What Ramadan was like before my daughter was born:
Reciting the Qur’an and supplications, reading books, listening to lectures, meditating on life and contemplating ideas. An overwhelming sense of outer peace and inner energy.
What Ramadan has been like in the two years since she was born:
Sleeping too late, waking up too early. Reminding myself I’m fasting when I instinctively reach out to finish her leftovers. Barely managing to recite a few verses in a rush, before she tries to grab the Qur’an armed with a crayon. A recitation of du‘a here and there, usually half-asleep because it’s squeezed in before bedtime. No naps. Constantly rushed. But most of all: a deep sense of guilt and failure.
After the first year of Ramadan with a baby, I came out on the other side feeling restless and dissatisfied, as if I had let myself and God down by not even managing to do what I considered to be the ‘basics’ of Ramadan, ibadah (worship). I vowed not to let that happen again, but the following year, she was older with more – and different – demands and as the days wore on in a similar fashion, I began to feel hostility towards the very role of motherhood.
I had sacrificed everything for my child. Was I really required to put aside my personal spiritual journey for her as well? It didn’t make sense to me. It’s taken me a lot of thinking in the months leading up to our third season of fasting to realise one simple fact: Ramadan doesn’t have a formula.
Yes, there are recommended practices and of course, the month is founded on extra and special acts of worship that distinguish it from all other months, but the foundation of it all is a philosophy. This is a time to reconnect with your Creator, to rejuvenate your soul and refresh your religious ideals. How you do it may change from year to year. In fact, it should change. If any two months of Ramadan are identical for you then it might actually indicate a problem!
We tend to get carried away with what we think is the ‘ideal Ramadan schedule’. Breaking our fast, reciting the Qur’an together and the recommended supplications, listening to a lecture and so on, till suhoor. These have become almost regimental for us (much in the same way our eating culture changes in this month with so many bound by the ‘two fried, one sweet’ rule).
These timed and regulated acts of worship help us as a community to ensure the majority can take part in them, but circumstances change as we grow in life and one of the most beautiful things about Islam is how it grows with our needs.
Different, but the same
The motto for new mothers goes something like this: Prepare, prepare, prepare. While this works beautifully when you do manage to prepare, there are many times when life gets in the way. You fall sick, you get guests, unexpected obstacles come up and suddenly your scheduled ‘prep time’ has passed and everyone is looking for the new moon while you enter a state of mild panic.
Ramadan should be about celebrating your new-found skills as a parent and about bringing to the surface all the new and exciting emotions you now possess. With young children, it is hard to explain concepts and ideas verbally. Babies and toddlers take their cues for emotions/moods from their mother; they can often sense what the situation is way before they have the words to describe or understand it. One of the strongest and best ways to teach them about this month is to let them feel it through you.
So if you haven’t managed to prepare activities and set up games for them in advance or if they are demanding all your attention and you have no time for your standard worship, the last thing you want is for them to sense guilt or frustration in you. They will associate these feelings not just with themselves but with the holy month itself.
As a new parent, you have embraced many new ways of doing the simplest of things like sleeping or taking a bath. This month is a chance to find a new way to seek out God and spirituality. We often approach Ramadan with an ‘adult’ perspective, bringing to it our burden of sins and grievances and seeking to lighten the load of general challenges life throws at us. With children, it becomes about finding faith in innocence, in pure joy, in play and in appreciating our world through fresh eyes.
God is to be found everywhere. We say this, we sing it, and we teach it to our children. However, when it comes to actually believing it and showing it in practice, we tend to think that He is more present within the four walls of a mosque or enclosed within the four edges of a prayer mat. Who is to say that exploring a new ability or admiring a flower cannot provide the same spark of awe in our Creator that a session of solitary night prayers can?
God in small things
This year, I intend to approach Ramadan with a lighter attitude. That is not to say that I will dismiss the awareness of my flaws or not make an effort to change my habits. Rather, I will live day to day and try to seek out God in whatever I have in front of me (or whatever my daughter puts there).
I will attempt to recite the Qur’an, but if she wants to share in that then we will simply admire the word ‘Allah’ and look for instances of it on a page, visually connecting with the beauty of the script itself.
I will keep my supplications short and simple: Forgive us, have Mercy on us and grant us Your Pleasure. Because what else do we need in life beyond this?
I will sleep without feeling guilty because I know that sleep will provide me with the energy to serve the individual that God has placed in my care.
I will play and laugh and take part in seemingly mindless games knowing that in forming this bond of trust with my child, I am preparing her for a future of instruction and shared learning that awaits us.
I will do all this and trust that God will accept it all as part of my Ramadan worship because He gave me this responsibility at this point in my life for a reason. If I put in my best to fulfil this duty with His Pleasure in mind, I will definitely learn things that will bring me closer to Him. And isn’t that what Ramadan is all about?