On Fasting and the Working Life

The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

There are two (occasions) of joy for the observer of fast. He feels joy when he breaks the fast and he is happy when he meets Allah.

I recently started the 9-5 life. I’m grateful to be employed. Yet, often, when the day ends, I idly think:

“There is a time when a worker experiences joy: when he ends his day of work, and…”

And I find myself praying that I will, at the end of this life and the Hereafter, be glad that I worked.

I bid a very happy Ramadan to all those observing this blessed month, and pray that Allah grant us all rizq in the most wholesome and fulfilling ways.

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On My Facebook Fast

Before, I never gave Facebook too much thought. I didn’t really understand how people found it addictive, as I found the interface terrible, the advertising annoying, and its more self-absorbed users to be overbearing.

But people change, and shockingly enough, I’m no exception. Over the past few months, I was becoming increasingly—and uncomfortably—aware of the amount of time I was spending on Facebook. It went further: it brought out a side of me I didn’t like, a side I didn’t like to acknowledge. I started to experience sadness, jealousy, and loneliness far more than I felt content and connected with others. It was just a tedious, energy-sucking tedium I could do without.

And then Ramadan came. I could quit Facebook and be virtuous about it! So I proceeded to do so.

It wasn’t as straightforward a process as I would have liked. I was the administrator for a group and for this blog’s fan page, and I had to hand privileges to trusted friends and colleagues. I missed out on a couple of event invites, but in two cases the hosts were gracious enough to make an extra effort and email me about them. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a bit disconnected and out of the loop at times. However, that was alleviated when friends bemoaned the fact that I was missing, even for a short while.

What this Facebook fast really reconditioned me to do was not instinctively open it every time I opened my browser. That habit had become automatic, for I was used to firing it up in my browser without thinking about it. When I deactivated my account, my brain felt a little puzzled at not being able to do that anymore, so it found alternatives. I fixed up my LinkedIn profile. I followed worthwhile people and organizations on Twitter. (The effect of Twitter is nothing like Facebook because, based on how I’ve curated my ‘following’ list, I am informed far more than I am entertained.) I (gasp) even checked the news. I watched documentaries, managed to do some writing than I had done in the past few months, finished reading an epically amazing book—you get the picture, I had a swell time.

I’m back on Facebook, and I’m too refreshed from that break to go back to my old habit of being plugged into it all the time. Ramadan always leads me to improve my eating, sleeping, and praying habits, and I’d like to think that this time, that tendency extends to my use of Facebook as well. Now, I’m planning on being next to inactive, for inactivity means minimal notifications, and minimal notifications mean less of a reason to be glued to it.

I now also have this romantic notion of a life that is untethered to Facebook: outings, trips, and thoughts that are mine alone, that exist independently of there having to be an account of it online. I like to think that I have reclaimed my life events and thoughts as mine, not what they appear to others.

On Reining in the Imagination

This Ramadan, I have made the commitment to live less in my head and more in the world. I don’t know how effective it will be, whether it will change the core of who I am. Maybe it will the spiritual equivalent of plastic surgery. I hope not. I hope it will be a healthy transformation, or at least a healthy balance between the two ways of being.

When you have a rich inner life, spirituality can come to you so easily. Constant worship during Laylat al-Qadr? Hours on end, sitting quietly by yourself, thinking about something greater than this world and everything in it? Reading verse after verse of the Quran, marvelling at its nuances and the multiple ways you can read them? Bring it on! I was born to do this!

Yet, feeling that way is is precisely why I need a change, why I need to evolve and develop my worldly side as well. I need to do something that for me is far more difficult: excelling in my professional program of study, networking, finding meaningful work, and paving the way to financial independence (Insh’Allah).

It is impossible to stop living in my head, so I can only decrease it. I do so by waiting until a set, allotted period of time to have unfettered dreams. Now, instead of letting myself retreat into my mind whenever the impulse strikes me, I resist and I wait. When the time comes, I set the timer, reach for a pillow, bury my face in it, and become oblivious to my surroundings, lost in the ecstasy whose sharp intense sweetness only increases when confined this way. Ah, yes, there is a silver lining, at least.

