By: Sana Sardar
“Every year since that Ramadan, I feel like a reset button has come for me each Ramadan. It invites me to recenter my goals and my lifestyle to that of pleasing Allah as my priority.”
I remember when I came to the USA at the age of 12 from Pakistan. I came with my immediate family. We had no family or friends here. Going to school in the final semester of 7th grade was tough. The kids picked on me and my sister for the way we dressed and talked. The teachers, however, were pleased with our homework, because our dad helped us.
Our dad was the Chief Planning Officer for the Board of Education in Pakistan, but in the USA he had to take on two full-time jobs and often fell asleep during his job or at the red light. My mom, who was so pampered in Pakistan, with many servants cooking and cleaning and handling the kids for her, now had to take on a full-time job as well.
One day while walking home from school, some kids started throwing pebbles at me and my siblings from across the street. Being the eldest sibling, I told them to stop and they attacked me while holding my siblings’ hands behind their backs. I got punched around a few times before they ran off. That day I decided that I no longer wanted to be different. I didn’t want to be the immigrant kid in the school any more. I tried my best to speak English without an accent and blend into society.
I quickly realized, however, that there were limitations to adapting an American lifestyle, because my parents would not let me. For example, my classmates openly danced in front of the class, they had boyfriends and girlfriends, and spent weekends hanging out at the mall with mixed genders. This created frustration inside me. I was lost about my identity.
When I entered college, I saw some women wearing hijab and I asked them if they were following an Arab culture or if it was part of Islam. I was reassured that Islam taught us to cover ourselves. I started thinking about my identity and what I was trying to become.
In my class, I once heard someone towards the back of the room talk about Islam and about the beauty of the Qur’an. He was saying that Surah Noor, for example, teaches us proper etiquettes of entering and leaving a house, of dressing inside and outside the house. I bought a CD of Surah Noor the same day after school and heard its translation for some time. I didn’t understand much and turned it off quickly. However, I fell in love with Qari Abdul Basit’s recitation of the Qur’an and started playing it more and more while playing games on my computer.
Another day, the same person was inviting some classmates: “let’s go and pray,” since there was a mosque right behind our college. I said I couldn’t pray because I had no scarf. He offered me his hat, and said it’s better than skipping the prayer altogether. I was alone in the women’s section and prayed peacefully. I felt so calm and loved it. I started coming to the mosque, bringing a scarf in my book bag to use during prayer. I often stayed there between periods and studied there as well.
One day during Ramadan, after praying, I thought to keep the scarf on instead of putting it back in my bookbag. I was surprised to find that it was not a big deal and some Muslims greeted me on the streets. It was a nice feeling and it made me realize that while some people will always reject you because your identities clash (for example you are a Muslim and they are not) you can find belonging in your community instead.
I was once walking from one class to another and noticed a person praying underneath the college’s stairwell. I was so surprised and thought to myself, these are real Muslims. They know what’s told in the Qur’an and they offer their prayers wherever they are. Ramadan that year was a wake-up call to my identity.
I finally understood what I had to do to learn more about myself. I had to practice my religion! Next year when Ramadan came, I started wearing a hijab. I started offering my prayers, listening to the meaning of the Qur’an and started going to Taraweeh prayers regularly. I came to love this way of life and felt at ease in my own skin.
Every year since that Ramadan, I feel like a reset button has come for me each Ramadan. It invites me to recenter my goals and my lifestyle to that of pleasing Allah as my priority. Each time Ramadan comes around, I buckle up. I start reciting the Qur’an more, focus on the meaning of the Qur’an, and make sure I don’t miss prayers.
I begin giving charity, try not to argue or lose my temper, and overall try to focus on the right mindset and live a healthy lifestyle. Ramadan impacts every aspect of my life inside and out. For example, I start eating very clean for suhoor, because if I don’t, I suffer during the day. If I eat oily things during suhoor, I get very thirsty during my fast. I also quit drinking tea and all caffeine before the start of Ramadan because I don’t want to have headaches during my fast. I also build my tolerance for my kids and husband because I don’t have the energy to waste on unnecessary stress. I spend most of my day in worship, rather than watching TV and wasting time. I let go of grudges and try to be sincere inside and out.
