Thursday, August 04, 2011

Ramadan, via an American born, somewhat new convert

I have been married to my Muslim, Egyptian husband for ten years.  For nine of those years I have been Muslim.  When my husband first explained the basics of the religion to me, I thought it was some thing I could get behind.  Saying "there is no God but God" in front of a witness, praying five times a day, fasting during the month of Ramadan, giving to charity, and making Haj in your lifetime if you have the means.  Hey....that doesn't seem to be too difficult! ( I may have misjudged my fortitude here a little.  OK, I did misjudge my fortitude here.  ALOT.)  I converted when we started talking about having children.  We wanted to bring our kids up in a home with religious a value system.  I myself pretty much have a laissez faire attitude; having never really been religious, per se.  My approach to Islam has been not unlike some people's approach so say.... Catholicism; Which is to say, I really rock at being Muslim twice a year: at Ramadan, and Eid al Fitr.  Even now, I don't so much consider myself religious. Religion is something I struggle with however, especially during Ramadan.

So.... Ramadan.  Ramadan is a month on the Arabic calendar.  It is the month in which the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. (PBUH)  It isn't just some general is an actual month.  Yes, a month.  During that time, there is fasting and religious reflection to be done. Wiki puts it like this: " It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eatingdrinking and intimacy with their partners[1] during daylight hours and is intended to teach Muslims about patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God. Muslims fast for the sake of God (Arabicالله, trans:Allah) and to offer more prayer than usual. " Let me take this time to expand a little on "fasting". It is a pretty broad term.  You are really abstaining from anything "questionable" during this time.  By the way, "questionable" is a term I decided on.  Here, let me give you and example of questionable:  Gossiping, losing your patience... cursing. All of those things are frowned upon during Ramadan.  I suppose, they are actually frowned upon all the time; but especially during Ramadan.  All of these things should be refrained from from the time I pray the morning prayer, (before sunrise) to the time the call to the evening prayer starts (around sundown).
You may ask: "Surely you must be able to at least drink water?"  
No we can not drink water, and don't call me Shirley.  Here is what you may not have during the day in Ramadan:  Water, food, cigarettes, or sex. By doing this you are supposed to appreciate what you have, and know what it is like for the people who have less than you, every single day of the year. However,  I am pretty sure that those people get to have sex in the daytime if they want.  

A typical day in Ramadan for me generally goes down like this: Wake up before the morning prayer (or Fajr) and have breakfast. This is called "suhoor".  After suhoor is finished, I am done eating for the day.  At 0445.  No more food.  I am usually hungry just thinking that. I complete my morning prayer and carry on...all day long. As far as fasting goes, it is usually hardest the first week; I reach for that Diet Coke (I am a Diet Coke addict) then remind myself: "Nope, Not until later".  By the middle two weeks of the month, I have it down and am cruising.  This part is pretty empowering.  I would feel pride if I didn't need to be modest about it.   After the the third week is the dreaded fourth and final week.  At that time, I am in the home stretch. Normal will again be the watch word. The Force will soon be restored. Knowing that I have only seven more days somehow makes it all the more difficult.  

At around sundown, the call to prayer can be heard. (on my Iphone, technology rules!) My husband and I break our fast with dates and water. We do this because this is what the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) did. This is what Muslims call sunnah (or doing as the prophet did). Then we eat our dinner, which  really tastes awesome after not eating or drinking all day. After that, if we didn't before dinner, we pray the magrib prayer.  As a wife and mother there is cleaning to do after the meal (of course my husband helps), as well as various and sundry other things that are just part of everyday life.   At approximately 2140, There is the isha prayer, (the nighttime prayer, the last of the five daily prayers.) 

