Like many Muslim kids I must have had my first fast when I was eight or nine years old. You know how it is? A super-special day that’s punctuated with mom asking you multiple times what you would like to eat for Iftar. Everyone making sure if you’re doing okay and aren’t getting too dehydrated. Your parents proudly telling other parents about your first Roza. Your self-esteem goes up several notches. As you are enjoying your first fast you are vowing to miss no fasts in the future. To you, this is that defining religious moment where you have kind of a coming of age. You know your grandparents are wrapping presents for you. You are not trying to even let it show that you are hungry or would like a drink. Yep! Pretty much. Then you drop to sleep at 3 and sleep like there won’t be another day to sleep. And then your mom wakes you up at 7 announcing that iftar is in fifteen minutes and may be you should say Asar. Yes that was pretty much my first Ramadan too.
Iftar was my favorite things. I was showered with presents and pictures were taken. I had my best outfit on that my mom had got for me especially for the occasion. The amount of love that I felt that day is indescribable.
When I was 21, I lost my dad in Moharram. I felt without a direction or purpose. My dad had battled various medical conditions and had had a tough life. The one thing that made all his hardships become smaller than their real size was his attitude. He was an extremely introverted yet loving guy. He had just the most positive personality and I’m sure that if he was alive today, he would have been an inspirer or an influencer. He had the gift of conversation, even with his introversion, and he could make people his friends within no time even though he was more of a listener. He was the calm to the extremely vibrant personality of my mother. Together they made a very socially successful couple. They loved people genuinely. My dad was a very simple man. His entire world were his kids, his wife and his mother . He had no other business in life than to be a father, a husband, a provider, a teacher. Like me, he was a physician. And he aspired to be so much more. Until his death, he had aspirations. He had major aspirations. He considered worldly success just as important as success in faith and beliefs. He didn’t lay much significance in the “practice” of religion but rather the “spirit” of religion and the content of religious dogmas.
The Ramadan after his death proved to be a very emotionally difficult time. As Ramadan progressed, we were constantly reminded of the looming Eid festivities. Everyday, Sahoor and Iftar were marked by his absence. Everyday the fast got a little longer. Everyday we ate a little less. Everyday we mourned again.
In many ways, that Ramadan became my first Ramadan again. I was charged with waking everyone up, getting my siblings ready for Salah and making sure they didn’t sleep for so long after Fajr that they missed their school bus. Papa used to do this every year. It was my first Ramadan doing all of this and missing him more.
I got married shortly afterwards. My wedding and Ramadan happened close to each other. My husband and I were the only two people in our marital home. This was fun. I had never lived by myself and I enjoyed the autonomy and self-guidance this afforded me. Ramadan came soon after.
I was excited to have my first Ramadan as a grown-up. I cooked and loved the compliments that I got. I invited people over for Iftar and everyone enjoyed our parties. I felt so accomplished until….. I got the flu in Ramadan. Oh my gosh! If you think flu is bad, try it in Canada in the month of September in a year which is widely acknowledged as the hottest year in a hundred years. And then imagine that your apartment doesn’t have an AC. Then imagine your husband always coming home from work right at Iftar and his Taraweeh schedule. I didn’t have time for the flu.
It was early days of our marriage and I didn’t want to slack off. So even though the flu killed me, I worked and woke up at all sorts of odd hours to cook and pray. I developed a new appreciation for the hardship that Ramadan signifies for some people. So far I had had comfortable, relaxed Ramadans which carried a somewhat lax attitude towards this most important and compulsory ritual, health permitting. My attitude so far in life had been of fast if you can. Don’t fast if you can’t because you have to ride the bus to school. Don’t fast if you’re feeling even a little bit down. Don’t fast if you have a test coming up.
But I couldn’t do this now. Someone depended on my cooking. Someone actually considered me an adult who wouldn’t be totally taken over by a cold and give up her fasts. Someone, who while battling a pneumonia, not only fasted the whole month (many years later) but also showed up for every Taraweeh that he could make, which he successfully made every night. My husband is a phenomenal Muslim in ethics, practice and execution of his religion and it is hard to not be intimidated by his unwavering commitment to his faith. That Ramadan was tough in its expectation and rewarding in its unveiling of my grit and resolve. That was my first Ramadan where I was on my own, sick like a dog but made it with a lot of grace and inner peace. That was my first Ramadan where adulthood took on a whole new meaning.
Minha was born in Shaban. The end of Shaban. Ramadan soon was upon us. Minha’s pregnancy was overall as good as any first pregnancy can be. Her birth was traumatic. Not only was I induced for many days, I still had to undergo a surgery to give birth to her. None of it was fun. And we didn’t get to bring her with us from the hospital. She was a few pounds less than what’s considered safe to be in a car seat. She stayed in the nursery for another five days.
When we eventually could bring her home she was still tiny and required to be fed every two hours. It wasn’t easy. I couldn’t delegate this to anyone at any hour of the day. I didn’t trust anyone. Not even Adnan. This made it all very difficult for me. Besides Adnan I couldn’t depend on anyone anyway. My parents-in-law were extremely old and couldn’t be any help even if they wanted to. I was up most of my remaining maternity leave which was actually my vacation time for that year.
In many ways, I was having another Ramadan of many firsts. I had a new baby, a new role in life, a body that had undergone a major surgery, and I was finding out new things about close extended family. “Close extended family” sounds like a triple negative statement because if it’s close then it should lose the descriptor “extended” and if it’s family then close is implied and extended is redundant. Yeah! Family should be the only word where family is concerned. It’s sad that family comes with its own grades of commitment and love.
That Ramadan was my first Ramadan taking care of a new baby with new responsibilities , watching my husband’s love divide between me and my new baby and watching my life becoming busier than ever. The same Ramadan I went back to my residency after a brief and eventful maternity leave.
My mom came to be with me in Ramadan three years later. And it was the first time I appreciated how much I had been missing her. How much I had been missing her food. How much easier life is with her around. How easily she could make me laugh or fire up to defend myself over minor things. How we still had the same sisterly bond that we had before. How we still could get competitive with each other. How we still were each other’s closest confidantes. This was truly the first Ramadan when I appreciated my mother in her presence.
I’m so glad I’ve had many Ramadans that I can call my first. They’ve all taught me true life lessons . One thing that Ramadan teaches me every year is how my resilience is stronger than most of my troubles. How myself and my problems are so small compared to what the ask of Ramadan is. That regardless of how hard I try to ace it, each Ramadan leaves me with at least one truly teachable moment that I can call my own. That each Ramadan becomes special for me.
When I see kids fast for the first time and proudly go round telling whoever would listen “This is my first Ramadan”, I can’t help thinking “No way, kid, no way”!