The reward of Ramadan is abundance all around us as well as inside us, by feeling the sweetness of faith, Iman. No matter how many sins we have committed and how far we have strayed from our religion, let Ramadan be your miracle reset button. Try your best for that one month to earn Allah’s pleasure and the aftereffects will last you all year long, In sha’ Allah. Ramadan is truly a miracle gifted to the believers.
No matter how far you have drifted from Allah, no matter how few steps you have taken towards Allah, let this Ramadan be the new beginning for you. One step at a time, focus on becoming a better version of yourself. Learn daily to improve daily. Don’t beat yourself up over whatever is done and how much life has been wasted. As long as you are alive and you have this golden opportunity to earn so much more reward for each good deed you do, take advantage. In general, one good deed gives one good reward, but in Ramadan Allah gives us special sales where each good deed gives you at least 70 times the reward! Take advantage and run in this race for good deeds, earning Allah’s pleasure and taking the first step to starting over in your life. Put simply, reset!
(P.S. The guy who taught me about Surah Noor is now my husband, Alhamdulillah!)
By: Saima Shah
Nourishing Our Bodies to Nourish Our Souls
Ramadan is a time where we give up many of the conveniences of our life, especially food and drink. In Ramadan we abstain from these blessings in order to strengthen our connection with Allah SWT, to focus on the soul instead of the stomach, and to comprehend the blessings Allah has bestowed upon us on a daily basis. However, for us to reap the rewards and the full potential of Ramadan, we need to be able to nourish our bodies at the right times: Suhoor and Iftar. With the right foods we can maintain energy and balance throughout our fasting days. This will allow us to feel energetic for a significant part of the day and perform our Ibadah at night without feeling the desire to fall asleep due to overeating and exhaustion.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
When it comes to taking care of our physical needs in Ramadan, the key element to remember is to hydrate. Oftentimes, during Suhoor and Iftar we are focused more on eating than actually hydrating ourselves. Between 65 to 70% of our bodies are made up of water, and water helps to carry oxygen and other vital nutrients to our cells. Throughout the day, our body loses water through breathing, sweating, and going to the bathroom. As we lose fluids we become dehydrated, but there are several steps we can take to avoid any serious consequences from dehydration. First we need to make sure to drink plenty of water at Suhoor, Iftar, and throughout the night while awake. Water is the best way to hydrate our body. Second, eat foods with high water content such as watermelon, grapes, apples, cucumbers, and celery. Dairy such as milk and yogurt also contain lots of water. Be sure to avoid fizzy and/or sweetened drinks.
Eat complex carbs, fats, and proteins.
These foods prevent your insulin levels from rising too quickly and then crashing; instead they maintain a steady stream of energy to your body because it takes longer for the body to process these foods. Examples are: eggs, meat, sweet potatoes, oats/oatmeal, whole wheat bread/roti, brown rice, quinoa, avocado, chia seeds, Greek or full fat yogurt, dates, and such. Diversify your plate so your body feels energized the rest of the day.
You eat to live, not live to eat.
One of the benefits derived in Ramadan is controlling our bodies and our desires. This means that we learn to appreciate it and be grateful for our blessings, not that we eat to such an extent that we must roll ourselves to the musalla to pray and burp our way through the night prayers. Our bodies will make us feel like we need to eat a lot due to our day long fast, and that we must stuff ourselves to ensure our survival, but this is where we take control of our eating and eat as the Sunnah directs: slow, controlled, and with gratitude.
Be active in some capacity.
Physical activity will help you feel more energized instead of sluggish. Try to incorporate either a walk (inside or outside the house) or some yoga in the early morning or a little before Iftar. Commit to just a few minutes, but get your body moving. While walking, do dhikr, recite or listen to the Qur’an, listen to a lecture or a book. Keeping ourselves active even while fasting helps pass the time and keeps us energetic throughout the day.
It is easy to go through Ramadan doing the bare minimum, but in this holy month we need to push ourselves to do the best in our worship. If we want to have energized fasts, spiritual qiyaams, and concentration in our recitation and understanding of the Qur’an, we need to make sure we appropriately nourish our bodies so that we can nourish our souls.