Ramadan Means … by Radiya Hafiza

What does Ramadan mean to me? It feels difficult to find one word but I think ultimately, for me, it’s about TRYING. Ramadan is the time for me to try and be a better Muslim, to get closer to Allah, to pause and take account of myself, and particularly my heart. Where am I? Where am I going? And how do I get there?

There’s no other time of year where I’m able to try as hard as I do than during Ramadan. I’m grateful for the blessings of this month, the ease that’s given to us by Allah to help us fast, do good deeds and extra prayers. During this month, I try to stay away from being mindless and limit my own pastimes like TV and social gatherings (not always successful), and try instead to fill my heart with what it’s missing which is the worship and remembrance of Allah.

It’s a bit of a religious and spiritual bootcamp for me; trying to go back to the essence of what I believe I’m here for. I always have grand plans for this month but never get to achieve as much as I aimed to, but I take some comfort in knowing that I’ve tried. This is my first Ramadan as a new mum so I’ve found I don’t have time to do even a third of what I normally used to. So instead I’m trying to do things like praying my five prayers on time, tasbeeh throughout the day, reciting some Quran, or listening to short reminders online. I’m trying to rid my heart of its grudges and ill feelings, trying to clean my tongue so it speaks only good or remains silent. It’s hard to confront yourself and work on your shortcomings but I want to leave Ramadan better than I entered it, even if the changes are small.

I know I can fall short in trying to do the right thing, in trying to be a good Muslim, but Ramadan reminds me that there is always time and space to do something good, even if it’s a little thing like sharing food with neighbours or giving charity. Living through Ramadan reminds me that there is more to life
than its usual rites as my priorities often get clouded throughout the rest of the year.

Ramadan is a reset button, a chance to turn my life around. When life is weighing me down to the brink of no return, Ramadan comes at the right time to lift me up. It is hope, it is help; it is a lifeline.

Radiya Hafiza studied English Language and Literature at King’s College London and worked in publishing for a few years. She is behind the fantastic blog The Good Assistant. Radiya grew up reading classic Western fairy tales that never had any brown girls in them – Rumaysa is her debut novel, bringing such stories to children who need to see themselves represented.

Rumaysa Ever After by Radiya Hafiza is out now in paperback (£7.99, Macmillan Children’s Books)

Ramadan Means … by Adiba Jaigirdar

Two years ago, when Ramadan happened in the midst of lockdown, I remember mentioning to someone this Ramdan was particularly difficult because of covid. They seemed surprised. They asked why it would be difficult. After all, wasn’t Ramdan fasting? Abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset? I could understand why an outsider to the Muslim community may not understand why fasting during lockdown–essentially in isolation–completely changes what the experience of Ramadan feels like. That’s because Ramadan and COMMUNITY go hand-in-hand. 

In fact, there is no other time that I’ve really felt this sense of community and togetherness that I do during Ramadan. Perhaps it’s because Ramadan gives us a reason to come together. In the early hours of the morning, my family and I sit down to eat sehri together; barely awake enough to hold a conversation, but somehow sharing in that tiredness too. We count down the minutes to fajr, downing glass after glass of water. Similarly, in the evening, we all sit around the iftar table waiting for Maghrib so we can break our fast together. When there is no pandemic or lockdown, Ramadan means inviting family friends to join us in breaking our fast. And even during the pandemic, Muslims found ways to ensure we kept up our sense of community. My family sent iftar to other families in our area and community. My family from abroad sent money so we could buy ourselves iftar on their behalf. There is even community in the charity that we participate in; whether it is donating food and money to our local mosque, or donating to help families back in our homelands. 

But there is a wider community at play too. There is a sense of community in knowing that Muslims all over the world are spending this holy month joined through our spirituality. And that as we fast together, we are also growing together spiritually; even if we may be miles apart.

Adiba Jaigirdar is the critically-acclaimed and bestselling author of The Henna Wars and Hani & Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating. A Bangladeshi/Irish writer and teacher, she has an MA in Postcolonial Studies from the University of Kent, England and a BA in English and History from UCD, Ireland. All of her writing is aided by tea, and a healthy dose of Janelle Monáe and Hayley Kiyoko. When not writing, she is probably ranting about the ills of colonialism, playing video games, or expanding her overflowing lipstick collection. She can be found at adibajaigirdar.com or @adiba_j on Twitter and @dibs_j on Instagram.

A Million to One publishing December 2022

Ramadan Means … by Nafiza Azad

All relationships, no matter how slight or intimate, need work to be maintained. Especially if, as I have come to discover, that relationship is with the divine, with Allah (swt). So this year, the one word that will encompass Ramadan for me is IBADAH.

Being born Muslim, I often felt shoved into a religion everyone assumed I knew but which, in reality, was still an enigma to me. As a child, I had questions but the people who ought to have answered them often made me feel bad for daring to ask them. All dialogue was shut down with threats of hell. All the bayaans I heard reiterated how terrible people (and to my young mind, I) were and how we should spend every single moment of our waking lives penitent even as we knew we wouldn’t be forgiven.

Being very young at that time, I didn’t understand how I could have managed to commit unforgiveable sins in the short time I had been alive. Instead of cultivating a relationship with God, I decided that since I was bad, I might as well stay bad. Obviously, this was within limits as there are not many opportunities (or much courage) to be bad in a small village in Lautoka, Fiji.

