Photo credit: alhudasisters
I enter Ramadan this year thinking about zombies. I am sitting on the carpet, my eyes welded to World War Z whispering, “This is the best book ever,” when the cook knocks on the door. Its 2:30 am.
“Your grandmother says come downstairs.”
I love Suhoor, or as we say in Pakistan, “Sehri”. It’s the obligatory meal you have to have before the Fajr prayer, so that you don’t get dehydrated or ill during the day. My grandparents are already at the dining table. There’s something pretty cool about the entire family eating together early in the ams, it’s like a party but for holy reasons. Maybe not the coolest party but it has its rewards.
I look at my grandmother, “How can you drink tea? It’s so hot.”
She shrugs and smiles, “It’s an addiction.”
There is already a paratha sitting on a plate, waiting for me. I feel guilty. I’d promised myself I’d try to eat healthier this time and not give in to all the fried, and in this case, greasy food. A paratha is like a Pakistani version of a pancake. It’s bread cooked round and flat in ghee, so it’s crispy, golden, delicious and not recommended by doctors if you have cholesterol problems.
I pour some honey to the side and whatever little regret I had disappears when it all goes into my mouth. Like my grandmother had said, we won’t be eating for the next sixteen hours.
After we finish eating, I go to my room, pick up World War Z again for five minutes, just to get though another chapter before the call to prayer; or as we call it, the “Azaan” for Fajr prayer, the first prayer of the day. There is some guilt; I should be reading the Quran instead. My aim is to finish reciting the entire Quran through Ramadan. I don’t usually read a lot of the Quran. I recite the parts I’ve memorized since the age of five in my daily prayers; but the recitation, in a clear voice, is one of the essential parts of Ramadan.
My father always tells me that reciting gives you peace, it makes you feel more love for Allah. When I start reading the Quran, I first count how many pages I have left, sigh, and continue. Eventually after two days, I find that I miss reading it and somehow, (this always happens) I feel closer to God, and am reminded of the incredible strength I can draw from the words. I can read the Arab text, it’s very similar to Urdu, the national language of Pakistan but I don’t understand Arabic. In Ramadan I read more of the translated Quran but the perks of having social media is that I’ve liked several Islamic pages and everyday they post pictures of translated verses from the Quran, which means every day I learn something new.
I hear the Azaan, I pray Fajr, (this only takes about four minutes, it’s the shortest prayer of the day) and by now it’s half past three in the morning. I am an entirely nocturnal creature and won’t be sleeping till the birds start screaming outside, so I finally get started on the Quran. God says that in Ramadan for every single letter, not word, there are seventy more rewards and mentally I see giant numbers popping out with every word I recite. I’d say it’s like winning the lottery, but it’s really more like making your own lottery. It’s the best time of the year to store up your good deeds and essentially feel completely cleansed.
The first day is easy. I wake up late, pray Dhuhr, (the afternoon prayer) read a few pages of the Quran and dither about till 6pm. The app on my phone says that Iftar, the time at which we break the fast, is expected around 7:21pm. Muslims break their fast with the Azaan to the Maghrib prayer, the fourth prayer of the day that happens after the sun has set. I’m happy I am in Pakistan – my relatives in England have a 19 hour fast as they can’t eat till around 10pm. Funny enough, they prefer that than having to fast in this heat. It’s over 40 Celsius.
I go downstairs to see if my grandmother wants anything or if the cook needs any help in the kitchen. Since my parents are in another city, this time around it’s just my father’s parents, my brother and I. We sit around the table, ten minutes before Iftar, hands folded in silent prayers. These are called “Duas” when you ask Allah for something, anything. The minutes before breaking a fast are said to be the times when God will answer every prayer, grant every wish. I can hear my grandmother, “Give everyone a healthy life, safety from harm, from accidents and calamities, from the harmful intent of others, always guide them on the right path, help them in all their endeavours, Thank you for all the blessings, for the food, the shelter, the happiness in our lives, for the luxuries, the privileges, thank you for our health” and she continues in this manner.
Then we hear the Azaan. We all recite this two verse Dua to break our fast, which goes;
“O Allah! I fasted for You and I believe in You [and I put my trust in You] and I break my fast with Your sustenance.”
Then, we pick up the dates I had placed earlier on everybody’s plates. Sunnah are the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) and he used to break his fast with a date, (a fruit mentioned in the Quran a lot because of its healthy properties) and some water. So wherever you go for Iftar, anywhere in the world, there will be dates.
The Sunnah is to eat to your satisfaction and not hurry, or worry about missing Maghrib prayers, which you can’t pray after its become completely dark outside. My brother eats little – he doesn’t like to eat Iftari snacks, so he has some pakoras (a Pakistani snack, potato or onions fried in gram flour batter), some fruit and goes to pray so he can eat a proper dinner afterwards. After about ten minutes we all go to pray and then return to eat dinner.
It’s a common misconception that Ramadan is about food; Ramadan is about becoming closer to Allah. That’s why in Ramadan, the final prayer of the day, Isha, has extended prayers (non-compulsory but encouraged) called Taraweeh. My brother and grandfather go to the Mosque, and I head on to my room to pray.
Like all experiences, this is one that is different from person to person. An Islamic state does not mean all its citizens are religiously inclined. Ramadan means something different to different groups of people; but to me it a month of endless opportunity. A chance to reach towards the always available peace, to gather and fold away my inner demons, to attempt to better myself, not for the one month, but for the month after that, for the following year, to adapt into my lifestyle the ideals that Ramadan promotes. Self restraint; of the tongue, of the hand, of the soul. Ramadan is not about food, it is about the heart. At Maghrib, it’s not just the body that’s been washed away of toxins. But more on that next time.