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

Ramadan Means … by A. M. Dassu

When I was younger, I loved Ramadhan because of the lavish meals we had in the evenings with family, and the penny sweets I’d savour after completing my fast. But now I’m older and have kids of my own, I love it because it is the one month in the year that brings me back. It’s the month I finally focus and remove distractions, so I can ensure I do my best spiritually and ‘sort myself out’.

We don’t have social iftaars any more. Now, Ramadhan is about reconnecting, renewing and re-energising for the rest of the year. And the amazing thing is this month is always the booster shot I need. And a few months before it, each year, I know I need it to come around again soon because my focus is waning and I’m not as spiritually aware as I could have been and that I haven’t been spending my time in front of my Lord, as I should be.  

Despite me making intentions all year round, I finally adjust my schedule to ensure I read the Quran every day and stay up late in prayer, benefiting from the peace that descends. And that peace is so wholesome, yet I just can’t bring myself to wake up at 3 a.m. the other eleven months of the year. 

And I love it most because it’s the month of charity. For me, it is the month of helping as many people as possible. I give all year round, of course, but in Ramadhan everyone I know waits for me to find a suitable charity. It’s become a ‘thing’ because I painstakingly research the charity and project I’ll support to ensure the money will go to the beneficiaries and isn’t spent on admin or marketing fees. 

This year, the charity I’ve been working with in Syria for the last few years have asked me to help raise money for twenty severely malnourished children in Idlib. And because I know Ramadhan is the month in which most of my family and friends will pay their zakat, I will be asking for their support first. I am so lucky they’re super generous and always help me reach my target each year!

So for me, Ramadhan is about two things: slowing down and raising as much money as possible to help those most in need. I’m really looking forward to doing these two things.  

I hope we all can find those moments of peace, reconnect with what is most important and make the most of the multiple rewards showering upon us in this blessed month. Ameen!

A. M. DASSU is the internationally acclaimed author of Boy, Everywhere, a Waterstones Children’s Book Prize shortlisted book, also nominated for the Carnegie Medal and an American Library Association Notable Book. She is former deputy editor, now an Advisory Board Member of SCBWI-British Isles’ Words & Pictures magazine, a director at Inclusive Minds, which is an organization for people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality, and accessibility in children’s literature, and one of The National Literacy Trust’s Connecting Stories campaign authors, aiming to help inspire a love of reading and writing in children and young people. She writes books that challenge stereotypes, humanize the “other”, and are full of empathy, hope and heart. Her next novel, Fight Back is out June 2nd 2022. You can find her on Twitter as @a_reflective, on Instagram as @a.m.dassu, or at amdassu.com

A. M. Dassu’s Fight Back publishes in June 2022

Ramadan Means … by Laila Sabreen

In one word, Ramadan means to me CONNECTION. I find that Ramadan is a time for me to slow down and be more conscious of how I connect with Allah and the communities that I am part of. 

I like to be more intentional about connecting with Allah through fasting and scheduling time in my day to read the Quran. In addition, the Ramadan memes that circulate Muslim Twitter tend to be hilarious, and I appreciate how Ramadan can foster connection both online and in virtual spaces. I love how Ramadan really brings together the ummah through a shared experience.

I also like to embrace connection through volunteering and charity work. Though I engage in volunteer work regularly, I especially like to take time during Ramadan to clean out my closet for donation and/or to donate to a non-profit whose cause I care deeply about. Both of those acts help me to connect with people or organizations that are addressing social problems and helping to create change.

Ramadan is also a time to connect with my family and to celebrate with them! I think this is actually going to be my first Ramadan away from home, since I am currently a college student and back on campus. Though I am used to being with my family, I think the change may actually give me the opportunity to connect at a deeper level with myself. Perhaps that may look like taking more time to journal or taking the time to wake up to properly hydrate and cook myself a nice meal for suhoor. As such, I like to think of Ramadan as a chance for me to check-in with myself and to practice self-care.

Ramadan is such a special time of the year, and I really appreciate how connected it makes me feel in various ways.

Laila Sabreen is a writer of young adult contemporary. Raised in the Washington, DC area, she currently attends Emory University and majors in English and Sociology. Her love of writing began as a love of reading when she fell in love with the Angelina Ballerina series. When she isn’t writing, she can be found working on essays, creating playlists that are way too long, and watching This Is Us.

You can find Laila on Twitter and Instagram.

Laila Sabreen’s You Truly Assumed published earlier this year