A couple of years ago something happened which caused me to re-evaluate Ramadan and how I understood and prioritised worship during the month. We were expecting our 4th child and Ramadan that year was slap bang in the middle of my wife’s morning sickness.
In the weeks preceding Ramadan, I carried on as I normally would which for me involved buying dates, planning my reading for the month, getting various timetables and wondering why there was such variance in suhoor time. I also printed out various checklists and Ramadan advice articles, all in the aim of trying to make the most of the blessings of the month. Like most men, I’m not the most organised. My wife has a tick list for almost everything, so I’ve been trying to follow her lead and be more organised by making my own list of dua’s, dhikrs, readings etc.
My wife had warned me that she didn’t think she would be able to do much that Ramadan, but typically I ignored her warnings thinking that we would get through it. Well, we had got through it on all the other occasions she was pregnant.
Anyway, Ramadan came, and the reality soon dawned on me that my wife was almost bed bound and the fate of Ramadan was placed on my shoulders. My elder two daughters were planning on fasting and then we had Faatiha going through the terrible two’s. I was responsible for all of them – which wasn’t a problem as I often work from home and had been effectively doing two jobs since my wife’s morning sickness had started. But this was Ramadan, it was supposed to be about me attaining taqwa, connecting with Allah (swt), ticking off my daily checklist and all the other actions commonly associated with this blessed month.
I was responsible for suhoor, working, looking after my wife, running around after the kids, making the iftar and cleaning up afterwards. The kitchen was a no go area for my wife for months as the slightest smell of food would trigger her nausea. I had to decline many iftaar invites and some nights I did not make it to taraweeh at the mosque. Part of me was lamenting the ‘lost’ opportunity of not engaging in all the worships I had planned.
Often we have a guilt complex in Ramadan and we lament how the household chores and family responsibilities are impeding our worship. Only last week I read an article in which a sister wrote about how her household tasks were getting in the way of her worships and how her situation was much different before marriage and children. Sometimes my wife complains about not ‘feeling’ part of Ramadan, and feeling guilty when she was not able to fast during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding.
This guilt fails to acknowledge that often our ‘normal’ daily tasks constitute worship and in fact may be more of a priority than those checklist actions often cited as essential Ramadan deeds.
Anas narrated that the Prophet (pbuh), and his Companions were on a journey, and some of the Companions were fasting whilst others were not. Those who were fasting were struggling to perform the chores of feeding the animals and preparing the food and so forth, so those who were not fasting performed these tasks for them.
The Prophet (pbuh), said of their situation:“Those who were not fasting took all of the reward today.” [Bukhari / Muslim].
Helping others is a source of immense reward, not to be dismissed as secondary and definitely not a source of guilt. So even if you are unable to fast due to illness, pregnancy or menstruation by facilitating the fast of others you can increase your reward with Allah (swt).
In another narration Abdullah ibn Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah (pbuh), said, “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and she is responsible for them. The servant of a man is a guardian of the property of his master and he is responsible for it. Surely, every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.” [Bukhari / Muslim].
As a father, I am the guardian and responsible for my family, feeding them, clothing them, nurturing them, educating them and everything else that guardianship entails. Similarly my wife is the guardian of the home and shares the responsibility in raising our children. Fulfilling this responsibility equates to fulfilling a command of Allah (swt) and should take precedence over the recommended acts of worship.
The Prophet (pbuh) even contextualised the great act of Itikaf (secluding oneself in the mosque), that it should not take precedence over helping your brother.
The Prophet (pbuh) said:”That I walk with my Muslim brother in fulfilling his need is dearer to me than being in itikaf in the mosque for a month.” [Ibn Abi Dunya]
Perhaps, we do not reach our target or our checklist has numerous blank entries. But if we have sacrificed these individual goals for the sake of looking after our family as a command from Allah (swt), perhaps unwittingly we may have attained the goal of Ramadan itself, attaining taqwa.
We tend to view Ramadan as a ‘holy month’ in which we do certain ‘holy actions’ that are restricted to the individual sphere and have no impact in the affairs of life. This is all a product of us living in a secular society which has resulted in us secularising our Islam and nowhere is this more apparent than on Ramadan checklists. When people cite the deeds that are recommended for us to perform during Ramadan we find that they are often skewed towards a set of individual actions such as extra prayers, recitation, dhikr and charity. These are all important and we should strive to perform them as much as we can, but they are all devoid of the societal aspect. Very rarely will we find mention of important actions such as pursuing the news of the Muslims, carrying dawah, challenging oppression, enjoining the good and forbidding the evil.
An-Nu’man ibn Basheer reported: The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever” [Bukhari / Muslim].
When I look back at Ramadan’s in the past I often find that I would prioritise certain actions above others even though I am fully aware that Islam is comprehensive belief addressing all aspects of life.
Unfortunately, talking about the affairs of the Muslims is often frowned upon in some circles as being counterproductive to spirituality. This creates a certain atmosphere which influences how people view Ramadan and Islam. However Allah (swt) chose the month of Ramadan to be the month in which the Quran was revealed, the month in which Muslims fought in the Battle of Badr and the month in which Makkah was liberated. Ramadan was a month in which the Prophet (pbuh) fully engaged in the affairs of the society and as a result Ramadan was a month of great victory for the Muslims. The world does not stand still at the sighting of the Ramadan moon. Syria, Palestine, Burma continue to suffer a genocide and Ramadan is a time for me to increase awareness about the plight of the Muslims.
The Ramadan I spent at home was a real eye opener for me. What started off in my mind as a missed Ramadan opportunity became a blessing in its own right. I have very fond memories of that Ramadan, from my cooking adventures to spending quality time with the family in the worship of Allah (swt). I realised that Ramadan is not just my individual journey, but is a collective journey involving me, my family and the Ummah.
Ramadan should be more than just ticking boxes on a generic sheet. It should be about me understanding my reality, understanding my priorities and seeking to worship in a manner most pleasing to Allah (swt).
May Allah (swt) allow us to make the most of Ramadan, attain taqwa through fasting and come out of the month as better Muslims.