“Reflections on Ramadan”
By Kenya Numan
The start of Ramadan, while always welcomed, remains challenging those first few days as my schedule abruptly changes. The anticipation that builds in the preceding month seems to carry me through these initial challenges in a good way. Getting into the routine of waking before Fajr prayer to drink a lot and eat a little something to sustain me for the next 17 hours is a necessary adjustment at this time of the year. And, as with every year I am determined to fulfill the goals I set for each Ramadan, and eager for success in accomplishing my goals.
For me, goal setting is key to making this a rewarding and spiritually uplifting experience. As I began this annual journey, the quest to get to a higher spiritual level, to learn more Arabic, to better understand the Quran was my main focus. As a perennial student, always trying to learn more, this month was dedicated to Allah (swt) and my spiritual journey. My work, community, & social activities too a back seat this month, it was like taking a vacation from the outside world. And this year (2014) with all the turmoil around the world, Ramadan could not have arrived soon enough. So for me spending more time in the masjid was important to staying on this month-long spiritual journey. Being more present at the masjid was one of my goals for this Ramadan.
I like to visit different masjids on regular basis throughout the year; during Ramadan this was no different. During a single week I found myself at no less than 5 different places of worship. Each has it own uniqueness and challenges. Usually by the last third of Ramadan, the last ten days, I have determined exactly where I will spend rest of my time. This year I am determined to make Itiqaf regularly; Itiqaf involves seclusion in the masjid to pray, read Quran, perform dhikr (the remembrance of Allah), and supplicate. For sisters, it can be challenging, as there are some masjids that do not have sufficient space for women. Returning to New York City from the San Francisco Bay Area at the start of Ramadan 1434 was particular challenging and did not afford me the opportunity of Itiqaf. However Ramadan 1435 was going to be different!
The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood (MIB), located at 130 West 113 Street, New York, NY 10026 in the heart of Harlem is my home base. While in California I used to performing Itiqaf on any night during those last ten nights, the policy at MIB was for sisters to perform Itiqaf only on the odd nights. Yes, I was quite disappointed when I was informed of the policy but in retrospect I was not able to do much more than those odd nights. That said, the environment was extremely satisfying and nurturing for sisters wanting to get closer to Allah (swt). This masjid is located in a brownstone; the sisters’ area was on the ground level and the brothers’ area was on the second level. The sisters’ area included an entry way and two main areas, one for salat (prayer) and another for gathering, socializing, & eating.
The second area was where we broke fast and where mothers with small children would stay if they chose. This fully carpeted room was decorated in a rich burgundy olive décor, contains a plush sofa with two accompanying chairs and an open space. There was a small side room, like a functional utility area for food preparation & storage. This second area also had two refrigerators (a full sized and a mini), a small guest bathroom, and a two storage closets. The fully carpeted salat area was open, with the one-third back area containing several rows of chairs. I must state that this area was smaller than the social area and got quite cramped during Ramadan. But when walking into it the serenity, stillness, and comfort was engulfing, especially when there were just a few or no sisters within. Ahhhhhh, it was so satisfying to be present at MIB during this month, if only the space was larger. There was only enough space for 5-6 sisters standing wall-to-wall in a single prayer row. However I determined this was my designated spot for Itiqaf this year, and Insha’Allah the community will be blessed with larger facilities in the future. But here I was at peace.
During Ramadan the sisters were invited to join the brothers for Isha and Taraweeh prayer on the second level at MIB. The first night I stayed after Iftar (fast breaking meal) for Isha & Taraweeh the announcement over the speaker took me aback, because it felt like I was being ordered to come upstairs. While the majority of the sisters did file up the narrow staircase I chose to remain on the ground level for several reasons. First, my knee pain had increased substantially during this month with all the rakats (units of prayer) I was performing. Second, there was a disabled sister who would not have been able to join us on the second-level as this building did not have an elevator. And third, my stubbornness at not wanting to be told I had to do something I did not want. I loved praying downstairs in the sanctity of the sisters’ area. So I remained below. I should note that on subsequent nights, we were no longer ordered by imam, we were invited to ascend. And on the one night when there were other sisters to remain below with the disabled sister I ascended to pray in the brother’s area for Isha & Taraweeh. Overall my time at MIB was gratifying, fulfilling, and spiritually uplifting, which was exactly what I needed!
After all, Ramadan is about discipline, getting closer to The Almighty Allah (swt), being prayerful, adhering to the virtues of forgiveness, charity, and getting to know the Quran even more. I am diligent about my daily prayers but there is always room for improvement, so I strive to always make my prayers on time, letting nothing come between me & Allah (swt) during his month is my firm focus. The physical fast is easy, it is the mental fast that is always challenging for me. Keeping my lips from uttering negative words or thoughts, refraining from gossip, backbiting and the like is the daily challenge.