I find my friend in the room; we greet one another with an extended heartfelt hug. She gives me advice: “When you stand for prayer, do not make the mistake of lowering your neck too far down. You lower your gaze, not your neck. Keep your posture straight. God loves beauty and humility. Focus to the spot where you will prostrate. If not, you will get a cramp.”
I look around, within minutes the room is full, cramped. There are women and children on every inch of carpet, eager to begin praying to their Lord. I cannot help but think, the last time I was in a room this full at night was probably a nightclub, throwing my arms and hair around to a beat. I feel a rush of excitement for this new experience – this new spiritual ambiance – an excitement that wonders what life as a Muslim will be like. I have my hair covered. I am wearing loose clothing. I am standing for the night prayers in Ramaḍān. Me. I am standing to pray to God.
The heart wanders to my non-Muslim family. They no longer speak to me since knowing I am Muslim. I close my eyes and ask God to bring them back into my life.
The Imām calls out, “Allāhu Akbar”. We are all standing. The prayer has begun. I do not know what the meaning of the words are. I do not know why we stand so close, shoulder to shoulder. I do not know what to do in the special Ramaḍān prayers. I do not know why tears have begun to stream down my face. I cry and cry at the sound of the prayers. The hall is full of sweetness – a sweet sound of rhythmic Arabic. I hear God’s name mentioned every so often and I want to hold my arms up and say thank you. I cry with gratitude.
Ramaḍān is a time when families get together; share meals; begin their fast in the early hours of the morning together; attend religious motivational talks; stand in night prayers together; shop; and celebrate the coming Eid together. For reverts like me, however, the experience can be quite different.
I have been Muslim for ten years. I came from a very liberal, secular family. We were not particularly religious. My family were my best friends. We were happy. I loved and still love them deeply. Yet for me, there was something lacking. I wanted answers, the usual kind. What happens when you die? What is our purpose? Why is there so much suffering? And so on. I found all the answers in Islām. However, it came at the cost of losing my whole family. I am ten years in, still without my family. This is the situation for many reverts – disowned by the entire family or most of them. As reverts, we find solace in what we have gained and think hopefully for our loss.
My first Ramaḍān experience summarises my life as a Muslim revert. I stood with a friend and I continue to. In my friends, I have found a whole family – they cannot replace the love of a mother or father – but they come with a loving sincerity and gentleness that eases the sadness and creates layers upon layers of happiness.
During my first Ramaḍān, I cried in gratitude and I continue to. I do not miss or feel an absence from my old lifestyle. I appreciate my upbringing and my experiences pre-Islām. I believe my old environment and experiences have shaped who I am today. Now, I feel grateful to have a strong connection to all people regardless of their faith, gender, or race. I am blessed to fit in and have a love for people based upon humanity. My belonging, however, is in the lines of prayers – shoulder to shoulder – to worship God.
Green Lane Masjid was where I proclaimed my faith, where I met my friends and where I first prayed. I continue to do so. I have remained with the masjid; my heart remains firmly attached to the community outreach work, the local and global charity work, and the wonderful inspirational lectures it delivers daily. I find comfort in walls where the call to prayer is read and where people continue to smile at me and give their salāms.
Ten years down the line, I wake up in the early hours of the morning for suhūr and eat a slice of Marmite toast, accompanied by a strong cup of Yorkshire tea. I sit absorbing the beauty of the sky at daybreak. During the day, I do my usual school runs; I take naps; I tutor English; I serve people around me in any possible way; I read the Qur’an; I listen to Islamic talks; I listen to Russell Brand, and I cook my favourite childhood vegetarian food. I never quite reached the meat-eating frenzy that many Muslims are acquired to! I break my fast sometimes with friends, with my children, or in my content solitude. The food is absolute, after a long fast, and it is exquisite. I look into my plate and it is only a pasta bake, but the most well-earned pasta bake you have had all year. A delicious victory.
The fasts are long and can be tiring, but the optimism and trust in a reward far greater sees you through to the end of an approximately 18-hour fast. The health benefits in fasting provide the physical and worldly rewards of the month.
Muslims use the blessings of Ramaḍān to obtain good deeds and great reward. I try my utmost to gain reward from good deeds and also use the month for inner reflection, something our Prophet Muḥammad (ṣall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) encouraged. For some reason, the analogy of completing your annual tax form comes to mind. I reflect upon what my profits were, last Ramaḍān to this year’s, I thank God for all the good. I reflect upon my losses, where and why I slipped, setting new goals for improvement. I reflect upon my assets and ways to maintain and give back to the relationships that are my security net. I reflect upon my guidance, my motivation for the business of life; the pursuit of an eternity of happiness.
As a revert Muslim born in the UK, I am blessed to appreciate what can sometimes feel like two worlds. I hope for unity, the rising of acceptance and tolerance for all people, the true beauty of a multicultural, multifaith Great Britain. I pray Ramaḍān brings us all closer together. Āmīn.