Consider “My accidental jihad” – an award winning essay by Krista Bremer (a non-muslim) about being married to Ismail Suayah (a muslim of Libyan origin) during Ramadan.
The essay is a scathing self-critique, of her difficulty in coping with her husband’s piety during Ramadan. In the essay she is unflinching about her reaction and expectations and is frank about how petty her complaints are. But she also is able to look at these in context and understand that there is a higher purpose to Ismail’s fasting – and it serves as an example she wants to learn from.
The purpose of fasting during Ramadan is not simply to suffer hunger, thirst, or desire, but to bring oneself closer to taqwa: a state of sincerity, discipline, generosity, and surrender to Allah; the sum total of all Muslim teachings. When, in a moment of frustration, I grumble to my husband about his bad breath, he responds in the spirit of taqwa: He listens sympathetically and then apologizes and promises to keep his distance. He offers to sleep on the couch if that would make me more comfortable. He says he wishes I had told him earlier so he could have spared me any discomfort. His humility catches me off guard and makes my resentment absurd.
This month of Ramadan has revealed to me the limits of my compassion. I recall a conversation I had with Ismail in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when the word jihad often appeared in news stories about Muslim extremists who were hellbent on destroying the United States. According to Ismail, the Prophet Mohammed taught that the greatest jihad, or struggle, of our lives is not the one that takes place on a battlefield, but the one that takes place within our hearts — the struggle to increase self-discipline and become a better person. This month of Ramadan has thrown me into my own accidental jihad, forcing me to wrestle with my intolerance and self-absorption. And I have been losing ground in this battle, forgetting my husband’s intentions and focusing instead on the petty ways I am inconvenienced by his practice.
(…) I am plump with my husband’s love, overfed by his kindness, yet I still treat our marriage like an all-you-can-eat buffet, returning to him over and over again to fill my plate, as if our vows guaranteed me unlimited nourishment. During Ramadan, when he turns inward and has less to offer me, I feel indignant. I want to make a scene. I want to speak to whoever is in charge, to demand what I think was promised me when I entered this marriage. But now I wonder: Is love an endless feast, or is it what people manage to serve each other when their cupboards are bare?
She’s really trying hard here, and being brutally honest about her failing. But during this confessional, she doesn’t seem able (or willing) to move beyond her recognition of limitation and actually change. The point of our piety in Ramadan is make sacrifices so that we may better ourselves; I suppose all of us also fall short in that regard, so we are as guilty of this as she in a sense.
Related: An interview with the Krista and Ismail lends additional insight into their relationship – they are certainly brave, but there are so many compromises they both must make, it makes me wonder if it’s really worth it. Clearly they think so, which is enough, of course.