A person can learn so much in a month.
I set out on a journey into Ramadan one month ago. I had no expectations or attachment to outcome. I just wanted to have the fullest experience possible and to get to know Ramadan in a much deeper and intimate way than any book could possibly teach me.
In the days leading up to Ramadan and the first few days beyond its start, I admittedly found myself lost as I was getting caught up in the details and stuck in my head. I wanted to get everything right—the prayer times, the prayer words, the prostrations and supplications, the breaking of the fast and all of the rules that guide your daily life during this time.
Fortunately, I have Muslim friends, who enthusiastically assisted me anytime I had questions. They were patient and kind, and with their guidance, what seemed to be an extraordinary amount of overly complicated details, began to fall into place and feel natural.
I found that I could do the obligatory five daily prayers with my limited Arabic by using the prayer videos on YouTube.
From the first day of Ramadan until the last, any time that I was not at the masjid (mosque), I relied on YouTube for the five daily prayers: Fajr, Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha. And on my phone, the Athan app was invaluable for reminding me it was time for prayer and for always pointing me to Qibla with its compass prayer tool.
As the first five days passed I felt myself beginning to relax into a rhythm. This is the point at which I started to open myself up to really feel and embrace Ramadan.
Ramadan brought me closer to my connection with Creation, as I became hyper-aware of the cycles of the moon, sunrise and sunset.
One of my favorite things is embarking on a road trip before dawn and feeling the sacredness that exists in the space of watching the sunrise. However, when it came to my normal pre-Ramadan daily routine, nearly every sunrise had been spent with my head pressed firmly in my pillow without any awareness that the sun had even risen—just a simple trust that it would.
During Ramadan all of that changed. I began to cherish the morning time.
Rising before sun—the house, the neighborhood, the entire world felt asleep to me.
Yet I was awake, enjoying my carefully planned out Suhoor (predawn meal), making wudu (washing in preparation for prayer), praying Fajr (the dawn prayer), and then spending about an hour reading the Qur’an before the sun finally rose. I felt that the privilege of getting to be witness to the sun rising in the east each morning, was the perfect reward for my new found spiritual commitment.
Never in my life have I experienced so many consecutive sunrises and this quickly became my favorite time of day.
Ramadan increased my ability to stay present and be in the eternal now.
Although I meditate, practice yoga and always try to remain present as much as possible, during Ramadan I came to the realization that I have always done this on my terms. I did it when it fits in my schedule.
Committing to the five daily prayers this past month, I got pushed into being present on my prayer rug, not when the time pleased me, but when the time pleased God. This proved to be an amazing exercise in being present, because many times the adhan (call to prayer) would go off on my phone and I would be in the middle of something else. I learned to walk away from what was taking my attention, to be present for something much greater.
Ramadan blessed me with experiences that I will always hold dear.
Before embarking on this journey I decided that I would not turn down any offer of a new experience that came my way. This openness paved the way for me to enjoy Iftar (the evening meal that breaks the fast) with Muslim friends at their home, an interfaith Iftar in Philadelphia that was organized by the Dialogue Forum, a chance to speak at the local masjid about my experiences during Ramadan and several Iftars at the local masjid.
One of the most meaningful experiences for me during Ramadan was staying at the local masjid the entire night that preceded the 27th day of Ramadan. This night is considered by many Muslims to be the Laylat al-Qadr, the night the the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) from Allah. This auspicious night was filled with tilawat (recitation of Qur’an), voluntary prayer, studying the Qur’an and remembrance of Allah.
We all shared in Suhoor in the morning and then joined together for the Fajr prayer, before departing from the masjid.
Ramadan enhanced my relationships.
As I became witness to everything going on around me during this time. I started to see the role that some of my Muslims friends took on in the efforts to make my experience rich and fulfilling—from the motherly type to the scholarly type and everything in between.
And like a steady rock, my best friend was always encouraging me with his support, eternal optimism, deep faith and infinite love.
With regards to my friends who are not Muslim, I was extremely touched by their support. They checked in with me often, asking me questions, as many of them wanted to learn more, too. Some of them joined me for Iftar at my home, at the interfaith event in Philadelphia and at the local masjid.
Ramadan reinforced my love of diversity.
My personality is such that I have the deep desire to learn everything about everything.
I am naturally curious, a walking question mark. I feel the best way to satisfy my thirst for knowledge is by surrounding myself with a diverse group of people. I am blessed to have had to opportunity to ask questions, so many questions, to Muslim friends who were born into the faith, converts, conservatives, liberals, those here in American and those from different countries around the world.
I learned something valuable from each of them and will forever be grateful for their kindness, assistance, patience, wisdom and love. I am also thankful for the new friends that I have made during this time.
Now that Ramadan has come to an end, where am I going?
Fasting through Ramadan with good intention, good deeds, deep reflection and a dedication to spiritual growth, can lead one to a closer relationship with God and to a deeper reverence for the oneness that connects all of us.
Ramadan serves to bring us back to balance—between the material and immaterial—deepening our commitment to right thought, right words and right action. It also teaches us lessons in self-control and discipline.
It is a time for seeking forgiveness for the moments that we may have fallen short in the past, acting from our lower selves. In addition, it is a time for us to share what we have with others through charitable acts.
Being a committed and full engaged traveler on a spiritual path I was curious as to whether or not Ramadan would have any impact my life. Now that Ramadan is complete and I able to reflect, I fully realize that I have deeply benefited from all of the attributes of this sacred and holy month.
Nothing that Ramadan had to offer took anything away from my current spiritual path, it only added to it.
In addition, I believe that my spiritual path allowed me to fully appreciated Ramadan at a deeper level. After all, aren’t all truths universal and all paths leading to the same place?
I am filled with gratitude for the many ways that that Ramadan further enhanced my spiritual life. Its wisdom that has been imparted to me during this time, I will forever hold dear as an important part of my soul’s evolution.
Will I be observing Ramadan next year? Insh’Allah. In the meantime I will continue to do the five daily prayers and read from the Qur’an each day, as I have grown to love this addition to my spiritual path and I am not willing to let it go.
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan.
I will go to the masjid for the Eid prayer and know that this may signify the he end of Ramadan, but surely it does not signify the end of my journey. For me, this is merely the beginning.
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Ed: Catherine Monkman