My first Ramadan came just nine months after my official shahada, and like many converts, I was daunted by the idea of fasting for a whole month, no food or water during the day, during the hottest, longest days of the year. I remember the anxiety that I pushed down for the whole month leading to that first Ramadan; scared it would be too hard, scared of staying up all night to pray taraweeh, scared that I would fail at being a Muslim in this crucial moment.
As the first night of Ramadan set in, I sat in the car next to my friend driving to the masjid for my very first taraweeh, turning over all of these thoughts and insecurities in my head. As the imam’s voice rose for the first rakah of isha prayer, however, they all seemed to dissipate. Four rakat of isha and eight rakat of taraweeh later, I headed to the conference hall of the community center to listen to a guest speaker’s first lecture in his Ramadan series.
Though not every night was as easy as the first, and there were certainly days where I was so hot, dehydrated and tired that I thought that this might be it, the tough times only made my first Ramadan that much sweeter.
Because contrary to my expectations, Ramadan was not a time of hardship. Though I was finishing my bachelor’s degree, working two jobs, and taking equestrian lessons during that time, I have never felt so spiritually energised as I did for my first holy month of fasting.
Not only did I fast every day, but alhamdulillah I filled my free time with only beneficial things as well. Being quite alone, with no Muslim family and only a handful of friends to speak of, I had a lot of time to myself outside of work. I filled it with memorising Qur’an, studying tafsir, learning seerah, and praying extra prayers. I can remember my house mates watching me, with that “she must be insane” look on their faces as I carefully prepared my suhoor each night when I got home from taraweeh around 12 or 1 AM, heading upstairs to sleep in my closet-room for only a couple of hours before I would wake up and pray again.
Not only was my first Ramadan so spiritually uplifting and so beneficial and productive, it was also one of the happiest times in my life. I look back fondly on those nights browsing the masjid book shop before taraweeh started, picking out the perfect Eid cards to go with my carefully selected gifts for my non-Muslim family and Muslim friends, laboriously stitching pillow cases for my mother-in-law while I listened to Islamic lectures on my day off, feeling so grateful to my colleagues at the ice cream shop when they made an effort not to eat their “staff scoop” in front of me (because watching the customers eat ice cream day in and day out while you are fasting in mid-summer isn’t that pleasant!).
I fast forward to the next year, my second Ramadan. This time I am with my husband and his family in Algeria, and I am so excited to see what it is like to fast in a Muslim country. I look back on my first Ramadan and I am feeling prepared and ready to go.
However, I left my second Ramadan not only disappointed with the experience in a Muslim country, but with myself as well.
I wasted time that year, checking Facebook, sleeping, staring off at the wall with a blank mind. I gained weight as well; culturally here iftar consists of fried and filled pastry, soup, and plenty of bread and fizzy drinks. A far cry from my soups and salads or sparing meals with friends of my first Ramdan. Every night in Algeria was Eid—everybody would go promenading on the beach with their girl/boyfriends, families staying out until 12 AM buying their children sweets, blasting music while teenage boys smoke shisha and play cards on the beach.
I felt let down by myself, letting myself get so caught up in the culture that it made me lazy. I remembered my first Ramadan during that time, and felt so bad. I could do all that I did then, while working two jobs, living in a crowded student house, maintaining family ties, how was I not doing even more during this time, when the only responsibilities I had were my house and my husband? No work, no children, not even a big house to take care of.
Reflecting on and remembering that very first Ramadan has been my inspiration for this year. Everybody talks about how they want to have the “best Ramadan they’ve ever had” and that feeling the guilt once it ends, so I am using that year as my standard. Of course, it will never have the same magic as the first time, but I can look at how I structured my day, how many pages of Qur’an I read, how many sunnah prayers I prayed, and I can strive to do even better than that.
In shaa Allah by the time this is posted it will be the fifteenth of Ramadan. To some that means the month is half over, we are almost done, it is all gone and wasted. But to me it means I have fifteen more days to do my best, every single day.
So if there is something you wish you had done this Ramadan, or time that you are spending on things other than something productive for your relationship with Allah, now is the time to fix it. You have fifteen more days left, one of which could be the night of laylat al-qadr! Wake up every day and make the intention to change one thing, however small, and let every day be better than the last, in shaa Allah.
May you all have a blessed last half of the beautiful month of Ramadan, and may Allah increase us in guidance, beneficial knowledge, and imaan, and may He answer our duas in this holy month in the most beautiful way befitting His majesty and His mercy, ameen.
Ashley is a 20-something year old American Muslim, who lives in North Africa with her awesome husband. Besides a BA in Language Studies and an MA in Translation, she loves to read, needle-craft, and strives to improve her tea-brewing for the perfect cuppa. When she isn’t snuggling cats, you can find her writing over at www.muslimahaccordingtome.wordpress.com, where she shares her experience with Islam as well as resources and support for new Muslims.