Every year, as Ramadan approaches, we tend to become a little introspective. What will the month hold for us? How much have we really changed since the last one? Will this be the life-changing Ramadan each of us yearns for?
For me, this time of the year always stirs up a bit of a storm in my soul. I am usually frustrated by how little I have accomplished in the past eleven months and yet filled with hope that this year will be different. One aspect that remains constant however, is the question: What do I want to achieve?
This question has now expanded to include my daughter as well. Until last year, she was too young to understand what Ramadan meant, but this time around, she will definitely have questions and basic as they may be, they will set the foundation for her lifetime exploration of this Season of Worship and Mercy.
I remember thinking last year that by this time, she would be ready for all the colourful and creative Ramadan-ready activity packs that seem to come up on social media. One of the wonderful things about time though is that as it passes it allows you to change and leave past ideas behind.
My greatest brain-busting thoughts for a good deal of months have revolved around how I want to educate my child. Until she was actually born, I still held on to dreams of having a child who would be reading before the age of four and spouting facts about obscure subjects by the time she was five. I was sure the best way to equip her was to provide her with as much knowledge as I could. This idea was possibly connected to my own experience of growing up, since much of my youth was spent in believing that depth of faith could be gained from expanding the breadth of one’s academic knowledge.
As a child, I was a voracious reader. I have imbibed thousands of books since I first learnt how to read and while they have no doubt had a subtle impression on my ideas and perspectives, I can count barely a dozen that have left any sort of lasting impression on my mind. In fact, as an adult, I have had to consciously work on re-aligning many misconceptions I absorbed from my readings.
When I started to think about where my own appreciation of Ramadan had come from, I realised that my clearest beliefs stem from memories of doing things together as a family unit. I may have actually done little myself, but being a consistent participant of the whole was enough.
I may have forgotten most of the trivia I had gathered over the years, but I can still conjure the sense of security that I would feel every year on the Layaalul Qadr (Nights of Power) when my parents sat us down and performed the recommended rites together.
We were a little pocket of worshippers in communion with God, and when our parents told us the angels were descending on these nights, it was as if we could feel their wings brushing our shoulders as we huddled together. These holy nights still bring with them a knot of anticipation in my belly and the feeling of electric energy in the air. I feel like a child going forth with an empty loot bag to collect all the goodies I can.
All these thoughts have re-affirmed the approach I am considering taking with her schooling, religious as well as secular. So while I commend those mothers who devote so much time and energy to creating a daily, tangible atmosphere for their children, I find myself reluctant to do the same.
When I think of what it is that I want my child to get out of life, what her definition of success should be, it always ends up at the word ‘humanity’. I want her to be a good Muslim, an example of how beautiful Islam and its teachings are a reflection of the Divine Intention in creating insaan (mankind).
Everything else that once seemed important to me – reading, intellectual excellence, innovation, creativity – have become means to the end. I no longer worry about when or how to introduce the alphabet to her, or if she’s ready to start counting, so it doesn’t make sense to concentrate on the factual when it comes to religious matters, either. It only matters that she succeeds at being human, whether it is through being a political activist or a housewife nurturing a single family (or both!)
Yes, we might draw a moon on the eve of the first night and look for the new crescent. We might read stories about akhlaq (manners) and the importance of goodness. We’ll recite supplications together, or if that doesn’t work (and it doesn’t most of the time), I’ll let her play while I recite out loud within earshot. We’ll break our fast and make a big deal about letting others have the first date. We’ll keep a recitation of the Qur’an playing whenever we can during the day. And when we are waiting for the long afternoons to pass, we’ll spend some time remembering the less fortunate.
But mostly, we’ll just try and experience the atmosphere of the month and let it work its ‘magic’ over us. Some days that may mean sitting down and doing interesting activities, other days it might mean lots of stories and yet on others, it might mean trying to find and enjoy the silence within.
Whatever you want your child(ren) to take away from this holy month, whatever you want Ramadan to mean to them, it has to first mean that to you personally. It has to be something that is embedded inside you, a strong fire that can spark a similar feeling in others. The best preparation is to kindle that fire so that by the time the Holy Month comes around, it’s burning bright and ready to light up everything around you.
A final prayer: May this Ramadan be The One; the one where we are able to emerge from under the shadow of our sins to stand in the cascade of Mercy descending from the heavens. May we be drenched so utterly and completely by it that the effects last in us for the rest of the year that follows.