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.


19 thoughts on “It’s not detox, and other Ramadan reflections

  1. Salaam alaikum,
    Thanks Sister, you put to words many of the thoughts and feelings I have during ramadan,
    especially about the Lailatul Qadr… I don’t know why but sometimes I wish non-muslims could appreciate how amazing our worship is, how communal while simultaneously being so individualized…I wish the whole world could understand how beautiful God’s path is, and when immersed & together we are “like a river of light” as you say.
    Your post transmits my wish….I hope those who don’t know or understand Islam find their way to your post, maybe they can catch a glimpse of the wonder and utter soul contentment we are blessed with during ramadan and other times…..
    Eid mubarak….

  2. Moim says:

    SubhanaAllah, I wish I read it a month ago. I feel like I have wasted the month, I feel like it was just about thirst and hunger and about how to make it through the month. Your words are very powerful, dear Nora.
    May Allah accept our prayers, duas and forgive us.

  3. Abdurrahman says:

    Thank you for these nafahaat, breezes of the spirit, bringing us the perfume of this month that have reached you. Another amazing aspect is that because this is based on the lunar calendar, it is never quite the same. If God grants us a long life, Ramadan might coincide exactly with the month of August, as it did this year, maybe twice in an adult life-time. Also, about the Night of Power being better than “a thousand months” —- that’s about 83 years, a good long life in the USA.

  4. Assalaamu alaikum sister,

    I remember reading your Ramadhan post last year, it was just about the time I started following your blog. Your words stuck in my mind ”Altered state”. As your husband said, this post is not the same as the others and I think it is so because it is filled with humility and may Allah bless you. Just like sister Moim I also felt as if I wasted the time but I feel this way more or less every year and may Allah reward us for that which we did, forgive us our sins and grant us life until the next Ramadhan so we can plunge into worshiping him again and devote more and more of our our time to Him. And let’s start doing that right now. Thank you for your sharing your thoughts sister and may Allah reward you for I am sure you have moved a few hearts.
    Greetings of peace to you and your family
    PS Hope the homeschooling is on a good way for you, I would love to hear more about it.

  5. Catherine says:

    I found your post rich and illuminating, thank you. I didn’t personally do the fast this year but felt a little of the spiritual magic you describe, nonetheless.
    Please keep us in touch via the blog with the homeschooling venture1

  6. salam aleikoum sister, my eyes are filled with tears and humility. mashallah, you’ve put it all into words. all the feelings, the striving, the difficulties (especially the fasting in the heat of marrakech), the power of the ummah’ and the beauty of worship. subhanallah. I wish I would have been with you at the Koutoubia the 27th… I can imagine everything, the light, the atmosphere, and even the supplication of the Imam and the sobs of the people, as if I were there,- it makes me feel very weak but also very blessed at the same time. Thank you for sharing. I love you for the sake of Allah, Allahumma taquabbil minni oua minkoum. May Allah bless us with these strong feelings of faith during the whole year.

  7. I finally get the time to read it and I can only say what a beautiful testimony of this special time of the year it is. I remember when seeing the Koutoubia for the first time feeling a sensation of peace and serenity.
    I can only imagine how it was on the 27, how it was for Muslims to be gathered in one place and worship / pray God with all their heart.

    I have discovered the beauty of prayer this year so I can so relate to it. How the difficulties, the striving were lost in the beauty of waking up before dawn and meeting God.

    Be blessed for sharing your thoughts and story with us.

  8. Salaam Nora, I thought of you so much throughout ramadan and reading this made me long to be somewhere like this to experience ramadan entirely in this way, inshallah one day. I hope you are all well……thinking of you often much love and salaams Tamsin xx

  9. Jamila says:

    Thank you dear Nora for your strength and your eye and your voice. It is hard to come away from that month of blessings and resume pedestrian life. May we remain uplifted in the beauty of the soul as you describe.
    Peace and love,
    Mama Jamila

  10. Mashallah, this is just the right thing for me to read right now, in anticipation of the last ten days of Ramadan this year. I find it so sad not to have that immense communal spirit in doing a Muslim practice in a non-Muslim country, especially something like tarawih (and especially on Lailat al-Qadr). There are small groups of Muslims for sure, but nothing like the stadium-esque proportions you describe so eloquently. Inshallah though there are great blessings in battling on alone, or nearly alone. Those moments of feeling whooshed away in certainty, security and community make the difficulties of alienation and isolation dissolve to nothing…until the next time you have to go back to ‘civilisation’ at least!

  11. Slm dear Sister

    I really enjoyed the few posts here that I’ve read and feel you are the right person to make my inquiry to. Please read this carefully and if you care to reply via email, I will be most grateful. Address:

    I am planning to travel to Morocco with my husband soon…a long held dream. We are in a dilemma whether to travel in July (during Ramadan) or in December when all reassurances are that the weather would be better. These are also the only months that we both have a leave period of about 2 weeks off work. (My husband teaches and I have left education for community development.)
    I’m inclined to the July option since I would love to experience Ramadan in your country…but not as a tourist. I have spent years teaching English to foreigners here in Cape Town and know how much it means to another Muslim to be invited home for iftaar, sharing family traditions and other special moments. Without a personal contact that seems near impossible. For this reason I am keen to make contact with someone who would be willing to personalise our experience of Ramadan in Morocco. I have considered seeking a host family but again am not quite sure where to start. I am seeking your advice- not as a travel agent, but a fellow Muslim with a love of sharing culture and beauty, as evidenced by your blog…and hopefully, as a friend.

    I currently work in an NGO which also runs skills development programs for women at risk. I am therefore very inspired by your women’s training center and would love the opportunity to visit and share challenges of making this kind of difference.

    I would love to hear from you and look forward to your assistance in enhancing both our Moroccan experience and our Ramadan inshaAllah.

    Ma aSalaama,

  12. Julia says:

    salam aleky dear sister
    in this first day of ramadan of juillet 2013, in france, I am seekink since few day for a word that will switch on that incandescent light of faith i have from time to time and i feel lost when it’s gone. (not le faith is gone, but that intense feeling)
    i asked Allah aza wa jala few hours ago during ‘asr praying time to re-light my heart.
    I converted 11 years ago and today by reading your text, that i found complety by “chance” today (i didn’t know your blog) i got again the same feeling i had when i pronounce my sha’ada in the mosq where i converted. Your words are letting Allah’s Light going through, like a prisme, or clear and pure water, til my heart. May the Portection and te Peace of God be on you, and help us all to clear our heart in order to let Light’s going through and reflects on others. Salam alekom wa rahmatulah wa barakatuh

    • I don’t know what to say, except that I’m grateful that Allah answered your prayers for light and inspiration, and humbled that you found them in my often inadequate words. I’m praying that Allah will fill your heart with light until it overflows onto all those around you and every part of your life.
      Wa alaykom salam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu,

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