by Mahasin Shamsid-Deen
During the month of Ramadan we often receive a lot of information instructing us on its significance, what to do and what nullifies a fast. However, we often overlook other aspects of the human condition and things that we either impose upon ourselves or have imposed upon us that impact the full experience.
1. Ibadah: During the month of Ramadan we increase our ibadah with the fasting, reading the Qur’an, extra prayers, kindness, charitable deeds and heightened consciousness of striving to please our Lord. However, ‘your’ ibadah is not mine and some family members may leave off responsibilities that impact the family. Remember that we have rights over each other.
Islam is a religion of common sense. During Itikaf, a time of intense spiritual reflection, Rasullah (peace be upon him) would not leave to visit the sick or attend a funeral. Yet it is reported in Sahih Bukhari of an incident where that he left to escort Safiyyah home after she came to visit him during the night. He saw himself responsible for her safety. This is an example of the rights our families have over us even in the midst of our own heightened spirituality.
2. Moonsighting Conflicts: Each year the start and end of the month of Ramadan is determined by the sighting of the moon. Therefore, even if a start day is listed on a calendar or ‘determined’ a few days before, it is important to follow this Sunnah. There is little need to complain or argue about errors nor demean or defame those who start on a different day. This is an unnecessary fitnah that compromises the collective spirit of the ummah. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) is reported in both Bukhari as relaying that Allah says “Every deed of Adam’s son is for him except fasting, it is for Me (Allah) and I shall reward (the fasting person) for it”. Fasting is between the individual and his Lord, and Allah tells us in the Holy Qu’ran that “O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result.” [Qur’an: Chapter 4, Verse 59]
3. Traditions: The month of Ramadan has its own traditions that are expanded upon by the family and culture in which we live. This may be anything from iftar and sahoor meals to how the Eid is observed. Families over time develop a habit of what will happen each year. Even family traditions that we once loved can become old. They may no longer be age appropriate, relevant in the current environment or even enjoyed. Don’t assume that just because you’ve been doing them forever that they’re still working. If they are, great, if not, change them! Or on the flip side, does your family even have traditions for the month of Ramadan? – if not start some.
4. Cooking and Preparing: Some families may find that they have one person who does all the planning, cooking, cleaning and preparation for the month of Ramadan. This person may be overwhelmed since they are not exempt from fasting or increasing their own ibadah. It is important for families to be aware of what we impose on each other. Making a schedule of shared duties is always a good idea and is a sadaqah that will enhance the month of Ramadan for the entire family Volunteer and pitch in when necessary. Rasullah (peace be upon him) said “Every act of goodness is a sadaqah”. [Muslim]
5. Finances: It is a good idea to discuss and set a budget ahead of time and stick to it. Zakatul-Fitr is due at the end of the month of Ramadan. In addition, there are expenses of gifts to family and friends, more sadaqah than usual, extra gas mileage to and from the masjid and even the expense of extra food for potlucks or iftars and dinners held at your home. There is also the trend in many Islamic centers to use the month of Ramadan as a time to fundraise for expenses, programs or schools. Some will have a ‘fund raising’ iftar practically every weekend for the community. Be aware that all of this ‘giving’ can put a strain on the family budget. We are reminded of the man who was dying and had only one heir, a daughter, that when he asked how much to give away, Rasullah (peace be upon him) instructed him that even giving away a third may be too much because it was better to leave one heirs well off then give so much they are forced into poverty or begging. Islam is a religion of moderation and we remind ourselves that balance is needed even with our good intentions.
6. Stress and Depression: Although many Muslims are reluctant to discuss that the month of Ramadan may cause stress or depression, this is a human reality. The stress of fasting on the body, Taraweh, or even extra company is best relieved with rest during the day before the evening activities. On the flip side, resting too much creates the stress of inactivity and boredom. In this case the remedy is extra Ibadah, work and charitable deeds. Depression during the month of Ramadan may be caused by separation from family, health issues, financial concerns or loneliness and isolation. Community reluctance to acknowledge the problem only exacerbates the problem. We may reach out to each other for friendly or even professional help. The Best Help comes from Allah, The Most High as we read the Qur’an for comfort and guidance and make dua:
“I ask You by every Name belonging to You which You named Yourself with…that You make the Qur’an the life of my heart and the light of my breast, and a departure for my sorrow and a release for my anxiety” [Ahmed].
7. Socialization: There may be many events that you may want to attend during the month of Ramadan. Discuss and coordinate invitations with your family. It is Sunnah to acknowledge and respond to an invitation. Rasullah (peace be upon him) explained “If you are invited by two people at the same time, accept the invitation of him whose door is closer to you because the rights of the one whose door is closer to you come first.” [Abu Dawud]. This is important since the Muslim community by and large is isolated into cultural cliques. There are Muslims who have migrated to the US and have never invited an American convert to their home to enjoy iftar and dinner. There are American Muslims who have never socialized outside their madhab. On the flip side, some Muslims have absolutely NO socialization during the month of Ramadan receiving no invitations because they are new, live too far away or a different race/ethnic group. A man asked the Prophet (peace be upon him), “What Islamic traits are the best?” The Prophet said, “Feed the people, and greet those whom you know and those whom you do not know.” [Bukhari] Khutbahs abound of Muslim fraternity, but the reality is quite a bit less, so the month of Ramadan is a time to balance our words with real actions.
8. Family and In-Laws: The month of Ramadan is a time for family, but we can have difficult family members. If you have non-Muslim or non-practicing family members, it is important to use your best judgment of how to interact. If they disrupt your fast with their behavior or speech, don’t engage but rather refer back to the hadith related by Abu Huraira “Fasting is a shield. When any one of you is fasting on a day, he should neither indulge in obscene language, nor raise the voice; or if anyone reviles him or tries to quarrel with him he should say: I am a person fasting.” [Muslim]
In-laws, can be an additional challenge especially for couples of mixed cultures. Compromise best ensures that everyone feels their rights have been recognized and the tranquility maintained.
9. Children: Muslim children participate in the month of Ramadan even at a young age. It has been reported that Umar (peace be upon him) observed a man drunk in the streets during the month of Ramadan and admonished him by quizzing “How could you be drunk, when our children are fasting?” This implies that at that time youth may have fasted regularly. There are varying opinions of how or when children fast, but children must see themselves as being a part of this blessed time. Young children can do crafts, memorize surahs and attend iftars. Older children can take turns preparing iftar and sahoor. Teens can do charitable deeds and not sleep the day away.
Blended families can be a challenge especially if there are custody battles or situations where the children may not be practicing Muslims after the separation and now think or behave differently. It is important to have limits and have open and honest discussions ahead of time about what is expected of these children.
10. Summer Time: Because we live all over the world, the length of our fasting day varies by hemisphere. During the summer around the equator the day may be 12 or 13 hours, whereas it is 15 to 17 hours in the northern hemisphere. This means late dinners, late Taraweh, short nights and long hot days. Some suffer heat exhaustion and sleep deprivation. Be aware that fasting is prescribed in the Holy Qur’an, but our bodies have rights over us and pushing yourself to do nafl activities may be physically harmful. The urge to be active during the long nights must be moderated that the day will come.
“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous” [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 183