The isha prayer is the beginning of  what I have come to think of as the "Ramadan Endurance Challenge".  Allow me to elaborate.   It is good to go and pray at the mosque.  In fact, it is always better to pray at a mosque or with other people. If you pray Isha during Ramadan at the mosque you are all set and ready to go for the "Ramadan Endurance Challenge" portion of the day aka, Taraweah.  Taraweah is a series of prayers that are recited every night during Ramadan, and is the recitation of the ENTIRE Quran.  Yes, you read right.  The ENTIRE Quran.  In 30 days.
"But wait Cassie, When you say recite you mean reading don't you?"
Um, nope.  This year, we have a rockstar so to speak.  This man (who I have never seen, only heard) has memorized THE ENTIRE QURAN.  You heard me, memorized.  This is a really big deal.
Let me run it down for you. a prayer consists of something called "rakas" In a raka, we say Il-Fatha, which is the most important surah (a surah is basically a chapter) in the Quran.  We always say this surah.  Then, after the Fatha we recite another smaller surah afterward. Then we bow down, stand back up and then kneel down and press our foreheads to the ground, two times. That is one raka.  In Taraweah it is done like, eight times.  The first six times instead of the small chapter I mentioned, they are reciting from the Quran. Wash, rinse, repeat, eight  times.  So I stand there, for ten or 15 minutes...each raka.   

When I am starting the Taraweah, I like to do what I call, "digging in"  I stand with my feet planted shoulder width apart, I try to keep my back straight and my head bowed.  I liken this to my brief time in the Navy, when I went through boot camp.  They would trot us into a drill hall just about every day and make us stand at the position of attention or parade rest for what seemed like hours on end, for no other reason but discipline.  I remind myself not to lock my knees because I don't want to be the Islam newbie that "falls out" during the prayer.  This is the part that gets pretty zen for me. I am standing, with arms folded across my chest, listening.  It is recited in Arabic.  I do not speak Arabic. I just listen.  I am starting to recognize words, but only five or six.  I felt bad about this today, until I talked to my friend who is Libyan, and actually speaks Arabic.  She only understands about every third word so I am feeling OK about it now.  In the ladies section of the mosque I stand in a line, with the other women who came to participate in this.  There were 6 of us last evening.  Taraweah is not required, only recommended.  However, I have children now, and I want to be a good example. So there I stand, in the middle of other robed women, swaying gently to and fro like seaweed. My mind usually wanders.  What are they saying?  Wow, the words all rhyme. What will I make for dinner tomorrow?  Do I need to do any laundry? I need to make a shopping list.  How can I make it to the end of this tonight?  On and on.  I like this time.  No cell phone, no TV, no distraction from children; just listening and trying to stay somewhat comfortable.  I have seen a lot of strategy in this last respect.  I have seen women stand with all their weight on one foot and the other out to the side, (like moms stand with their hands are on their hips when you are about to get in trouble)  I have seen women slyly lean a shoulder against the wall.  Some of the older ladies sit on chairs when they can't stand any more. Everyone, and I mean everyone fidgets.  But still, we are here.  We are taking the time.  Next week I will not be able to do this because my daughter starts kindergarten, but this week I am here...thinking, praying, and just being....still.


  1. Anonymous22:27

    I really enjoyed your blogpost. You should write more of them, it's very interesting. Also, I'm sure it helped pass some time and I'm glad you're making the most of your decision to be "a good example" for your children--that really made me feel proud to be your mom. Keep writing!

  2. Cass, i really dig this post. You should consider writing more like it. This is a great look into Islam from the perspective of a mom and a convert. This one is a keeper.

  3. Love Love Love!!! I am amazed (and I mean it in its real sense not the overused meaning) that you have the ability to edit so swiftly and with no apparent pain. When some friends and I were doing a zine that was so crappy you'd think we were asking people to deface the mona lisa with feces rather than alter a short blurb on say a local bands jam session. You have actual quality writing and can see it clearly and edit. Shirley, you are my Yoda.

  4. Nope, no pain. editors are there for a reason, lol.

  5. Please email me! I have a question about your blog! :)

  6. Anonymous01:25

    love love love!


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