Ramadaan is my favourite time of the year. Ramadaan falls on the 9th month of the Islamic calendar; it is the month in which the Qu’ran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon Him) & is deemed as the holiest month in the Islamic calendar.
Masjid Al-Bilal, Saudi Arabia, 2012
There are lots of beautiful elements of the Islamic faith and acts of worship which we practice to obtain closeness and intimacy in our relationship with Allah (God); this includes praising Allah in daily prayers or simply smiling kindly at a passing stranger. What I find so special about the practices of Ramadaan is the collectiveness of each practice, whether it is fasting (where Muslims abstain from food, water & acts of Islamic misconduct), praying Taraweeh (evening prayers prayed only during Ramadaan) & giving Zakaat (compulsory charity)- it is completed together as a Muslim Ummah or community. The daily routines of Muslims worldwide are adjusted to cater for all the components of Ramadaan.
What does this actually mean?
Well for one, this includes ensuring that our working days, our studies and our social lives are assorted outside of the designated time for Iftar (breaking of the fast) so that we may breakfast on time and with our families or friends and are able to pray our evening prayers together and within the prescribed time. As Muslims, we only get to experience Ramadaan once a year and therefore, making the most of the daily spiritual replenishment through practical actions and worship is really important to us. The collectiveness which is brought about by Ramadaan brings us both closer to Allah as well as to each other is a quality of Ramadaan which I cherish profoundly and hope to experience more of throughout the year beyond Ramadaan.
Last year, as I stepped into my 21 + 1rd Ramadaan 😅, I found myself aching for the presence for a Muslim community more and more in my life. I am not sure if this strong pang to be seen and heard by other Muslims, particularly Muslim women, came about as a result of the lockdown and the way in which it had severed Ramadaan’s physical connectivity in a usual way for Muslims.
For example communal Jummah (Friday prayers) as well as the annual spiritual pilgrimage of Hajj were curtailed by the need to socially distance or maybe because I had recently moved back home from University to a town equivalent in diversity and dynamism to Stephney Meyer’s Forks in Twilight (before Jacob & his pack moved in of course!) and I was no longer breaking fast with my university’s large Islamic society. Or perhaps it was the by-product of ageing (the use of ageing refers to the reality that the bins went and do go out more than I do) and having witnessed enough life to understand that it is important to find spaces whereby this Muslim layer of my multi-dimensional identity can flourish against a global socio-politico backdrop which sometimes attempts to oppress this part of my identity.
As if God had directly answered my prayers, it was last Ramadaan when I stumbled across a sister’s circle by the name of Chit Chat Chai [@ChitChatChai] which made its home seamlessly to fill this void in my heart*. Being an active member of this sister’s circle was the most transformative experience for me last Ramadaan and continues to be so this Ramadaan.
What started as an weekly online Zoom chat room by a group of friends from East London has grown to be an international safe-space and weekly spiritual refresher for Muslim women from far and wide. In this space, facilitated by the caring & brilliant CCC team, a discussion takes place during every session on an Islamic theme of choice such as, Happiness in Islam or Humility in Islam, whereby new learning is acquired through listening to others and sharing our own individual stories to ultimately nourish and further our relationship with Allah. It is through this online village that I was able to hear the good, testing and silly parts of everyone’s week during last Ramadaan in the absence of being able to meet others in person or even pray together at the Mosque.
This space helped me to emulate the sense of togetherness which remains tangibly unattainable during this Ramadaan also for the many. Despite the continued presence of a global pandemic, I have never felt the warmth of community closer than during this Ramadaan. It has made me realise that there is direct spiritual and emotional nourishment in the act of storytelling and listening to the stories of others, especially in the context of seeking a deeper understanding of Allah to develop an even more meaningful relationship with him. I also think that, on a more socio-humanistic level, the ability to share my own experiences on a Muslim platform kindles a sense of empowerment within me which I have previously searched for in many other spaces only to have this void left unfulfilled. However, thankfully this Ramadaan, I have found myself within ethereal hands of @ChitChatChai (a team which I have now become a part of eeek!) who has not only restored the Ramadaan collectiveness deprived by Covid-19 but also directed me towards podcasts such as @Submissionspodcasts which utilise the tradition of storytelling to light-heartedly share experiences of Muslims, big and small, by Muslims to shape Muslim and non-Muslim communities alike, building interfaith connections and bridges between us all.
I find Ramadan to be a time which enables me to spotlight the magnificence of Islam loudly to the world through acts of humility whether that is distributing Iftari to my countryside neighbours (LOL don’t @ me) or abstaining from food and water to empathise with those facing tribulations of hunger. Ramadaan for me is more than the individual spiritual growth I personally experience throughout the month but also the collective growth we achieve as a Muslim Ummah. For this reason (amongst others), I am saddened to have to separate from this blessed month within the next week.
*Albeit I didn’t stumble across it, I was sent the Zoom link via Whatsapp by a friend but that doesn’t quite ring with the same tone.
Written by, Afia Khan