Part One: What Ramadan Means
I begin with mentioning the perfect and beautiful name, Allah (SWT)
Once upon a time
Being born and raised as a Muslim, I began to observe the third pillar of Islam when I was six years old. It was pretty easy as we fasted for just half a day. As soon as the clock turns 12 noon, it would be time for me and my younger cousins to break our fast.
As I turned seven, I was encouraged to fast for a full day. It was tough as I was adventurous and inclined to adrenalin rush games. We were rowing boats made of banana tree trunks, climbing tall trees, chasing after geese and chickens, and fulfilling other animated activities which I doubt kids of this era would have heard of.
The most rewarding activity was climbing fruit trees like water apple, mango and rambutan. The fruits were an arm’s length away. I’d climb up, choose a spot in between trunks, and settle down. The next thing would be to reach out my hand and pluck my choice of fruits.
There were of course other less fortunate activities where we’d stumble upon a big red ants nest right under our noses. Run for your life!
Our late grandfather and elderly family members always had a way of keeping our spirits high whilst fasting and completing the 29 days. Grandfather would treat us with his famous local delicacies, dodol. Uncles would place 50 cents or a ringgit in our piggy banks and half of Ramadan we’d be busy preparing for Eid. I’d put on clothes and shoes for the auspicious occasion almost everyday. I’d parade without fail.
In religious school, when I was eight, the teacher taught us about the literal meaning of fasting, as-sawm, as well as terminology. My understanding about what fasting really is transformed a little. It is not about obtaining monetary rewards or pleasure. It is a religious obligation. Still, my habit of parading new clothes and shoes went on until I was 15 years old.
Breaking fast with family members is the most delightful moment. We either gathered around the dining table or opted to spread a dining cloth on the floor when all of my mother’s siblings, numbering ten plus my cousins, congregated at grandma’s.
The clock seemed to tick slow and became almost static! Those who do not fast would sit at a separate section and initially I thought it was like a reprimand system but later learned it was merely recognizing those who fast.
Three decades later
I revisited what fasting means to me. In August 2010, I was given the opportunity to fast in Makkah, the holy land. Several months prior to that I performed my first umrah.
During the first course, I asked for four specific things. Two were granted almost immediately. One was unfulfilled and the last, but not least, I am still learning to live up to my intention.
The first was: ‘O Allah, please help me in being a servant who is patient. I have not been really patient generally. A lot of forgiveness needs to be done, and reconciliation over past issues needs to be resolved.
Second: Help me to forgive and forget, especially those I deem, in all my limited ability to understand their deeds, have left a deep scar in my heart. I love them and yet I could not express it effortlessly.
Third: Help me O Allah. Please help my husband in leading our family to attain taqwa. Please, I’d like to be among Your servants who are patient.
Rabbana aatina fi dunya hasanah wafil akhirati hasanah waqina ‘aza bannar. May your blessings be showered upon our imam, Muhammad Rasulullah (SAW).
In some ways, with Allah’s (SWT) wisdom, I was called upon to perform another umrah in the month of Ramadan, that year. The first Ramadan I arrived in Makkah and performed ‘umrah immediately. This time around, although we arrived in Makkah, we went straight to Madinah. From the day that I returned to my home country from the first visit, I had fallen so ill that I could hardly walk.
‘Mom, I want to be well again. Syifa’ will be given by Allah (SWT) somehow and good effort, ikhtiyar, is the servant’s right and responsibility. I may not be able to walk, and I feel so helplessly weak at times, but perhaps, I need to be in Masjidil Haram again. There are also issues I need to resolve while I am there. For whatever reason, if the person we waited for couldn’t find their way home, we shall visit them and help where possible. We need a closing cycle so that we know how to move on.’