By Dr Mahera Ruby

As Ramadan 2020 comes to an end, we ask ourselves: how can we use the rest of this blessed month to reflect and feel rejuvenated in our roles as active Muslim families living in the UK? In a climate of the rising right-wing’s rhetoric of hate and propaganda, what can we do to reach out to increase our interactions, to strengthen familial ties, and to know who our neighbours are? Can we work together for the common good, to achieve a collective whole?

Why am I sharing this in the context of Ramadan? Ramadan is embraced as a gift, a guest who Muslims yearn to welcome and host each year with excitement and awe. It is a month of reflection, redemption, reward, and an opportunity to build relationships, to strengthen our individual inner core and to build the fortitude to be in servitude to Allah (SWT) and to serve humanity. Allah encourages believers to be introspective, purify their intentions, and cleanse their hearts before they can commit to serving others – people before programme.

The Qur’an tells us how Allah expects us to take responsibility in shaping our condition: “Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts.” [13:11]

Also: “Indeed, he succeeds who purifies his own self.” [91:9]

Ramadan is that time, once a year for a whole month, where Muslims can recharge, refocus, and form healthy, wholesome habits to see them through the rest of the year. It is often seen as a month of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual training on a personal and collective level. It is not a new practice for the followers of Muhammad ﷺ, as Allah explains: “Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you many learn piety and righteousness.” [2:183]

From the stories of the past, we are informed that the People of the Book (Abrahamic faiths) also fasted, as this is highlighted in the story of the revelation of the Qur’an. It was during the month of Ramadan when Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had retreated to a cave in mount Hira in Mecca, to spend time in reflection and contemplation, that the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed through the Archangel Jibrael:

“The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.” [2:185]

It is clear, reflecting on the above verse, the compassion Allah has for His creation as He addresses the needs of an individual within a collective act of worship. To ease this introspective journey, Allah (SWT) ensures that in this month, the most obstructive element in one’s worship (the Shaytan) will be chained, as will the gates of Hell. This provides further incentive for the believer to delve into their purer selves, and work on their challenges and personal weaknesses.

I believe taking the initiative to build meaningful relationships with Allah and those around us can create the basis for fortitude and drive collective change, as it is a ripple effect of goodness. In the month of Ramadan, building relationships is the key between the Creator and His creation. The month starts with the community as a whole waiting for the sighting of the Moon, an act of togetherness.

This sense of togetherness is a theme throughout this blessed month. As is often said, families that eat, pray, and serve together not only stay together but also build strong bonds of love through understanding. Ramadan is a month where I, as a mother, feel strongly that Allah blesses families to come together around food twice a day (the early morning meal and the breaking of fast at sunset). There are many extra opportunities to pray together. As we eat together, we share stories from our day and the seeds of communication blossom and bonds of familial love are strengthened. Prayer is increased, as is the connection with the Qur’an. The key focus to the increase in prayer and meditation is to seek God-consciousness (taqwa). When one is God-conscious, the worshipper develops the want to please and submit to all the actions that will please his/her Creator. The beauty of being a Muslim is knowing that one can open one’s heart and share innermost thoughts, feelings, and emotions directly with our Lord without the need for an intermediary. This one-to-one creates a powerful sense of connection, belonging, and an opportunity to seek direction from the One who knows you and wishes only the best for you. There is a night in this month, which we can seek, that is greater than a thousand months – known as the Night of Power. This night is sought by the Muslims in the last 10 days of the month, during the odd nights. The lessons in this act of searching are immense, but the authenticity of worship is heightened, as this is a personal, intimate act of worship related to shaping one’s own destiny:

“Verily, We have sent it (this Qur’an) down in the Night of Power. And what will make you know what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the Angels and the Spirit (Gabriel) by the permission of Allah permission with all Decrees. (All that night), there is peace (and goodness from Allah to His believing slaves) until the appearance of dawn.” [97:1–5]

To stretch the believer from this one-to-one comfort zone with his/her Lord, Allah encourages charitable acts during the month of Ramadan. Muslims are encouraged to pay the annual alms tax (Zakat) during this month to aid those less fortunate than themselves, and generally to increase giving money in charity. Allah (SWT) assures the believer that, “Every deed of the son of Adam will be multiplied for him, between 10 and 700 times for each merit. Except for fasting, for it is for Me and I shall reward for it [as I like].” (Muslim, Ibn Majah and Tirmidhi). This goes beyond reforming the self, to taking care of one’s family, neighbours, and the needy. Also, to be the best in character and deeds in all the roles each of us juggle on a day-to-day basis.

One of these roles is that of being a member within our families. As families are the cornerstone of a society, Ramadan is the perfect opportunity to strengthen our families to build stronger communities. I encourage parents to take the time to build their relationships with their children and each other. Take the time to connect through one-to-ones with our spouses and our children, share stories, and take meaning from each story shared. This will create a sense of belonging, as each builds a feeling of significance and tie with one another. These shared moments create feelings of fulfilment on a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual level. At mealtimes, keep food simple and discussions rich. The act of breaking bread together is the making of meaningful communication. Pray together as a family, encourage the children to lead the family in prayers (the optional ones if boys have not reached puberty). Where children are given meaningful leadership roles in the family, they will be the influencers in their communities.

For the rest of this Ramadan, let us as Muslims start to work towards the world we want to see by taking charge of the world as it is and begin this journey in our personal lives, families, and communities we live in. Ramadan is an opportunity to practice mercy, compassion, benevolence, and wisdom with our families, friends, colleagues, and neighbours. Let us build our relationships with Allah (SWT), our peers, and those who need our support to remove fear, which is often based on ignorance and may breed hate and bigotry. The power we want to achieve is based on knowledge of one another, which will enable us to act together for the common good and justice. As the companion of the Prophet ﷺ, Abdullah ibn Umar reported, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and she is responsible for them. The servant of a man is a guardian of the property of his master and he is responsible for it. No doubt, every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

So, this is my brief story of Ramadan and its place in the life of Muslim families. Here is how, in my experience, Ramadan creates the space for Muslims to reflect, reform habits, and build meaningful relationship with Allah (SWT) and connect to each other as brethren, but also with brothers and sisters in humanity. It creates a global sense of belonging and an opportunity to seek direction and the potential to change the course of one’s destiny. Let us use the rest of this Ramadan to reflect and build our families and our communities with the hope of seeking the pleasure of Allah (SWT), sincere connection, and direction – Ameen.

Dr Mahera Ruby is a trustee of the East London Mosque and a researcher at Goldsmiths University, where she is co-directing the ESRC funded research project on ‘Becoming literate through faith’. A trained parenting coach, she has several publications including ‘Family Jigsaws: Grandmothers as the missing piece shaping bilingual children’s learner identities’ (2017).