- Published on Saturday, 11 August 2012 00:51
- Written by Sadaf Farooqi
The adrenaline is pumping as the athlete's feet pound the turf.
His breath comes in gasps; his charging body is tired but, by now, is in perfect harmony with the added strain and muscular stress of running many laps.
By now he is running effortlessly, his limbs no longer protesting to the consistent exertion.
As the last lap starts, the feeling of excitement builds up inside, and his mind becomes even more alert, despite the physical fatigue.
As soon as he spots the finishing line in the distance, his heart skips a beat, giving him the incentive to push himself even harder to achieve fruition. By now, when the end of his toils is near and in sight, his whole being - physical, mental, emotional, psychological - has been disciplined and taxed by the persistent, forced physical activity to harmonize as one entity charging in unison towards a coveted goal - the final destination.
The end is insight. The excitement is intense.
Olympics & Ramadan Analogy
The analogy above has less to do with the ongoing Olympic games and more to do with the "last lap" of the blessed month of Ramadan that is commencing for us Muslims. I have described the physical, mental and emotional condition of an athlete running the last lap of the marathon in order to draw some parallels.
I'd like to compare such an athlete to the penitent, humbled Muslim who has been diligently observing the diverse rituals of worship in Ramadan since 20 days viz. fasting from dawn to dusk, sleeping little during the night, controlling anger and quelling hatred, standing in prayer at night, speaking less, giving food, money and better social etiquette in charity, and last but not least: reading, reciting and pondering upon a portion of the Quran every day - all in the hope of getting closer to God and seeking forgiveness for past sins.
When Ramadan starts, most Muslims are not in the habit of fasting numerous consecutive days. Hence, their body initially "protests" i.e. they experience some symptoms of food withdrawal for the first week or so, such as headaches, nausea and stomach upsets (mostly due to overeating at Iftar and Suhoor), sleep pattern disturbances and slight emotional irritability.
As the days of Ramadan progress, however, the Muslim's body and soul quickly adapt to the new, different routine of eating, sleeping, work and worship imposed upon it according to a strict, disciplined schedule.
By the time the last ten days of Ramadan roll around, the Muslim is in this prime state of spiritual "inertia"
By the time Ramadan hits the half-mark, most Muslims have comfortably settled into their unique fasting and worship rituals. I personally do not feel any more the mid-afternoon hunger pangs that I felt during the first 10 days of Ramadan.
By this phase of the month, when the last third is starting, I am actually experiencing a gradual loss of appetite that makes me want to, instead, actually reduce my food portion-size at both, suhoor as well as iftar. The body has got the message by now: it has been disciplined to let go of its clinginess to frequent doses of food nutrition and sleep, and is instead now "feeding" more on the spiritual nutrition of taqwa (consciousness of God), selfless empathy (giving food and money to others in a state of hunger and thirst), and the recitation of Quran.
By the time the last ten days of Ramadan roll around, the Muslim is in this prime state of spiritual "inertia" - all set for the "last lap" of the Ramadan marathon. This lap is the most "strenuous" phase of the whole month, yet oddly enough, by the time it rolls around, the fasting Muslim has been prepared well for it. The sunnah of Prophet Muhammad indicates that Muslims should buck up for some more intense worship now:
"When the last ten days of Ramadan began, the Prophet would tighten his waist-wrapper (meaning he would stay away from marital relations), spend his nights in prayer, and wake his family." (Muslim)
How can we garner for ourselves some exclusivity with God during the last ten days of Ramadan, to focus on worship?
Unplug the 'Cord': Block or Restrict Online Social Media Access
Tapping, clicking, and typing away on our phones, notebooks, tablet PC's and desktop computers has become second nature for most of us. Many Muslims are online on social media websites and apps almost 24/7 nowadays, either by choice or due to work. Thanks to the short nights of Ramadan, most of which are spent awake due to prayer and meals, connectivity is even more "real time".
Try to "switch off" - literally - after 20th. Ramadan. Tell yourself that these last 10 nights of Ramadan come just once a year, whereas our distractive online conversations, comments, status updates and information sharing go on for the rest of it. Snap yourself away from your latest online friends' updates, photos, and tweets. Even avoid articles, over-sensationalized breaking news, and random television viewing. Also try not to get attracted by commercial advertisements of sales, coupons, discounts and shopping deals in magazines, newspapers and brochures to avail them for Eid!
Resist the Urge to Host or Attend Suhoor or Iftar Banquets at Homes or Restaurants
It is wise to reserve all our energies during the last ten nights of Ramadan for worshipping God at night. This will not be possible if we go out of the house earlier in the day to attend a banquet for iftar, or if we spend hours in the kitchen preparing to host one at our own home.
Many Muslims attend late night qiyam al layl prayers in congregation during the last odd nights of Qadr (Power) which culminate with lavish suhoor banquets. Though well-intentioned, some of these gatherings end up having a festive, 'party-like' atmosphere and turn into social events, with some attendees breaking away from prayer to sit together in cliques at the back, eating and chatting away about worldly matters, while their children run around playing even as congregational qiyam al layl prayers are going on. This is quite uncalled for during the precious last nights of Ramadan.
Resist the Desire to Go Eid Shopping
I don't know about others, but the special Eid sale and discount-deal advertisements displaying couture and fashion accessories that started cropping up on screens and billboards in my cosmopolitan city ever since Ramadan started, strike me as extremely dichotomous!
Eid is all about celebrating the fact that we, the Muslim ummah, spent a whole month in devout worship, doing righteous deeds and remembering God more than we normally do. Eid preparations should therefore never become the cause of distracting us from worship during Ramadan!
We should thus make a conscious effort to keep our discussions, actions and attentions focused on worship and repentance during the last few nights that Ramadan is still with us; instead of on what to buy, what to cook, what gifts to give, and what to wear on Eid day.
Spend Less Time in the Kitchen
Even if you are not attending or hosting banquets, you can still end up spending more time in the kitchen than in devout worship, if you cling to 'old school' methods of cooking and insist on needless culinary perfectionism. Try to rely on healthy 'readymade' foods for suhoor and iftar, such as dates, fruit, milk, nuts, and packaged breads. Try availing affordable takeout or simple, one-stop, one-pot, easy-prep baked or simmered meals to do the work for you, such as slow-cooker or oven-bake recipes, stews, casseroles and grilled meats that do not require much chopping, kneading, frying, sautéing or cooking time.
Exclusiveness Even From Your Spouse
The Prophet was the most pious amongst us, yet even he abstained from having sexual relations with his wives (which is halal) during the last ten nights of Ramadan. He would isolate himself from social interactions in the masjid for a ten-day exclusive period in solitary communion with his lord, a praiseworthy, Ramadan-related social isolation known as i'tikaf. During this time, he would review Quran as usual with Archangel Gabriel, as was his routine during Ramadan every year, in addition to praying qiyam al layl. As the above-quoted hadith states, he would also encourage and involve his family members to pray at night.
If the tired but exhilarated athlete who is approaching the finishing line of this marathon, having spent the last many laps physically disciplining his body into optimum performance and unswerving mental focus on achieving his goal, allowed himself to get distracted by the hordes of awaiting, cheering, waving, and applauding fans gathered in the sidelines to witness his "win", would he not lose focus and end up spoiling his whole previous preparatory effort to achieve a record-breaking sprint, at the very last minute?
It is time for us to get cracking on night prayers, Quran recitation, tearful repentance and intense, deep, dua'!