I feel it getting colder and can see raindrops falling on the window across from me. The smell of wet soil fills the air. I contemplate the idea of how incredible it is that after the rain, fruits and vegetables flourish from this dead earth. Like the earth, the heart can be nourished by reading the Qur’an, reading the hadith, and acquiring any form of authentic Islamic knowledge to encourage beautiful deeds and actions. I had taken note of this during last year’s Ramadan and put it into practice.
At this point in time, as I sit by the window, Aristotle’s words resonate with me: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
The changes though, hadn’t come easily. I had struggled with my soul and its cravings, but by Allah's mercy I made it. To amplify the experience, I read a lot on the topic of Ramadan, and I came across the concept of I’tikaf: an Islamic practice consisting of a retreat in a mosque for a certain number of days per the believer’s wishes. It is most commonly done during Ramadan and especially within the last ten days of the month.
According to Sahih Bukhari, Abdullah bin Umar narrated: “Allah's Apostle used to practice I’tikaf in the last ten days of the month of Ramadan” (vol. 3 bk. 33 sec. 242)
I decided to participate in I’tifkaf. Initially, I was indifferent about going to the mosque since I was a boarding school student and the retreat, an experience away from home, didn’t seem too different from the norm. Nevertheless, I had every intention of putting forth my best effort. I arrived shortly after Maghreb, prayed, and quickly settled after passing my salaam to the other sisters at the venue..
After iftar and Isha, we prepared ourselves for Taraweh. As a first timer, I wanted to be on the front row to make it even more memorable. Soon, more and more people started streaming into the mosque; women, young and old, joined the rest of the congregation for the long Tarawehprayers.
By the sixth rak’ah, I was ready to give up. This had quickly turned into a backbreaking experience, but I remained resilient and pushed myself to pray to the last rak’ah. In the end, the struggle felt worthwhile as my heart was filled with happiness and tranquility. I was reminded of the valuable lesson that pushing through uncomfortable situations is bound to lead one to ultimate happiness and success.
In a short while, it was lights out and we went to sleep only to wake up three hours later for tahajjud. After my Taraweh experience, I was better prepared for the tahajjud prayers. We then had suhoor and prayed Fajr in congregation. I almost cried out of joy; there was something in me, a spiritual awakening of sorts, which was happening that I couldn't quite articulate.
During the day, we had halaqa where people shared their advice, taught tafseer and gave guidance on how to perfect prayers. Sheikh Said Rageah, a world-renowned religious instructor at the Al Maghreb Institute of Texas, was giving a khutba about the loving relationships among the sahabas. Here I was, absorbing all this life-changing knowledge and all I could say was Alhamdulillah.
I continued with this routine for a couple of days. On the 27th of Ramadan, after making du’a in congregation, I went and sat at a corner for a moment of self-reflection. I remember feeling so happy as if my heart was bursting and I was crying tears of joy. I was happy I came. I was happy I could live without TV or the Internet. I was happy that this had been a fulfilling journey, Alhamdulillah.
Here was a place of joy and happiness and everything of the outside world had been left outside with no room for infiltration and distraction. Those factors that I had once considered integral to my happiness couldn't compare to the feeling of simply worshipping in concentration. It was inevitable that Ramadan was coming to an end and I was already nostalgic.
When Ramadan was over, I was certain I had changed for the better and was willing to work on being even better. Every year, Ramadan gives people the opportunity to change for the better. Once again, the holy month has come knocking; will we take this opportunity to better ourselves or will we squander it?
May Allah make us all winners this Ramadan — ameen ya Rabb.