I left hospital. I didn’t write every day, in fact weeks would go by and I wouldn’t pick up my pen at all. When I did write, I would write a sentence here, a paragraph there, and there were a lot of days where I couldn’t find the motivation to get out of bed, talk less of the mental effort it took to pick up a pen and organise my thoughts enough to write what I was feeling.
I kept writing though. A new year started and I was still using that same hot pink diary… occasionally. Gradually I was recovering, and so was my writing. Things were not exactly the same, just as I had been altered by my experiences, I believe my writing was too. At times writing can still be a challenge, but I am so grateful that it wasn’t lost to me forever.
To anyone who’s found that mental health issues have negatively impacted their writing I wanted to just put this out there, don’t lose hope. It can come back, it may not be the same, but the challenging things that we go through in life don’t have to forever be dark ink blots on the pages of our life stories, we have the capacity to grow from and learn from our experiences. To transform the inkblots into fantastic illustrations of growth and starting points for change.
My 23 month old is crying; his face is all crumpled up, and tears are streaming down his face. He’s got quite the pair of lungs on him, so the sobs that wrack his chest are pretty loud. I don’t immediately rush to shush him, or tell him not to cry, or even tell him that there isn’t a need to cry over small things. Instead I reach for the tools and skills I’ve been developing and learning from my peaceful parenting course. The ones that empower me to parent from a peaceful place inside. To not let the tides of my own emotions overwhelm the ship of my parenting. To listen to him crying, to be there with him in that moment.
The huge swell of panic that used to immediately overwhelm me, the need to just make him stop crying, at near any cost, that, alhamdulillah has gone. Sure it has not suddenly become the highlight of my day when my toddler starts crying and screaming, but slowly slowly I’m building confidence, finding pockets of peace and breathing room, to think and make decisions as opposed to just react. I’m learning to listen to his upset, and not have it rock me and my emotions. I’m able to put my trust in my Lord that my child’s behaviour right now does not mean in future he will be whatever it is I fear. Crying over sweets doesn’t mean he will become spoilt. Pinching somebody else doesn’t mean he will become a bully. It just means his behaviour is off track. It just means he is learning.
He needs my love, connection and listening most, when he is off track. It is exhausting work, any type of parenting is.
But, I’m able to recognise his cries now, for what they are. A way of letting me know that he feels disconnected, that he needs to reconnect with me. He as young as he is, is still subject to his emotions just as we all are. He also faces the challenges and tests that come with living life, and the best way I can foster intelligence both emotional and other kinds, and encourage him to learn ways to deal with these challenges, is to offer connection during these times, to stay listening, and to maintain the limits.
Traditionally speaking, I will be, and have been told, that his behaviour is something I should control, that it is disrespectful or rude for him to be upset by things (perhaps a certain household rule, or something I have told him he is not allowed to have), that I ought to punish him so that he learns to respect me. What I’m coming to realise, is that punishing him for expressing his need for connection serves only to push us further away from each other. The truth is, it is impossible to control anyone else. In fact at times even controlling ourselves can be a struggle. Rather it is Allah that is in control of all of the affairs of the heavens and earth.
One of the gems I picked up during the course which really shook me up, and made me contemplate, was this. My child as he is, is not yet accountable to Allah for his actions, at least not until he reaches the age of maturity. I however am. If his spilling a cup of water on the floor sends me into a rage, or initiates a huge over reaction on my part, then where does this show of injustice lie on the scale of parenting as an act of ibadah. Quite far from ihsan (the best) I would say. And very far removed from the person I want to be.
I have been giving a lot of thought to the woman I am, and the woman I want to be. My personal standards and the esteem I hold my soul in leave me unwilling to be reactive in my parenting approach. I want to be better, and do better. It’s a journey, and not an easy one mind you, but I’m ready and willing to put in the work bi’ithni’llah.
I have cried a lot lately. There are a multitude of reasons for this, I guess the summary reason though, is that this testing ground, we call life, is hard. It has it's delights, but it really has its share of despair and disappointments too! Subhanallah.
To detail my feelings they range from feeling like I fail daily at being a good muslimah, and my inadequacies as a mother, all the way to my shortcomings as a spouse. It doesn't help that pregnancy hormones magnify things to the 'nth' degree and kick your emotions up by a few thousand notches on the intensity scale. I feel disappointed in myself when I'm not reaching my targets, or even just the basic standards of what I expect of myself.
But I had a reminder in the form of LaYinka Sanni's instastory takeover on the sisters in business instagram page. It was much needed, and testament once again to the fact that Allah is the best of planners. I heard what I needed to hear, and upon reflection I've been able to apply the lesson to the current challenges I am facing.
"What was the reminder" the blank white space on my screen curiously asks?
I smile peacefully and carry on typing: "the reminder was this."
That I need to put Allah subhana wa ta'ala forefront at whatever I'm doing, seek Him, and seek His barakaat (blessings) and elevate things so that they are truly pleasing to him!
This reminder makes the utmost sense to me, I definitely believe that success lies this way. So much of what's been going on lately has managed to bring me down and put me in a low place. The great thing about being at the bottom though, is that you are free to taste humility, and also it puts you in the perfect position to rise Gracefully, knowing that there is no power or might except with your Rabb (Lord).
I've even been inspired with another poem/spoken word piece ! Alhamdulillah 😊
Barak'allahu feekum to LaYinka and Hanifa 💖
Putting Allah first in whatever I do means that even when I fail I succeed. I'm able to recognise His decree, and humble myself before what has been written for me. It doesn't mean I stop trying, in fact for me it means I've got to try harder, knowing that I'm working towards a divine purpose bi'ithni'llah. Putting Allah first means that I recognise that when I'm failing, I am also learning from these pitfalls, and that these lessons are all part of the process. That the insights I pick up when I fall, when I am left to recognise my utter powerlessness before The Creator and His plan for me, should stick with me as I pick myself up and try again.
And that if I reflect I can find even in my most dejecting of failings, places where I have improved, and grown, and progressed.
It feels like ages since I’ve posted anything here, and I’m pretty sure I was sitting down to write a post last week, but I can’t find it in my drafts, and I don’t seem to have posted it, so perhaps that was a dream?
Any who, how are you?
How are you doing? What’s new in your life?
Alhamdulillah (All praise is due to Allah) I’ve been really busy, and blessed lately. You probably know by now, that I prefer it when I’m busy, and my mind is being engaged, and I’ve got to make use of my reminder app, my phone’s calendar, the calendar in my living room, and my organiser to get everything done.
If you didn’t know…. Now you do! I’m always at my most efficient, when I’m busy, and I’m aware that every moment counts.