This is a guest post by Aamer H. Jamali.
Halfway. What an incredibly loaded word. On the one hand, it emobdies a sense of accomplishment as we realize that it is all downhill from here. On the other hand, we look back at all we’ve done in the past two weeks, and realize… you mean, I have to do the same thing again?!
This Ramadan has been a tougher one than usual. In addition to the heat and the long days, summer Ramadan brings with it other challenges as well. Late sunsets mean late prayers, and late iftaar. Followed in short course by late sleeping. Throw in an early suhoor, and you have two large meals separated by a short period of time (which is spent mostly sleeping). Finally, in the United States at least, there is no adjustment for the morning start time of work or school. The upshot of this confluence of events is a long fast, occurring on hot days and associated with very little sleep and two large, closely spaced meals with very little time for exercise. Needless to say, this is not a recipe for health or happiness.
Another challenge with summer Ramadan is the opportunity cost of fasting. With the nation’s kids off from school, summer is the natural time for family vacations. Of course, with Islamic restrictions against travelling during the fast as well as the necessarily decreased energy levels of the adults during Ramadan, summer vacations for most Muslim families have been abbreviated or cut out altogether this year. In addition, we are often left “minding the shop” and covering for co-workers who are on vacation, hence actually working harder during the fast. All of this combines to lead to bored children being dragged to the mosque every night, and tired parents working overtime.
Challenges should not be confused with excuses. This is Ramadan after all, and an opportunity which we are given only one month out of the year. And most importantly, our actions are a direct result of our own choices. As the Quran reminds us, there is no compulsion in religion.
Unfortunately, however, the challenges above do have a real effect on my ability to observe Ramadan the way that I would want. While I have been fortunate to keep every fast so far, my ability to read the Quran as much as I would like has been limited, and my ability to attend the masjid for regular group prayers (imamat) has been limited to only a fraction of my potential. Even my usual goals of Quranic memorization have been relegated to polishing up those surahs I have already learned. This Ramadan, for me, seems more about surviving than excelling.
More difficult to bear than the pangs of hunger during Ramadan is the feeling that all of my efforts serve merely to keep me treading water–achieving the bare minimum of what I would ask of myself, or what Allah (SWT) would ask of me. But even these types of years have their place in the arc of my life– the disappointment I feel will serve as a fuel for next year, insha-Allah. For this year, I will endeavor to stay in shape by running to stand still.
Aamer H. Jamali, MD, FACC is a cardiologist in Los Angeles, and blogs at Notes from the Heart.