By Nadia Cassim

Ramadan in Arabic is derived from the word Ramida¹ which means to ‘be hot’ and was initially observed during one of the hot months in the desert region of Saudi Arabia. On this bitterly cold winter’s day in Johannesburg however, nothing can be further from the primary experience as the holy month of Ramadan finally embraces us. I ponder over the year that has gone by- or rather, sped by– since the previous fasting month and marvel at how much has happened since . I am also saddened when I think of how little of it I have had the chance to reflect upon.

It has occurred to me that time is no longer tangible. With the hustle and bustle of city life and the demands of living in a western society, I find myself constantly battling between trying to observe my religious duties diligently and keeping up with what is expected of a working woman. Fortunately, having a flexible work environment has allowed me to keep up with my daily prayers unlike most women who find themselves in the corporate world, working strict hours and under constant surveillance. I often wonder then, how does such a remarkable woman manage to balance her spirituality with the demands of daily living when the holy month of Ramadan emerges? Not only is she up an hour earlier than the rest of the household preparing the predawn meal for the family- and this is not to say that men don’t do the same, but I find this to be the norm in most circles- but she is the nominated one in the family to get the kids ready for school, make lunches, go to work and still come back home to prepare the meal to be eaten at dusk. What strikes me as more incredible however, is the grace with which she does all this and without a word of complaint.

This last point is important to note. Ramadan is the month of abstinence and restraint. Not only are we going through our days as if skipping a meal and abstaining from drinking a beverage are one of those things we do on a regular basis, but we challenge ourselves to engage in the most honourable behavioural patterns. We challenge ourselves to be kinder and more considerate of others. We try our best to be patient, tolerant and respectful to those around us. Furthermore, we are encouraged to engage in ‘giving’ rather than ‘receiving’. We are challenged to introspect and establish a firmer hold of our faith. In other words, we refrain from evil doings and try to connect with the Almighty on a higher, more spiritually enlightened level. This sentiment is iterated twofold in the Holy Quran where Allah says:

“Ramadan is the (month) in which the Quran was sent down, as a guide to mankind and a clear guidance and judgment (so that mankind will distinguish from right and wrong)…” (Q 2:183)

Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you many learn piety and righteousness” (Q 2:183)

Piety and Righteousness! Now those are two powerful words that play on my heartstrings when contemplating the month ahead. With such busy schedules, oftentimes we don’t stop to think of how to attain and better these two fundamental qualities. Ramadan offers us the opportunity to focus on these qualities with the hope of keeping steadfast in the year ahead. As a working woman and mother of two I will be the first to admit that this challenge is anything but easy and superficial. After a tiring day at work and with a body spent of all energy, it is only after the kids are tucked into bed that I have the quietude required to sit and reflect, worship and make inner steps towards connecting with my Creator. In my humble opinion, this connection is pivotal in obtaining a level of piety.  The outcome is without doubt, rewarding. This is echoed in the Quran where the Almighty addresses mankind by saying:

..And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew.” (Q 2:184)

My last thoughts wonder to the Night of Power! How rewarding after a lengthy month of abstinence and patience. Allah says:

“Indeed We have revealed it (Qur’an) in the night of Power. And what will explain to you what the night of Power is? The night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein descends the Angels and the Spirit (Jibreel) by Allah’s permission, on every errand: (they say) “Peace” (continuously) till the rise of Morning!” (Q 97:1-5)

To be honest, I think that I look forward to this night more than any other day or night of the year. How comforting it is to know that all your supplications are being met with the words of ‘peace’, surrounded by the light of the Almighty and the angels! So with my last lunchtime mug of hot tea to my lips for the next thirty days ahead, I say wholeheartedly to all those entering Ramadan this year may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon you…