Today’s guest writer is a special lady who I discovered during my first Ramadan, before I’d even become a Muslim myself. Although I learned a lot from watching lectures when I was thinking about converting, the Muslims I connected with on an emotional level were women who were down to earth and spoke openly about their faith and struggles. One of these wonderful women was a Canadian revert called Hethr who I found I was able to relate to instantly.
The joy of Hethr is that she approaches everything, whether good or bad, with humour, honesty, and openness. Whether she’s writing about motherhood, being a daycare provider or simply narrating everyday life, she never fails to put a smile on my face.
In the following interview, Hethr explains her relationship with Ramadan before and after becoming a Muslim, describes how non-Muslims react to her fasting, and speaks about the whirlwind of looking after children during Ramadan.
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What was your opinion on Ramadan and fasting before you converted?
Well – I didn't come from a very religious family...so my only experience with fasting was a 40 Hour Famine World Vision thing that I did eons ago when I was in high school. However, when I first started looking into Islam, Ramadan (obviously) came up. At first, I had that reaction that everyone else does, “YOU DON’T EAT FOR A WHOLE MONTH? YOU GONNA DIE!!!!”
But then I read more into it...and yeah, it all seemed pretty interesting. I was intrigued...and when I fasted for the first time, I thought “Well, that wasn’t so bad.” Keep in mind, my first Ramadan was in December....the shortest days of the year. I fasted from roughly 8.30-4.30. Yeah. Cheater’s Ramadan.
How has your relationship with Ramadan changed since your first Ramadan?
Well, my first 2 Ramadans were done here in Canada...with those short, short days. Then I was in Saudi for 7 years. I LOVED Ramadan in Saudi. Life closed down pretty much during daytime hours – you could go grab groceries and that was about it. Awesome shows (both religious and spiritual) on TV.
Lots of smiling people...lots of Salaams. Eid was disappointing – but only because we didn't have family and only a few friends (who usually travelled home to visit family) – so for us it was a little...dull. But the decorations and such around the city were lovely.
Do you have any Ramadan traditions in your family?
Yup! Food wise – we always have these lovely spinach & cheese sambousas. They’re a Greek recipe...but whatever. So delicious and a great little appetizer. I decorate my house in Ramadan...lights, flowers, etc. We do a LOT of inviting of other people over through the month. This used to stress me out (I mean, who doesn't get stressed cooking for 20+ starving people), but I've really come to enjoy it (really...not lying!) Once Eid comes, I whip out the banners and streamers and balloons. At the Eid, everyone gets a gift, and we go visiting family and friends where kids are filled with sweets and money.
How does having children affect your routine during Ramadan?
Oy...well – first there’s the inability to fast while pregnant. I had no issues while I was pregnant and nursing my daughter. I only made it through ½ of Ramadan when I was pregnant with my first son, and about the same with Adam. I've never had an issue with breastfeeding and fasting, Alhamdulillah.
Once the kids are born though – all those things that I typically did (reading 1 part of the Quran every day, long nights of tarweeh prayer, contemplating my life and what I need to do to better myself throughout the day) – all that is OUT THE WINDOW.
Good luck reading Quran with screaming kids. Good luck contemplating anything but ways to shut them up er, I mean, keep them quiet during the day. And long Tarweeh prayers? Yah...I dare you to try that.
Also – when you have kids they don’t have to fast. Do you know what that means? It means you have to prepare food for them and watch them eat it with glee while you salivate and try not to stuff your face. However, my kids are getting older and with that, I’m able to get back to all the “good” parts of Ramadan.
Man – it sounds like I hate having kids. That’s not the case.
The cool part of having kids in Ramadan means that you’re teaching them about what Ramadan is, why we do it, and what it means. I try to get my kids to do some Islamic learning in the month...whether it’s remembering a small surah or one of Allah’s names each day, giving charity, or extra prayers. I also get them to fast (NO, not the whole day!) but for just a few hours...an hour or so for Adam (he’s 5), more for the older ones (maybe a ½ day or so) I don’t want to force them, but I do want them to try.
How do non-Muslims tend to act around you doing Ramadan?
One of 3 ways -
Either they eat and drink surreptitiously (think hand covering their coffee mug...or failing to chew if I walk in while they're in mid-bite)...shovel the food in like nobody's business while my back is turned and try to quietly eat without offending. I'll often hear "is it okay if I eat??" YES! (but thanks for asking, I appreciate it!)
OR - They go all covert operations on me. "Hey there Heather...you're still fasting? Oh...that's great. I have some really important things that I have to do in the kitchen..uh, I mean..the office..yeah...I've gotta do....something there...so I'll see you in bit" Often I'll see people checking their breath before they see me. "Is she gonna smell the coffee/garlic toast/chocolate bar I just had?"
Finally there's #3...the people who eat and drink all out there - way beyond what one would consider normal. "Mmmm, mmmm! Oh wow is this souvlaki ever delicious! Have you had it before, Heather? They are grilled to PERFECTION! Can you smell it, Heather? Oh my, are they good! Would you like a bite? What's that? Oh, right, you're fasting - well, I'll just enjoy this for you then...you don't mind, do you?"
What one piece of advice would you give to a new Muslim doing Ramadan?
Don't beat yourself up if you struggle. Many of us have been fasting for years! If you're new at it, it's hard...you forget, you struggle, you REALLY WANT FOOD! But you know what, that's OKAY. Do your best, God knows your intentions! Naps are good if you can get them in. I, personally, find that if I eat a huge suhoor (the meal before sunrise) I am very, very, very hungry all day long.
Now, I tend to have a bottle of water, 2-3 dates ...and sometimes a container of yogurt. For dinner (or breakfast..but I have a hard time calling the meal I eat in the evening breakfast) - I'll always be sure to have lots of water (even though I don't like it), again a few dates, and salad. I like to pray maghrib then, and go back and eat some protein for sustenance. I load up on watery fruits (mangoes, melons, peaches) as dessert instead of sweets at night.
I guess that was more than one piece of advice. Oh well... Ramadan is really a wonderful time - take pleasure in it! If you head into Ramadan thinking about how hard it is/how long the fast is/how little you ate/how hungry you are - you will STRUGGLE. Think of the blessings, the joy of iftar, the gathering of families, friends and neighbors - and you'll find a much better experience.
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Watch out for tomorrow's post which comes with an advisory warning
as we take off the Rose Tinted Glasses of Ramadan...!
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If you have young children or you're a bit artsy, you'll love the 30 Days of Ramadan Crafts by Karima's Crafts where there are great activities for you to do with your little ones, such as this delightful papier-mâché mosque (above) or one of Karima's popular posts in the series, 99 Names of Allah Tree (below).