I am honored to present a guest blog post today. Over the last few weeks, I’ve become friends with Sarita, an expat English teacher in Bologna, Italy. She describes herself as a ‘postmodern Anglo-Muslim hybrid’ and writes about language, teaching, life in Italy, and interfaith dialogue in her blog, A Hotchpotch Hijabi in Italy, which I highly recommend. Today, she will be posting something I wrote, and I’m posting the following piece. I asked her to write about the impact of Ramadan on her own spiritual life. Thanks, Sarita!
Six months ago panic set in. I had a terrible thought. How was I going to cope during Ramadan while working full time? Not only would I be fasting for 18 hours while teaching young children, but it would all have to be done in the middle of the Italian summer, a period when even Italians abandon the sweltering cities and flee to their rented homes by the sea!
Since my conversion two years ago, I’d had the luxury of two Ramadans which coincided rather conveniently with the long Summer holiday. I’d been able to lounge at home next to a fan and doze in and out of siestas. Essentially, this would be my first ‘real life’ Ramadan.
I was so worried that I began to pray. Every day for six months I prayed that Ramadan would go smoothly and that I wouldn’t have problems at work.
Then Ramadan came.
I left for work on the first morning and I waited. I waited for my tummy to growl at awkward moments and embarrass me in front of the class. I waited for colleagues to say I looked ‘peaky’ and, last but not least, I waited for the dreaded headaches to arrive.
But none of the above happened.
By day 3, I had fully adjusted to the Ramadan rhythm. I felt cheerful, calm, and surprisingly energetic as I went about my work. People weren’t asking if I was tired, instead they were asking ‘why are you so chipper today?’
I began to wonder why I had been so worried about it in the first place. Why had I made such a fuss?
Then it hit me. Hadn’t I been praying about Ramadan every day for six months? Wasn’t this an answer to prayer if ever there was one? This wasn’t something I could pass off as a mere coincidence. I suddenly became very mindful of God in my daily life and felt overwhelmed by gratitude.
In fact, this renewed awareness of God and subsequent thankfulness are the two main reason why fasting is prescribed for us.
“You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be mindful of God.” [Qur’an 2: 183]
“… to glorify Him for having guided you, so that you may be thankful.” [Qur’an, 2.185]
Mindfulness and thankfulness begin by appreciating the blessings of food and drink while fasting. Even a colleague wafting a chocolate choux pastry tart under my nose because she momentarily forgot I was fasting puts a smile on my face. It reminds me that I’m fortunate to have the luxury of food everywhere I look. Not only enough food to live and get by, but fancy delicatessen pastries which exist solely for their own deliciousness.
In general, fasting allows you to step back and view the world more objectively. It allows you to see clearly the blessings and privileges that we have in all aspects of our lives. The thankfulness that you felt towards food then extends to all of God’s blessings – the blessings of life itself, of love, of friendship, and all that is good in life.
The feeling of gratitude extends into my daily prayers. One thing about praying five times a day means that sometimes you don’t necessarily feel particularly grateful. This is something I often struggle with. It’s difficult to thank God when you feel grumpy, upset, or hard done by.
This Ramadan, I made it my challenge to show my thankfulness by making sure that my prayers of gratitude outweighed the numbers of prayers where I asked for something. I made this decision primarily because fasting reminds me of the importance of thanking God even, and especially, when things go wrong.
This includes thanking God for the iftar which was bland and ever so slightly burnt, thanking God for your job despite a horrendous day, and thanking God for your partner even though you’ve just been squabbling and you’re convinced that they were in the wrong about something or other!
Thanking God for someone’s presence in your life reminds us to appreciate them and can help to dissolve any hard feelings towards them. Over the thirty days of Ramadan, I find that the combination of fasting and positive prayer softens the heart and encourages us to be more generous. This presents us with a wonderful opportunity to strengthen our relationships with family, friends and the people we meet as we go about our business.
One of my personal aims this Ramadan was to try and build bridges using my small blog to reach out to people of different faiths. Little did I know that I would be the one receiving the lion’s share of blessings from this experience. I’ve found myself inspired and humbled by the words and actions of Interfaith Activists from across the globe, all united by their desire to bring people of different faiths together to share in the positive things which which unite us.
While fasting reminds us that we are all united by our desire to walk closer with God, interfaith dialogue reminds us of how much richer our lives are when we strive towards that goal hand in hand.