"Subhanallah, Wa-Alhamdulillah, Allahuakbar," I whisper, holding my prayer beads in my right hand. I sit with my legs crossed on my prayer mat; my daughter sits on my left thigh while my son is on my right thigh. He helps me move the beads on the string after each sacred word, enjoying the sound they make as they hit each other.
My stomach growls in anticipation of iftar. The table is full of food my husband and I prepared minutes before. Asr prayer just completed, I close my eyes and savor the blessings I sometimes take for granted.
"Subhanallah, Wa-Alhamdulillah, Allahuakbar."
I called Mama before Ramadan started and asked her what she was doing.
"Ramadan is around the corner; I am preparing samosas, eggrolls, koftas, and kababs to freeze for iftar. Have you started planning for Ramadan yet?"
An image of my empty freezer popped into my head.
"Well, yes, I am planning," being as truthful as possible, "I am going to make a shopping list tonight and shop," I said
"What about for your soul, what have you planned for that?" Mama asked me.
I thought about all the many bad habits I had picked up since last Ramadan.
"Yes, Mama, I have been thinking about my soul."
Ever since I was a young girl, I knew that Ramadan was an extraordinary time of the year. It is a time when there was an abundance of everything in our lives -- food, family, friends, love, giving, forgiving, and prayers.
Much to the exasperation of my parents, I insisted on fasting all 30 of the fasts, including on school days, when I was only seven-years-old. My parents instructed my teacher to keep an eye on me -- to feed me and give me water if I felt faint. But I spent the whole day -- even sitting through lunch in the cafeteria- without craving a bite. Thoughts of iftar and breaking fast with my family kept me strong and full.
While breaking our fasts, Baba asked us to pray; to remember all that we were blessed with and to thank Allah for these blessings. He then reminded us of those who never broke their fasts because they were too poor to buy food to eat. Our iftars were a time for deep reflection.
When my teacher asked the class to make a map of our imaginary land, using geography terms we had just learned, I created my home in heaven, a private island for my family and me. I knew that if I followed Allah's path, by loving others more than I loved myself and praying sincerely, that I would end up in heaven, inshaAllah, if Allah willed. I spent the period perfecting the honey and milk river and my candy-coated castle. I made peninsulas, plateaus, and even added tropical rain forestsI had learned about in Science period, all while thinking about meeting Allah when I went to heaven.
While I have been praying since around the time I started fasting, when I was about seven-years-old, prayer has always been a part of my life. In my family album, there is one picture of me praying next to Mama, I must have been about two or three. My Baba took the picture, and instead of focusing on the mat, like I remember Mama instructing me to, I posed for the picture, staring right into the lens.
Right before taking the picture, Mama took one of her white cotton scarves and carefully wrapped it on my head -- wrapping once on my forehead and behind my ears, the second time covering my ears, and further back on my head, she tucked the end under my chin, and she pushed back my hair. I couldn't move my head much because of the bulk under my chin, but my mom had done a good job making sure the scarf stayed in place -- only a few errant strands of my bangs refused to conform.
Baba told me stories from the Quran and the Prophet's life since before I was able to fully comprehend who it was that he spoke of and even before I learned the Arabic alphabet. I grew up very aware of Allah's presence in my life -- Allah's presence everywhere.
We prayed with my father, who made sure we realized that Allah heard what we thought and saw what we did in private. I felt that this made Allah closer to me than anyone else I knew. Baba taught me that prayer was more than ritualistic moves; through his lived example, he showed me that prayer was my communication with Allah and my time to remember and worship Allah.
When I prayed taraweeh, the last prayer of the day, my mother gave me loose beads from a broken necklace of hers to help count which rakah I was on. She placed a glass of water on my desk to drink for when I was thirsty. She then left me, telling me that prayer is a time between me and Allah.
Ramadan is a chance for me to not only be forgiven for my past sins but for my soul to gain nourishment and become closer to my Creator, Allah.
This year, I plan to read more Quran, not gossip, be kind to the elderly/children, stay in touch with loved ones and mostly be mindful of my prayers (all bad habits I want to correct). I hope these resolutions, especially the quality of my prayers last past the sacred month of Ramadan and become a part of who I am.
Daily, I go through the memorized, calculated motions, yet I feel as if I have forgotten the true meaning behind prayer that I had learned so long ago.
During Ramadan, what I struggle with more than not being able to eat and drink when I want is mastering my emotions and reminding myself that everything I do is for the sake of Allah.
Controlling my urges, physical and mental, strengthens my soul and then my body. And I also find that by rising above my bodily needs forces me to recognize and be more in tune with my soul. I pray that my mind becomes clearer and I am able to pray and remember Allah with more clarity. The clarity I seemed to have had more of when I was a child.
And this time, when I draw my map of heaven, I will add my little family, including my son, Ibrahim, who is waiting for me at the gates of heaven. This image only makes my yearning to please Allah sweeter and more intense.