Oh, I had so many high hopes that Ramadan. My schedule included completing my Qur’anic reading in English and supplementing it in Arabic. I was going to memorize a new chapter of Qur’an and read an Islamic book every week. I was going to listen to an Islamic lecture CD each day, and I even scheduled an “Islamic class” with my daughter for every Friday.
O Allah! I prayed. Put noor in my heart and on my face, and make me amongst those whom when people see them, they are reminded of You!
This particular supplication was inspired by my having recently read about the superior worship of some of the Salaf-Al-Saalih, our righteous predecessors. One book described how one of them complained of growing old and being unable to recite more than the Qur’anic chapters Al-Baqarah and Ali’Imraan during the night prayer. It also spoke of how the light of faith—that spiritual noor—emanated from some of their faces such that when other Muslims saw them, they were immediately reminded of Allah.
SubhaanAllah… I was so deeply moved that tears gathered in my eyes at this description. And in keeping with all my other high hopes of September 2008, I added to my Ramadan schedule the daily supplication to be amongst these people…
“Ruby,” my sister said through the receiver just days into Ramadan, “he isn’t doing too well.”
That was my first hint that I wasn’t going to reach all those lofty Ramadan goals I’d set for myself that year. My heart fell, and sadness overwhelmed me as I thought of my younger brother, only twenty-seven years old, now lying in a hospital suffering from cancer.
“They don’t think he has much time…”
I grew weak at the news and felt utterly helpless…
But when I hung up, my spirits lifted ever so slightly when I added to my ever-expanding Ramadan list a supplication for my brother’s betterment and cure…
“Somebody, stop me!”
In the quiet of my room, I smiled at the memory. As a teenager, my brother would do a hilarious Jim Carrey impersonation. My siblings and I, no matter how hard we’d try to remain composed, would burst into laughter.
That was my younger brother, spontaneous, and downright funny, maashaAllah.
When he was a young boy, sometimes he’d curl up under a blanket just feet from where my sister and I were engaged in deep conversation, and he’d pretend to sleep just to hear what we were saying. If the stories were especially good, he’d drop the pretences and stand up, letting the blanket fall to the floor, and he’d eagerly ask details about what happened next.
“InshaaAllah,” my brother proclaimed what meant God-willing from the hospital bed the week I learned of his deteriorating condition, “I’m going to teach Qur’an when I get out of here.” He had been studying Tajweed, (the rules of reciting Qur’an)via telephone during his sickness, pushing himself to recite the Arabic even when his voice began to give out.
He died just days later…
At the news, I was a bit numb. It didn’t seem real.
Innaa lillaahi wa innaa ilayhi raaji’oon. (To Allah we belong, and until Him we all will return)…
I thought of my brother’s cackling laughter, his wide smile that seemed to spread over his whole face, and his sneaking in a joke during the most serious moments…
“How are you doing?” I’d asked him one day during the more difficult stages of his illness.
“Well,” he’d said, characteristic humor in his tone, “I have my bad days, and my not-so-good days.”
We both laughed.
That was one of the last times I spoke to him.
The day of my brother’s funeral, we learned that my youngest sister’s husband had died suddenly, and we were all caught in a whirlwind of sadness, confusion, and grief…and the second week of Ramadan hadn’t even passed.
I tried to read the Qur’an, but my mind kept wandering. I tried to keep up my daily supplications, but my heart felt so empty that it was as if feeling itself had left me. My prayers were mumbled words and mechanical movements, and the tears that wet my cheeks with each motion were not due to khushoo’—that deep spiritual concentration and connection with Allah—but due to a gaping melancholy that I couldn’t comprehend or overcome.
“When a trial befalls you,” an imam had said once during a speech, “it will be the faith that you already have that will carry you through. There won’t be any chance to make up for lost time, and what’s in your heart will become exposed…”
For one of the first times in my life, I understood what he had meant…and I was terrified at what this implied for me. I certainly wasn’t feeling a burst of faith lifting my spirits and pushing me through this trial. My fulfillment of all the things I’d zealously put on my Ramadan schedule kept waning each day…
Until finally…I gave up.
