It’s not detox, and other Ramadan reflections

As the day of Eid draws to an end I could not let this special time pass without jotting down a few reflections on Ramadan, fasting, what I have learned this year and what others around me have shared…

Ramadan myth-buster: fasting 15 hours a day from food and water in 100+ degree heat is NOT a detox, cleanse or anything related to weight loss.  If it were we’d all be sipping chilled water with a squeeze of lime.  Fasting is hard on the body, especially at first (then again at the end.  The middle is ok).  The  intention behind fasting is not some sort of “perfecting” of the body.  That would be a waste of intention.  Our intention is like a container that we bring to a river…if we bring a thimble, we will get a thimble-full of water…if we bring a glass, we get a glass-full…so in Ramadan we make sure to the bring the biggest possible container, and bring more as they fill up.  And that intention is to please our Lord and taste closeness to Him!   It is the perfecting of the soul that is in play here, as C.S. Lewis said “You don’t have a soul, you are a soul.  You have a body.”  For now.

Ramadan is a time of increased worship.  Many people endeavor to read the entire Quran during this month.  They do this by reading one thirtieth of the Quran daily, which takes about an hour.  There are also extra prayers every night after the last of the 5 prayers, which last about an hour and a half.  Read my post about that from last year.   At the beginning of the month, for those of us not accustomed to a lot of worship (I definitely fall into this category), these extra practices seem quite daunting.  At the same time, for me, without those things Ramadan would just be hunger and thirst.  It would be like coming to the thresh-hold and never passing through to the higher level of existence.  The thing is, even though I did not do those extra practices every day, by about the 2/3rd mark of Ramadan it totally changed for me.  As my dear husband said, in the beginning, you are pulling your practice along, and it takes a lot of effort, but by the end, it’s pulling you along, effortlessly.  I felt this the times that I got to pray at the Koutoubia, my favorite outdoor mosque.  I’d be giddy with excitement and anticipation for the tarawih prayers, the thought of standing with thousands of sisters and hearing the imam’s beautiful recitation of Quran, thinking to myself, there’s nowhere I’d rather be.  I understood, to a very feeble degree, the teachings of the Prophet when he would say that one of the most beloved things to him was the joy he found in prayer.  Or the man from that time who needed to have his leg amputated, and he said, wait until I begin the prayer (because he would be in such an altered state that he could bear the pain).  Or the great saint Rabia when she said “Oh lord, it is night, and every lover has gone to her lover, and I have come to you”  (paraphrasing because I don’t have the exact quote).  I know that for these people, that is their station, their permanent state if you will, whereas for me, I’m all too aware that it is a state, among many, and undoubtedly it will pass (or it has passed already).  Nevertheless, I am thankful.

This Ramadan it seemed, based purely on anecdotal evidence, that many people entered into the Islamic faith here in Marrakesh.  I myself witnessed, on two separate nights, two French ladies who took their shahada at the Koutoubia mosque.  They uttered the words over the microphone to be heard by the thousands who were there.  It is such an emotional moment, like seeing a baby being born.

During the last ten nights of Ramadan, there is a night called “The Night of Power”.  Prayer during this night is better than 1000 months of prayer (!!!).  The thing is, we are not told which night this is, although the Prophet (peace and blessing upon him) said “Look for it among the odd nights”.  That means starting from the 19th, 21st, etc.  In Morocco there is a widespread idea that the Night is the 27th, and as such, there are many practices, both cultural and spiritual.  The cultural ones I’m not so familiar with, but for one thing, children who have never fasted try fasting for this day.  There is special food, djaj el beldi (free range chicken) and other dishes.  As for the spiritual practice, people try to spend all night in prayer, either at home or at the mosque.  This year I had the immense pleasure of going to the Koutoubia mosque with my friends Safia and Zineb.  We arrived at 1:45 a.m and found the place packed, the overflow area had overflown and people were praying in the garden behind the large open air pavilion of the mosque.  There was such quiet, no other sound beside the beautiful quran, no other reason to be out than to worship God.  As I stood in prayer I saw, several rows ahead of me, a tiny face looking back at me, a baby in her mother’s arms.  I admired that mother’s determination; in Ramadan we are shown again and again that what we think is impossible is in fact, possible!

When the imam finished reciting during the last cycle of prayer, he made a long, soulful supplication to God.  Among my favorite lines…”we seek refuge in You from eyes that do not weep, from a heart that does not feel awe” (na’udhu bika min ‘aynin la tadma’, wa min qalbin la yakh-sha’).  Several times the imam would make a supplication that was particularly meaningful to him, and he would break down sobbing.  Throughout the du’a we would hear sobs rising from people as their hearts opened, faith turned into certainty; sobs of humility before the Creator of the worlds.  I felt to incredibly lucky to be there on one of the most special nights, during the most blessed hour, right before dawn, when “The Lord descends every night to the lowest heaven when one-third of the night remains and says: ‘Who will call upon Me, that I may answer Him? Who will ask of Me, that I may give him? Who will seek My forgiveness, that I may forgive him?’”

When the prayer was over, Safia, Zineb and I stood in the street watching the thousands of people flooding home, and it was like being in a river of light.  We commented how usually we only see these kinds of crowds for soccer games or protests, and it’s heartening to know that life in this land can transcend those kinds of preoccupations.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  I did not have the focus to write during the month itself, but needed to put down these words now.  As my husband pointed out, it’s not my usual style of blogging, not as fun/funny perhaps.  But I know that you all appreciate what is real, and right now, this is what’s real to me.  I’m left subdued by this month, both the physical hardship of it, and the spiritual uplift.  I appreciate all those who have subscribed to the blog and who check in to see what is here, I’m honored to offer you my writing.  And may we all catch a glimpse of more than the eye can see.