Over the past decade, Ramadan has been a very special time for me. You see, prior to that, things were different. I was different. And then, one day in that Ramadan ten years ago, everything changed.
That experience, that miracle, marked a turning point in my life – one that I’m eternally grateful for, and one that I’ll forever treasure because of its sheer significance – even if the emotions and memories of that month fade away with the passing of time.
It was Allah’s mercy that enveloped me that month; and subsequent Ramadans have marked a period of more intense striving in matters spiritual and practical.
Solitude was always my best friend when it came to taking benefit out of Ramadan. Though I’ve never sat for i’tikaaf (seclusion in the mosque), I understand the enormous benefits of being alone – being secluded from the world – with no one as your companion except Allah.
And when I got married, that solitude disappeared for a long time; and that first Ramadan – as a husband – was different. But it was still amazing, because it kind of brought me back to myself – after a year in which I felt internally lost – without a goal to pursue (since it had been achieved via marriage). That month, I think, kind of revitalised me.
And that Ramadan marked the last time I really had the space to extensively experience the month in the ways I used to. Because the following year, my precious little treasure had just been born. She was only about two weeks old when Ramadan started; and that month was – understandably – almost completely filled with the rigours of early parenthood – in the latter half of the month especially.
Last year was even more hectic. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we had to move house in the middle of last Ramadan. So there was obviously packing and other prep work to do before the move; then the actual move; then the settling in afterwards.
Added to that, our daughter was sick for a few weeks in the month – and so was I. But alhamdullilah – I found the beginning third and the final third of the month awesome. (For my wife, though, it was a very different story, unfortunately).
And now this year, which has been the most hectic for us in terms of busy-ness, the month is different. The challenges are different, and the need to take the most out of the month is greater too. While we don’t have an ill-timed move of house, we do have an almost two-year old toddler who is a real handful. A good handful – but still a lot of work, nonetheless. And no matter how her day goes in terms of having her afternoon nap, she almost always sleeps at 9PM – which is far later than we hoped for. Because with work in the day, and the evenings taken up by iftaar and taking care of her, night time is pretty much the only time we have for worship – when there isn’t the pressure of daytime worries.
And if she sleeps at 9, or past that, it leaves very little time for us before we need to sleep (or collapse out of tiredness, if we haven’t gotten enough sleep lately). But alhamdullilah – there is still time; and if you want something bad enough, you find ways to make it work – which has been the case so far.
Anyway, I guess the point of this entire post – which was sent on a detour by my memories of years gone by – is that for those of you who still have the luxury of free time in Ramadan, make good use of your time. Don’t waste it on things that are of no benefit, and things that won’t help you draw closer to Allah.
I don’t mean to say you should spend all your time in formal worship – with no ‘relaxation’. Relaxation is very necessary – because we need it in order to live a balanced life; and it helps refresh us for the exertions of worship and responsibilities.
But limit your pastimes to things that will not displease your Lord. And beware the temptation of over-indulging in too much relaxation – so much that it makes you lazy.
There’s a hadith about taking advantage of five things before five other things happen to you – and free time is one of those: take advantage of your free time before you become occupied with things, things like responsibilities.
A while back, I remember overhearing some schoolkids one afternoon – and reflected on how much free time they probably have. And I remembered how much free time I used to have when I was in their shoes. And how I wasted it.
And then I grew up, and the stresses of adult life took me over – so I learnt to appreciate that free time when I could get it. And then came marriage – which reduced that free time; and then fatherhood, which further cut that free time – to the point that having free time to do what I want is now the exception, rather than the rule.
If you’ve seen the last Shrek movie, you might be able to understand the feeling. And I say that with all seriousness – because I used to feel like he did: burdened by responsibilities – and yearning to have the freedom of days gone by.
But unlike Shrek, I didn’t have any evil mini-man (Rumpelstiltskin) with magic spells to teach me to appreciate what I have (and spells are haraam anyway :)). That appreciation came without the disasters he went through, and I’ve come to accept that this is life – and I need to make the best of it and embrace these roles I have; and these responsibilities I have.
A life of relaxing, having freedom, and doing what I want – that’s all reserved for Paradise (if I get there). So this time now – these days, months, years, and decades – is for living up to the responsibilities Allah has placed on my shoulders (with the right amount of relaxing, of course).
As we get older, hopefully, we come to truly understand this bigger picture. That life isn’t about relaxing all the time and living for the pleasures of this world. The societies we live in – the materialistic, consumer societies – may put forward that lifestyle as the ideal; but it’s nothing more than an illusion. It’s not real, and it’s not possible to live like that if you have any conscience at all about your true purpose in life. And living solely for pleasures will not make you happy – because happiness is a quality of the soul, not the body (as explained in this post).
The awesome thing about Ramadan is that – no matter what spiritual level you’re on, it’s like all of us – every Muslim – knows how important the month is, and makes some kind of extra effort to do things that they wouldn’t normally do in other months.
It’s the month for gathering those spiritual provisions that could carry us through the other 11 months – the reserves that we’ll need to survive if we can’t make the effort for the rest of the year. And if Allah gives us the great blessing of carrying those positive aspects beyond the month, then we really have a lot to be thankful for.
So in this month, I hope and pray that for we all make good use of our time; and strive to draw closer to Allah; and open our eyes and hearts to the lessons and guidance – personal lessons, and personal guidance that Allah reveals to each of us – to you personally, intimately, within yourself – so that you can nurture that most special connection with Him.
Because in reality, that connection is the most tremendous, awesome, fulfilling, and beneficial thing you can ever have in this world. Take good care of it, and insha-Allah it’ll be a means of your success – both in this world and the next.