( Image taken from Rodney at pexel)
I remember as a little girl, growing up in Kashmir, India, the month of Ramadan, was a time when our home was filled with delicious smells, good food, and happy vibes. You may be thinking, how can one be happy and calm going without food or water all day from dusk to dawn? And yes! Did I say, besides the act of fasting, Muslims also have to refrain from cursing, yelling, name-calling, and even engaging in sexual activity during the hours of fasting? This all may sound torturous to a non-Muslim. But interestingly, to more than a billion Muslims across the globe, it’s not. It’s a blessed month. It felt like a magical month that would begin with this exciting anticipation of if the moon was sighted? Which would mark the evening before the beginning of this month-long fasting.
We had to get ready for special evening prayer, taraweeh. Followed by the excitement of having to prepare for our early morning meal, or rather breakfast, that we had to wake up to eat before sunrise in the dark, called suhoor.
One of my earliest memories of Ramadan was the loud wake-up calls by a drummer, who would act as a human alarm to wake people up for suhoor. He was known as “ The Saharkhan”. It was a title and often was a legacy in families who chose to be the Saharkhan. It was considered a noble profession. I would often get startled by the noise of the drums beating as loud as possible, with the even louder sound of Saharkhan screaming at top of his lungs asking people to wake up!
My heart would race, but I soon got used to this fear, as I realized the intention behind that cry and the sound of the drum.
After getting used to this daily routine for 30 days of Ramadan, I then felt this weird mix of emotions- excitement, fear, curiosity- about being able to see “Saharkhan” in person, when as per tradition, he would come out on the morning of “Eid”. Eid is the day when we celebrate the end of Ramadan, by having a delicious and elaborate lunch with our family.
My mind had carved an image of the drummer, being some sort of scary monster, some weird-looking person. Who knows what kind of clothes, what sort of extremities he possessed. I was curious to see his drum as well. I remember hiding behind my father, as he would open our main front gate, start beating the drums, and emitting a loud cry, the same way he used to shout while making his nightly wake-up call.
I was shocked but happy at the same time, to see a thin man with light brown eyes, a small beard, and the most innocent smile. He beat his drum, standing by the door, laughing and chatting with my dad. Those were the first fears as a little girl that Ramadan helped me face. I realized how the fear of the unknown causes us to experience all sorts of emotions, from curiosity to fright, excitement to disappointment, and anxiety to relief.
When I grew a little older, at around 10 or so, I started fasting. Firstly, for half a day, and then slowly to a full day. I remember my mom being protective of me and would discourage me from fasting that young. I would often hear her say that children are exempt from fasting, as their bodies need water more frequently. This is indeed true in the Islamic faith. Fasting is obligatory for those who are in a sound mental and physical state and have bodies that can tolerate a day-long fast. This means children, elderly people, or people with emotional or physical conditions that prevent them from fasting are exempt.
As I started fasting, I became aware of the other blessings that this month had to offer.
Mom would get busy cooking delicious food, and wow! Those smells were so refreshing to the soul, and I would catch my mouth watering before it was time to eat. But I knew I had to wait. Although my parents never forced me into participating, the fun of enjoying delicious meals together with my family, and the way they would sip that cold rooh afza beverage, was too precious to miss.
I also loved to offer prayers and read the Quran by my mother and father’s side. Our home would be filled with a peaceful aura, with everyone sitting silently and engaging in conversations with God by themselves. To this day, the thought of it leaves me with a wonderful sense of nostalgia.
In retrospect, these memories have this sweetness because my parents gave me choices. Nothing was imposed or forced, but I did it because I watched the way my parents do it. Their calm and spirited demeanor made it feel so good, that I didn’t want to miss any part of it.
Ramadan is also a time where we often greet each other with “Ramadan Mubarak”, meaning “Happy Ramadan”. Indeed, it can be one of the happiest months of the year, unless we engage in behaviors where we force things on our children or judge those who are unable to fast or choose not to.
The true essence of Ramadan is to show compassion, and empathy for each other. We develop true connections, feel the pain of those who have less than us, help each other, show restraint, think beyond ourselves, and refrain from judging.
It teaches us strength, endurance, patience, and mental calm. While at the same time, staying mindful and respectful to our body by giving it good food and nutrition during the times we can eat.
Now as an adult woman with children of my own, I have made a choice to celebrate Ramadan by maintaining some of those traditions I grew up with, cooking special meals for my family. My home too smells of delicious food. We still wake up for special prayers and breakfast. Of course, there is no Saharkhan, but an iPhone alarm still does the job of waking us up at dawn.
My children get to choose how to celebrate Ramadan. They choose to fast at times or sometimes will give charity, and prepare sandwiches for the local soup kitchen, and I see them trying their best to keep a compassionate demeanor.
Having studied in a Quaker school, and hearing from adults in their home, they know the value of a “good intention”, which is essential in the Islamic faith, and they choose to participate in their own unique ways to celebrate the very essence of Ramadan.
But I am happy that like Quran says, “In religion, there must be no force”, Similarly, in my family, my children will have choices to celebrate Ramadan in a way they think they are capable of. They are aware of traditions and the values behind why we do what we do, then they follow their hearts as they develop their own identities, and pick their own journeys on this planet.
Love, peace, and loads of good wishes!