Yesterday, I guess you can say I celebrated one week of Ramadan by taking a day off. I didn’t cook, but instead picked up something from my favorite Naan and Curry place. I didn’t venture out at night to the tarawih prayer. What’d you think, I was a saint? Nope, just a real person, attempting to do what is best. Yesterday what was best was to go easy on myself.
As I get older with the fasting, I get more challenged by the routine. I don’t know why it took me so long to see it, but about four years ago, I realized one thing which for me is particularly hard. Although I really do get to eat about as much as I do when not fasting, so I cannot complain about being hungry, ever.
But I’m a sun person, or more precisely, I have seasonal affective disorder, which means I thrive on heat and sun and plummet into the pits without them. That’s why I love so much my times spent in Southeast Asia. Somebody has to love the heat and humidity, right? So when Ramadan comes, I have this awful experience: all my consumptions, all that I take for nourishment of mind, body and soul, must be done in the dark. That’s hard for me.
Like many seasonal affective folks I also go to bed early and get up early, usually. This too is tipped on its head with Ramadan. By the time I settle in after my mosque visit, it’s way past 11 and then I’m up by 4. It’s true with no work schedule I have the luxury of going back to sleep after reading Qur’an in the morning, but that is actually my favorite time of day to be awake and productive. I used to say, if I see that sun come over the horizon, I know the day is going to be good. Simple things like the sun or the absence of it, remind me then to be grateful.
Yesterday I was reading about the creation of man from an atom of tin dirt/dust; and the whole process of fetal development in surat-al Mu’minun. And then this:
“He it is Who has evolved for you the hearing the sight and the heart. Little is it that you give thanks…And it is He Who causes life and causes death and to Him belong s the alternation of the night and the day. Will you not understand then?” verses 78 and 80
Naturally, I take up this reminder for understanding and gratitude, shukr. I remember one of my professors saying that iman, or belief is not the opposite of kufr. This is because kufr is more than just disbelief, although that is how it is often translated. It is more insidious than that. It involves knowing the truth: about Allah’s existence, but instead of following that truth with worship and service, as is proper for the created servant/agent, the Kafir will deny this truth, cover it over as it were. He or she will then refrain from humility.
So the opposite of kufr is shukr, gratitude. Everywhere in the Qur’an we are given reminders (dhikr) and signs (ayat). The Qur’an clearly asserts that these signs and reminders are for our purposes: for our guidance, and even, for our daily life: things like hearing and seeing and heart, come in handy on an ongoing basis. But do we give thanks?
I live out in the Bay Area in California and I remember the horrible news of the earthquake in the 80s when the bridge over the bay between San Francisco and Berkeley collapsed. For me, every time I cross this bridge I give thanks. I say, simply, thank you Allah for NOT having this bridge fall while I ride across it. Because, I would imagine all those who lost their lives or were injured on that fateful day leave behind family and friends who will miss them. The Qur’an also often reminds us to put some thing ahead for our soul for our eternity for our final judgment. Life comes and life goes and it is up to us to make a difference in life, and that includes being grateful for the gifts of life for being spared death for sight and hearing and bridges that don’t collapse. Yeah, why not?
There have been more deaths in my immediate circle since last Ramadan than any one year in my life. I got to meet Abdurrahman Wahid, Gus Dur while he could still laugh and joke, an incredible man; my eldest brother, Sammuel; my first husband, Dawud, the father of my oldest two children; a dear, dear friend and colleague from my former University, Njeri; Nasr Abu Zayd, also a man of intellect and humor, my only friend and neighbor when I first came to California, sister Nicole. The one whose loss still hits me the most and almost every day was my youngest sibling: my only sister, Carol.
Because Carol made me a beneficiary, I have the means to make hajj this year. So in a way, this hajj is not only because of her death, it is for her. I want to stand on Arafat in gratitude to Allah for having been her sister and for those last four years of her life which we shared so intimately like we never got a chance to before. By the time my sister was born I was already living away from my family for academic purposes and never really had a chance to bond as sisters until about five years.
I am grateful for the gift of closeness that Allah gave us for her last days. My first year in California she spent her vacation with me during Ramadan. She loved the fast. She and I and Nicole were the only Muslims in our neighborhood fasting together and with our families that year. Now, they are both gone. When the fasting was over that year we went to celebrate ion our favorite mosque and I looked up to see my sister standing behind the food table serving others.
My sister’s death was all the more difficult because it came immediately upon the heels of the birth of my second grandson. One minute we were on the phone and I was describing the birth event and sharing photos on Facebook. The next day, she went to bed, coughed once, and then breathed no more. She was 44.
I thought about her when I read in the Qur’an how “every soul will have its taste of death.” So gentle was her moment of passing, and yet so painful has been these few months without her here to enjoy this Ramadan to share my blog, even; as the only one of my family even interested or capable of appreciating things like Facebook or Twitter and blogging
I think about gratitude or shukr then with a new resound. I think about those gifts from Allah that we do not reflect upon. Think about it, how many of you gave thanks for the rising of the sun today? Yet, if the sun had not risen, we would all have taken note. Shukr then is ALSO to take note when the everyday ordinary goes according to plan. Don’t wait for the bridge to collapse, and don’t wait for some one to die, give thanks now and give it often.
Thank you Allah for all that You do and forgive me when I fail to take note.
Editor’s Note: To follow all of Amina Wadud’s daily posts, as she blogs from Ramadan through her first hajj, check here.