Ramadan serves many purposes, but one of the main things is that it is a wonderful opportunity to practice Da’wa. I may not even have become a Muslim if it hadn’t been for Ramadan. One of my Muslim friends knew that I was interested in Islam and sensed that I was close to making a decision. But what I needed first was to see Muslims in action.
I was more than a little nervous when I went to her house. I didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t know if I was dressed properly; I didn’t know if I would be asked to participate in any way. I knew absolutely nothing about Islamic prayer and I had never seen Muslims praying except for brief glimpses on television.
I didn’t even know if I was late or early because I had no concept of waiting until after sunset to break the fast. I did know that Muslims fasted during Ramadan, but to me that just sounded hard. I had no idea how meaningful it could be.
There were many women there that night, and no men, which surprised me a little although I was aware that Muslims often segregated the sexes. (And these were Libyan and Saudi Arabian Muslims, so it was partly cultural as well.) But what surprised me the most was how much I enjoyed the sisterly fellowship. I didn’t realize at the time that that would be one of the things that drew me to Islam: the fact that Muslim women have a deep connection to one another. I had rarely experienced such camaraderie among women, not even in the Christian churches I’d attended.
We started out with dates and milk to break the fast and then on came the meal. I’d never had Libyan food before and although I found that I liked it very much, I wasn’t used to how full it would make me. Of course, I hadn’t been fasting, so I didn’t have as much room in my stomach as everyone else did.
After the meal, some of the women announced that it was time for prayer. They put on their prayer outfits and got out the prayer rugs and one led the others in prayer. I felt like I was witnessing an intensely private moment and strangely enough, I was sorry that I couldn’t join them. Of course I had no idea what to do; it was obviously something that they were used to doing and I longed for that kind of consistency and practice in my own spiritual life.
Even though there was a lot of Arabic being spoken, the women were careful to include me in their conversations and to explain things to me that they thought I might like to know. I was too shy to ask questions myself, so I really appreciated that.
I learned a lot that night, but the most important thing was that I got to experience the joy and love and excitement of Ramadan. When I left, I had a lot to think about.
Less than three weeks later I said my Shahada, on the last day of Ramadan, 2009. Ramadan will always be a special time for me because it marks when I became a Muslim. But without the willingness of my friends to share it with me, I might not have become a Muslim when I did, or maybe even not at all.
This is just one of the stories that I expect I will have about Ramadan during my life. I’m just now experiencing my second full Ramadan as a Muslim. I pray that this year will be an opportunity for us all to grow closer to Allah and to each other.
What Ramadan stories do you have to share? Did something significant happen to you during Ramadan? Do you have special traditions that you follow? How do you handle the mechanics of it: the fasting, the lack of sleep, the late nights at the mosque? What do you have planned for Ramadan this year?
May Allah bless you all as you prepare for Ramadan and during it. And may He help us to extend the blessings and lessons of Ramadan to the rest of the year.