Who needs drugs? It’s quite a thing God has given us, imagination, the ability to be in sheer bliss when our surroundings and circumstances are not ideal. Yet, when unreined, it can be detrimental. It makes one wake up after years of dreaming and wonder what they have been doing, wonder whether they really have enacted shukr by making use of the opportunities given to them in this world. Or whether they have squandered this gift by using it to compulsively take the edge off of awful reactions incited by the real world.

It’s a new and pretty scary beginning. I already miss my old self, but there’s no going back now. I can only press forward.

On Finding God in Perpetual Days and Nights

One day, shortly before Ramadan began, my family’s idle chatter over a weekend lunch broached on the topic of the challenge faced by Muslims fasting while living in Canada’s Northwest territories.

My father thoughtfully recounted two verses of the Quran that made him think of this geographical phenomenon:

. . . If Allah were to make the night perpetual over you to the Day of Judgment, what god is there other than Allah, who can give you enlightenment? Will ye not then hearken? (28 : 71)

. . . If Allah were to make the day perpetual over you to the Day of Judgment, what god is there other than Allah, who can give you a night in which ye can rest? Will ye not then see? (28 : 72) *

It’s not part of the universal human condition to experience endless nights or endless days, blazing midnight suns or brunches by candlelight. The strangeness of places where this is a reality, my father was suggesting, is in itself a sign from God, no different from the way nature and seasons and the delicate balance of the human body’s system are signs from God. “See how it is when the night or day is perpetual? It’s Me who makes it otherwise,” Allah is telling us.

SubhanAllah. Makes you think.

* Translation by Yusuf Ali

On Ramadan 1433 / 2012

I don’t feel that I’m going to say anything blazingly insightful about Ramadan this time around, but I did want to wish a very happy and blessed one to all those who will be observing the holy month.

Plus, the most important thing that could be talked about this Ramadan is already being discussed a great deal: the very heavy and thorny issue of watching The Dark Knight Rises on the night Ramadan begins. I think I’m going to need a lot of time to really ruminate about all the highly worthwhile current rhetoric about a topic of such pressing concern.

I am lying, of course. Truthfully, I cannotfreakingbelieve that people are getting worked up about this.

Anyway, in case you are relatively new to this blog and are jonesing for some incredibly profound Ramadan-related material from me, check out some stuff I wrote last year, in which I

  • Got annoyed by the fuss being made about fasting in the summer. (Which, it seems, is now being paralleled with my annoyance about The Dark Knight Rises issue. Maybe I’m starting a personal Ramadan tradition of sardonic thinking? How unMuslimlike.)
  • Mused about how Ramadan should be a time when one reevaluates their relationship with food and gives it the love and attention it deserves.
  • Shared my experience of trying to complete recitation of the Quran during Ramadan.
  • Proposed the idea of a writerly duaa, an intimate, conversational, and emotional approach to asking from God.

Take care of each other and yourselves, pray earnestly, and have a soul-enriching Ramadan.

On praying to raise hell

I wish someone told me this when I was younger. But it’s never too late, of course:

“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.” —Nora Ephron

I can’t help but make a parallel duaa for myself, for Nora Ephron has given me the words for what I should ask for this Ramadan:

“I ask, ya Allah that, I cease to be a lady. I pray that I find ways to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I pray that I make that trouble on behalf of all women.”

Ameen.

More Musings on Food and Ramadan: A Post in Beyond Halal

I’ve reached a kind of milestone in this blessed month: by the grace of Allah, I have been published in Beyond Halal. My piece is titled “Food Consciousness in Ramadan”, and in it I try to trace the spirituality in every stage of preparing, serving, and sharing food–specifically, an iftar meal. Do give it a read.

I’ve sung praises for the thinking behind Beyond Halal in a previous post, so I won’t reiterate them here. I do want to add, however, that there couldn’t have been a better place to have my first gig, and I’m deeply grateful for people like Krystina Friedlander (who also blogs here) who are as enthusiastic about my content as I am about theirs. There’s nothing like collaboration with folks who are doing such incredible, important work, and I hope to have more opportunities with them and others like them, Inshallah.