The only things I kept up with that Ramadan were things any Muslim should do throughout the year: the five daily prayers, the night prayer, and a few supplications whispered more out of obligation to the Blessed Month than any heartfelt determination on my part. I felt horrible for not even opening the Qur’an for the rest of the month…
“[The Angel] Gabriel came to me and said: ‘May Allah rub his nose in the dust, that person to whom Ramadan comes and his sins are not forgiven…’”
—Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him*
As everyone texted and emailed their congratulations at the announcement of Eid that year, this hadith of the Prophet, peace be upon him, weighed heavily on my heart. I felt like an imposter amongst the sincere believers as I replied with the standard “wa minna wa minkum”—the supplication said when anyone said “May Allah accept from you and from us [our worship this Ramadan].”
Accept what? I thought sadly, thinking of my almost non-existent devotion that month. Yes, I had been through a rough time to say the least, but was that any excuse to literally give up on nearly all the goals I’d set for myself? Was that any way to show gratefulness to Allah for at least allowing these tribulations to befall me in the time most suited for patience and tranquility and for turning to Him for help and strength?
O Allah! Put noor in my heart and on my face, and make me amongst those whom when people see them, they are reminded of You!
I grunted as I thought of the heartfelt prayer I’d prayed during the first days of Ramadan, naively hoping that the great honor of having spiritual light shining from my face could actually apply to someone as ungrateful and spiritually depraved as me.
That night, I arrived at the istiraaha—the villa and plot of land surrounded by a high wall that had been reserved to celebrate Eid that year. (I had dragged myself to the event only on account of my daughter.) As I entered the room full of women, I felt light years away from the joy and spiritual camaraderie that these sisters exuded with their presence alone.
“May Allah accept your worship…” the women said as they greeted each other. I would hear this supplication dozens of times that night, but I drowned it all out. It didn’t apply to me.
Minutes after I sat down on the Arab-style floor couch that lined the walls of the villa, I sensed the sister next to me staring, an odd expression on her face. I immediately glanced at her. I was fearful that my Lord had lifted from me the facade I’d worked so hard to maintain, and had revealed to others the spiritual depravation lurking in my heart.
O Allah! Would they actually see the dust on my face?
“What?” I said, smiling in an awkward attempt to mask the trepidation gripping me right then. I already knew my sins. I just didn’t want the added humiliation of having them announced to the world…
“MaashaAllah,” she said, “you have so much noor on your face.”
“Yes, maashaAllah,” another sister said, her eyes glistening in admiration as she smiled up at me from where she sat on the carpeted floor.
“So beautiful,” someone else said, smiling and shaking her head in deep reflection. “MaashaAllah. So much noor.”
By the glorious morning light,
And by the night when it is still,
Your Guardian Lord has not forsaken you,
Nor is He displeased…
I cried when, after that night, I read these Qur’anic verses from Soorah Al-Duhaa. My experience that Eid highlighted for me a new meaning to the vastness of Allah’s mercy and forgiveness that He promises believers during the month of Ramadan.
I had given up on myself during the Month of Mercy. Yet my Lord—the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the All-Forgiving— had not given up on me…
So, dear brother and sister, whoever you are and wherever you may be, and no matter how incredibly far you fear you may have fallen short in your spiritual journey, know that your Creator’s mercy and forgiveness reach far beyond where even you yourself made effort to reach.
And even though you may be a bit disappointed in your faults and shortcomings, this is my prayer and hope for you…
May Allah accept from you your worship, however little or much it may be, and may He put on your face noor—that spiritual light of faith—so that when people see you, they are reminded of Him.
Copyright © 2012, 2014 by Al-Walaa Publications. All Rights Reserved.
* Authentic. Ibn Majah and Ibn Khuzaimah
Original version published as “And Then…I Gave Up: Reflections After Ramadan” via SaudiLife.net