I have been fasting the whole month of Ramadan since the age of 11 or 12. Before that, my Ramadan was mostly of half fasts-breaking my fast 5-6 hours before the adults. I remember one episode in particular where sunset was around 6 pm and I decided that fasting until 5 was the maximum I can do. So I broke my fast literally one hour before iftaar. Talk about patience.
Other fond memories include Iftaar parties with the extended family. The kids restless, exerting all their energies into praying the sun would just drop down from the sky, so they could polish off the yummy samosas beckoning them from the over laden table. Ramadan at Grandma's meant delicious Pathiri (rice flour bread) topped with coconut milk and her Spicy Chicken Curry™. When I look back now, Ramadan has always been of abundance. Alhamdulillah. Every Iftar we were fulfilled and maybe even overfilled (some to the extent that it was difficult for them to get up for prayers from where they were seated!).
In all these memories, however, my fondest memory of Ramadan is quite different. I was 17 years old, and awestruck. I was at the Masjidul Haram in Mecca in the last few days of Ramadan. Everything around me at that time inspired me. I was just blown away by the people- Oh God The People!- and their dedication. Malaysian women in their bright baju kurungs, Pakistani uncles in their kurtas and topis, Iranian ladies in their Chadors... Men and women of all shades and shapes and sizes worshiping with me, circumambulating around the Kaaba. All there for one reason alone- God. It was inspiring and humbling all at once
The atmosphere in Ramadan is quite different in this area. Usually, we hear of 'Ramadan Road Rage' and 'Hangry Hisses' , but what I saw was a competition to do more and more good among the believers. We were staying in a hotel not far away from the Masjid, our walk was about 10-15 minutes, taking us past hawkers selling 'Islamic Goods' like prayer clothes, rugs, Qur'an copies etc, tiny juice shops, kebab shops with heavenly aromas wafting out, almost pulling us in by hand (or nose?). What we also saw was people on the street corners handing out free laban (yogurt drink), dates, and other Iftar snacks to all passersby. There were so many of them! Some of them came in cars filled with cartons of juice boxes, waiting to help out anyone in need.
However, the most humbling experience of all was another episode. We were seated on one of the plush rugs in the Masjid, having just finished some of the more strenuous activities of the 'Umra. Naturally, we were tired, thirsty and just waiting for the adhan (call to prayer) to let us know its time to break the fast. So we're sitting there, just counting the seconds when an old lady next to me nudges me. I don't remember her name or her face, neither do I recall where she came from. What she did next blew me away. She had three dates and a glass of water with her to break her fast. Of this she gave one date to me and the other to the lady sitting on her other side. We didn't know each others' languages, she spoke in smiles. She didn't know me, and we will probably never meet her again, but that day she was so kind as to split what little she had with a complete stranger. Just because we shared belief in a God who asks us to be generous with each other.
More than 5 Ramadans have passed since then, but I still remember that lady. Not a face or a name. What comes to mind is the beauty of her soul. Today, the third day of Ramadan, has been a little difficult for me. By midday I was extremely tired and now I have a severely parched throat and a mild headache. And I haven't even stepped out of my room all day! So all I can think about today is that lady who probably herself was tired after a long day, and yet, was kind enough to think about the needs of the person next to her. And that humbles me.
Fasting is not for myself. This hunger is not for me. This parched throat doesn't say anything about me. This discomfort is a nudge to think beyond myself. A call to share, whatever I have- even if it is a couple of dates.
Most of us live lives of abundance. Of plenitude in all aspects. However, how rich is our heart? What have we given in order to grow? And by given, I don't mean emptying out our spare change and walking away. I mean really giving, stepping over our needs and greed and looking out for the person who probably needs it more.
Isn't now the time? Aren't you the person?
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