This article first appeared in issue 36 - September 2007
This Ramadan will be my twentieth. I keep recounting the years as it seems almost impossible that I reached that number, and it serves as yet another reminder for me of the galloping speed of the passing of time. As I begin mental preparations for the upcoming sacred month, as usual I have the same fear and trepidation. I can't help it; every year is the same. One would have thought that with nineteen Ramadans under my belt, so to speak, I would have a sense that I can do it with ease, and yet I am always terrified; always gripped by the idea that I will not be able to last the 30 days; always fearful that I will fail this part of my faith and fail to nourish my own soul.
In many ways my first Ramadan serves as a source of strength and encouragement, for my first Ramadan was in late spring. The hours were from around three in the morning to almost nine at night nigh on nineteen hours of fasting, continuously for 30 days. And yet I did it. When I think about it, I cannot imagine how I did it; I just did. This memory always gives me hope as I think to myself, "If I did it then, I can do it now." Which shows that facing difficult challenges, especially when young, can give you the means to brave further difficulties later on. If you have run a marathon, then a mile will surely seem tame by comparison. Likewise, when you have committed to 30 consecutive days of fasting, and ridden the ups and downs of the month, this preparation gives you the strength to take on other challenges in life, and to face them with fortitude and a sustained commitment.
Despite the long hours, my first Ramadan was a truly happy time. One family after another invited me to break fast with them, and it was ultimately my initiation into the Muslim community. There can be a great deal of loneliness and isolation for people who embrace Islam, but the families around my local area made sure that was not the case for my first Ramadan.
I cannot say that it was all good however. My first Ramadan marked also a number of other firsts. On the lighter side, it was my first prayer said in a mosque, where I got completely squashed by the lady in front of me who sat on me whilst I was in prostration. On the darker side, it was also my first encounter with a mullah, who told me my mother would go to hell and went on to describe in graphic detail what torment she would receive. I fled his house and immediately lit a candle for her soul in my previous church. At home I sat, cried, prayed and approached God with my questions. I was so new to Islam that I did not have a Qur'an in the house, but rather turned to my Bible, old and battered, well read and loved. I prayed to God, opened the Bible and read the first verse that my eyes set upon, "All people shall be judged with fairness and equity."
My soul calmed. I knew then that I should leave the judging of people's souls to God; that's His job. It was an important lesson to learn early on, as the convert to anything can be so over zealous and excessively pious. It also showed me that Muslims, like people of other faiths I had met previously, could be just as harsh and unforgiving. I would not go so far as to say that the occasion with the mullah shattered my expectations of Muslims, but I realised early on that whilst I was over brimming with excitement at my new found faith, it meant that I did not idealise individuals who purported to represent that faith. It made me realise that Muslims, just like everyone else, were simply human beings trying to make their way in the world, and I would meet the whole spectrum of human behaviour amongst them, just like other communities. And so I have.
Twenty Ramadans on it is still an honour and privilege to have the opportunity to explore ones strengths and weaknesses through the vehicle of Ramadan - and ultimately hope to attain greater conscientiousness. As well as being terrified, I am also excited. Each Ramadan seems to have its own unique character and offers a new learning experience. Indeed, each Ramadan will teach the searching soul what it needs to learn if one is open to the lesson.
To read more editorials by Sarah click here