Muslim women included in forthcoming anthology, Cut From The Same Cloth, discuss what Ramadan means to them

Sabeena Akhtar
Writer & editor, coordinator Bare Lit Festival

From the grey winter mornings of my childhood, sat around a cloth on the floor eating freshly made aloo parantha, to the busy Ramadhans of my teens; traversing the mosques of London with friends, looking for the best place to pray night prayers. One thing has always remained constant – the need for self – improvement. I find myself yearning for Ramadhan and the opportunity of taking one month in every year to better myself and my relationship with God. Imagine, the mercy of having one month to withdraw from the pressures of everyday life and just focus on trying to be kinder, more charitable, more disciplined and forgiving. Ramadhan is so much more than a refrain from food, it is a spiritual and physical cleanse.

In fact, far from the hangry adherent you may imagine, I find myself more patient than at any other time of year! Ramadhan for me, is the ultimate mix of self care, worship and unbridled joy. There is such comfort in knowing that over a billion people observe the month with you, quietly rising to bow their heads in prayer and reflection, to share the joy of iftar with family and friends and the serenity of standing shoulder to shoulder in prayer with the community.

Yvonne Ridley
Journalist & author, Secretary General of European Muslim League

I was working in the Middle East when I celebrated my first ever Ramadan in 2003 and there was much excitement in Qatar as the blessed month approached. This was reflected in the shopping malls, workplace and mosques and was highly visible just like the run up to Christmas in the UK. As a convert it was also a little daunting as the best of all months arrived but I got through it easily with the support of my Muslim friends. The most spiritually uplifting period for me happened when I visited friends at Discover Islam in Bahrain and we performed Taraweeh. I can still hear the rustle and swish of their abayas as we rigorously performed our lengthy prayers.

However on returning to the UK, the next Ramadan was a little bit of an anti-climax as I didn’t live in a Muslim community and the excitement I’d experienced in Qatar simply wasn’t there. So bear in mind this can be quite a tough period for new Muslims and I would urge you all to adopt a revert for Ramadan as it can be a lonely period for those of us who’ve chosen a faith which is viewed as alien and strange to family and friends.

Raifa Rafiq
Trainee solicitor, writer, co-host Mostly Lit podcast

Ramadan for me is encompassed by two things. It is the time that always tests my discipline, resolve but most importantly my love of Allah because I am someone that definitely does not like to go hungry. I fast not because I want to, I fast because it has been decreed from Allah and my love for him surpasses any worldly indulgence. And I think it is very important to talk about that difficulty. That difficulty feeds me as it displays so viciously my love and strength for my religion. The second aspect of Ramadan that I sure look forward to is honouring family and the community ties. We sometimes become so distracted by worldly woes that we forget those that hold us down and ground us. Ramadan forces us to get together and honour one another. Ever since I knew of Ramadan, my family have always done Iftar together, nobody gets left behind. The kids start setting the table or the mat as the sun starts to settle, everybody goes to pray and come back to break bread, laugh, talk and honour one another. Love of Allah and love of Family – that is my Ramadan.

 

Shaista Aziz
Journalist & writer

Ramadan is an opportunity for a spiritual recharge. It’s the time of year when I’m especially aware of the lightning speed pace of my life, my work and the travel I do. Ramadan forces me to take a step back and try and slow down where I can to focus on the essence of the month – to connect me more deeply with my faith and to understand just how short my tenancy is in the world and how limited my time is in the spaces I’m present in. 

Ramadan has a hugely calming influence on me. One of the most beautiful lessons from the month is to just be, to make more of an effort to remain still and to humble myself daily and empathise more deeply with those struggling in their lives here and across the world. 

This Ramadan I will be traveling to Calais with Oxfordshire Refugee Solidarity to cook and serve iftar to refugees and to put solidarity and compassion into action, which is what Islam teaches me to do daily. 
To me, Ramadan is about self-reflection. Without food you’re forced to break habits and reflect on how you use (or misuse) your time. At the same time, fasting connects you with your essential humanity – everyone has to eat, and feeling hungry and thirsty connects you to each other. It can be a humbling experience, a reminder that we are all reliant on Allah emotionally and materially.

Sumaya Kassim
Writer & researcher

My Ramadan is probably quite unusual because it isn’t family orientated. Most of my family live in London and in Yemen, so though there is a lot of texting at the start of Ramadan, it can be quite isolating if I don’t make an effort. I know that there are lots of people who feel similarly for a variety of reasons (e.g. because they’re family aren’t Muslim, they’re migrants, etc). The upswing of this is that you appreciate invitations from friends and the masjid’s efforts all the more. I do miss Ramadan in Muslim majority countries, because of the athaan, and because people are experiencing the same thing collectively and shops are open late but, honestly, parts of the UK’s major cities – particularly in Birmingham – are basically like that. I love the effort local businesses make, it’s beautiful to see places hand out sweets to kids, and the general atmosphere of charity and kindness. Though I do increase my worship during the holy month, I’ve learnt from past years that smaller acts that are consistent are better than grand gestures (this also happens to be a central principle in Islam, so win-win). Ramadan is the perfect time to cultivate habits that you can carry throughout the year, so I focus on actions and behaviours I know will fit in with my life and my interests. Islam – to submit to Allah – should be easy; if certain acts of worship start feeling like a chore, I probably won’t do them outside of Ramadan.

That said, I definitely read more Quran. I’m fortunate to be (relatively) bilingual so I engage with the Quran as an unlearned, unscholarly critic. I enjoy stories and etymologies (and over-analysis), so the Quran appeals to me on a variety of levels. No matter how many time I’ve read it, it’s always a novel and spiritual experience. I also pray more and make more of an effort to extend my prayers and attempt to reach a state of khushooa’a (i.e. feeling closer to Allah).

Cut From The Same Cloth is crowdfunding to be published, you can support it here.

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