Pursuing my faith was a conscious decision I made some years ago as I grappled with identity and the hatred that this identity seems to provoke in people. And it is never so easy as to pursue this faith, this relationship, as during Ramadan. The beauty of Islam is visible always to those who seek to see it but the peace of it is almost tangible in the thirty days that make up Ramadan. Ibadah during this month is inordinately smooth. Ibadah is not just praying five times a day or reading the Quran or doing zikr. Sometimes patience can be Ibadah. Smiling at a stranger or suppressing your anger can be Ibadah. Giving of yourself without expecting anything in return is also Ibadah.

As a writer, I often need to stop and refill my creative wells before I continue creating worlds. During this month of intense reflection, spirituality, and worship, I can be flawed and human without hating myself, knowing and comforted by this knowledge that Allah (swt) will accept and love me as I am even as I try to become a better person.

Nafiza Azad is a self-identified island girl. She has hurricanes in her blood and dreams of a time she can exist solely on mangoes and pineapple. Born in Lautoka, Fiji, she currently resides in British Columbia, Canada where she reads too many books, watches too many K-dramas, and writes stories about girls taking over the world. Her debut YA fantasy was the Morris Award–nominated The Candle and the Flame. The Wild Ones is her second novel. You can find Nafiza on Twitter @Nafizaa and Instagram @nafizaaz.

Road of the Lost publishing October 2022

Ramadan Means … by Kasim Ali

Ramadan means my mother waking me and my siblings up, going downstairs, drinking a glass of water, washing her face, and then walking back upstairs to wake us up again because we all fell back asleep.

It means being the one to stay up from iftaar to sehri when Ramadan took place in the summer, letting everyone else sleep, watching TV shows on my laptop until it was time to wake everyone up. 

It means standing in the kitchen with my mother, making pakoreh and samoseh and kebabs, wrapping them all up in individual packages of foil, placing them into bags with cartons of juice and handing them out to our neighbours.

It means praying more than I have at any other time of the year and feeling shameful about all the other times I miss prayer.

It means sitting at my grandmother’s house, the rush of people, helping to set the plates and organising the children, sitting, waiting for the minute to break so we can all eat.

It means pushing my mother out of the kitchen once all the food is prepared and set so she can break open her fast at the same time as everyone else.

It means getting into a fight with my brother because he ate the last chocolate that I was saving for myself, or my sister because I ate the last chocolate she was saving for herself.

It means sitting around with everyone, discussing what day Eid is going to fall on, watching the TV, making phone calls to our local mosque, excitedly discussing whether it’ll be a full month this year. 

It means standing in a long line of people to order takeaway food, a handful of times we are allowed to, ordering manically at the counter, grabbing the bags and running home, only to find that the time for eating has long passed and the fries are wet with warmth when we open the boxes.

It means swaying alongside other men while we all pray tarawih, sometimes running away after only reading eight and not the full twenty, hanging around outside the mosque until our fathers and uncles are done too.

It means not being able to sleep the night before Eid, because I am so used to staying awake until sehri, and then being irritated the morning of Eid day because I am so tired but not for too long, because the day is filled with such joy. 

Ramadan means family, of the rituals we all have, the foods we eat, the conversations we have. It means to be united, brought together. It means HOME

Kasim Ali works at Penguin Random House, and has previously been shortlisted for Hachette’s Mo Siewcherran Prize and longlisted for the 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize, and has contributed to The Good Journal. He comes from Birmingham and lives in London. His debut novel Good Intentions published March 2022.

Good Intentions published March 2022, 4th Estate

Ramadan Means … by S. K. Ali

I find myself savoring more in Ramadan. But not savoring in the “tasting” sense. 

Savoring: to spend an extended period of time, more time than usual, focusing joyfully on an awareness that has sharpened — either within us or in the physical world. Like honing in on the sensation of a tiny fruit-fly landing on your hand by mistake. Instead of swatting it away, imagine focusing on the feeling of the fly moving its tiny feet while getting its bearings before flying off … imagine closing your eyes and savoring it. 

Time seems to change in Ramadan. It slows but not in the agonizing way of my first years fasting as a child — “is it time to break our fast yet?” was the “are we there yet?” of many a Muslim home; rather it’s the kind of slowing where we become aware of things we never seemed to notice before. Life moves in a way that asks us to consider it. What am I doing right at this moment? How am I doing it? Is it the way I want to? Can I try to do this a little differently so that I inch toward becoming the being I want to be in this transient life? 

All of this reflection — the focusing, the asking, the bettering — is done gently while savoring, with appreciation for the world and ourselves.

When time slows and life allows you to consider it, you can close your eyes, or, if you prefer, open them wider, and reflect with awe. It should be natural, in this state of heightened awareness, and with the sound of the recitation of the Qur’an that fills and lifts our days during this month more than any other month, to then connect what we’re savoring to the source of all that surrounds us: the Subtle One, the All-Merciful, the Provider. 

In my head, savoring is a cousin to gratitude. And gratitude is the kindly grandmother of contentment. I aspire to grow into sweet grandmotherhood so, of course, in the beautiful, dust-dancing sunbeam of a gift that is the slowing of time, I look forward to truly SAVORING this Ramadan.

S. K. Ali is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of several books, including the Morris Award finalist Saints and Misfits and Love from A to Z, both named as best YA titles of the year by various media including Entertainment Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. Her novel Misfit in Love was a People magazine best book of summer 2021. Her other books include the critically-acclaimed middle grade anthology Once Upon an Eid and the New York Times bestselling picture book, The Proudest Blue. Her new novel, Love From Mecca to Medina, goes on sale October 18, 2022 from Salaam Reads.

Publishing 18th October 2022, Salaam Reads