Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the fifth year in a row, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
About a week ago, I woke up extremely congested. I had spent the night asleep under a blanket that I didn’t realize was stuffed with something I am apparently allergic to. The first two hours of my day consisted of lots of sneezing, heavy breathing and headaches — not so enjoyable to say the least. The inability to breathe through my nose made my sleep lacking in a lot of ways and my body and mind responded in turn with a lot of tiredness. I decided to just let it take care of itself and not take any medicine or get medical advice.
This morning, I woke up around 3 a.m. to have a meal before the sun started to rise and my first fast of Ramadan officially began. My head was spinning and chest was heaving as I struggled to breathe. I ate some fruit and drank some water, said my fajr prayer, the prayer that Muslims are required to pray at sunrise every day, and then sat on my couch trying to figure out with my wife, Priya, what to do about my breathing.
My throat felt like it had grown smaller and my heart felt it was struggling to keep up with the short breaths I was attempting to invigorate it with. I tried lying down in every position possible, blowing my nose excessively, and was ready to call the hospital until I decided to stand under a hot shower and see if the steam could help relax my breathing a bit. I felt an immediate release of pressure followed by a more gradual lessening. I was then able to fall back asleep for a little while around 6 a.m. until my daughter Madina, now two and half years old, woke me up a couple of hours later. She wanted to show me a necklace that she said she got from her friend Shyema, who is actually a friend of my wife and I, and more than 25 years older than Madina, telling me that it would look prettier on me. I said thank you.
My wife noticed some flowers in our bedroom, to which I usually have a slight allergic response, but nothing of this nature before. The fact that I had remnants from my previous sickness still with me made this second experience that much more challenging. Had I taken the measures to deal with it, this second wave of congestion wouldn’t have had the impact it did. But my shortsighted decision left me in a place where the consequences were quite severe.
This morning, I also woke up to images and media outlining the horrific tragedies that took place last night in Charleston. Just like my body, my heart, my emotions, my spirit can retain remnants of past experiences in similar ways. If I have felt pain, I have felt anger, I have felt grief or sadness, and I am then met with something similar some time later, it will have that much more of an impact on me.
I feel Charleston as I have felt Ferguson. I feel Charleston and I have felt Baltimore. I feel Charleston as I have felt Syria, Burma, Gaza and Iraq. I feel for the nine victims, Cynthia Hurd, 54, Susie Jackson, 87, Ethel Lance, 70, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, Tywanza Sanders, 26, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45, Myra Thompson, 59 and their family members as I felt for Deah, Yusor and Razan and the Barakat and Abu-Salha families. The layers of unreconciled experience can pile on top of each other, blending together and at times it is difficult to keep them separate. I feel pain and frustration on top of pain and frustration that never left. And as my Ramadan starts, I’m trying to understand what to do with it.
A failure to acknowledge and deal with illness doesn’t mean that it’s not there. I can pretend like I’m not sick, but my body will let me know otherwise. We can pretend like our society is not in pain and in need of healing, but atrocities like Charleston will let us know otherwise. Our indifference to the narratives of those distinct from our own coupled with our own egocentric priorities places us in the reality that we find ourselves in. Issues of race, class and privilege are the roots of our ailments, and unwillingness to recognize is leading us to a terrible place. With every death, our collective humanity is dying. With every failure to remedy injustice, we add to the pain. The assailant knew that he was going to kill the people he killed. He knew he was going to let one person survive to tell others of what happened. He will not be labeled thug or terrorist or any other term reserved only for the black and brown people of the world. He, as a young white male, will never represent anything or anyone other than himself, and the black lives that he took will only be known as his “victims,” not part of a larger systemic issue, and worst of all, be made to seem as if they did not matter.
After last Ramadan, I prayed that this Ramadan would not be as intense. That there would not be as much injustice, death or violence. But on this first day, the reality of the world stands where it is. I have to decide if I will be a bystander to it or do my part to bring about a much needed change.
To me, fasting is about gaining a deeper awareness and mindfulness of one’s self and, in turn, the world in which one is situated. From the outside it might seem like it’s about deprivation of food and drink. But by shifting my focus away from a simple satiation of my stomach and looking more towards the satisfaction of my soul, I realize that are many different ways that I can nourish myself and many different parts of me that need to be nourished that I often times neglect, my heart being a primary amongst those. My fast helps me to be more present and aware, to see my blessings and reflect upon my strengths and weaknesses. It helps me to understand that as much as I have a place in this world, so too do many others whose lives are similar to my own as well as those whose lives have been completely different. It is mostly for my benefit to understand and appreciate their existence, rather than being comfortable living in my own bubble.
My thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this attack and their loved ones, the people of Charleston, and for all of us and our hearts. May we never become the reason people have dread in this world and always be the reason people have hope in it. Ameen.
I am not sure how regular I will be in writing reflections this year. I am hoping it will be frequent, but it may not be daily. I may also ask friends and colleagues to share their thoughts and write from time to time as well. As always, I appreciate those of you who have read them in the past and continue to read and share them with others.
As I did in the last four years of writing these reflections, I would like to start this fifth year of writing with a quote from a female Islamic scholar named Fariha Fatima al-Jerrahi that my wife Priya shared with me before we got married. But this year I read it with the people of Charleston in my heart and with an understanding why my fasting this year can’t be just about me, but something much bigger than I am.
There are as many forms of fasting as there are organs of perception and sensation, and each of these has many different levels. So we ask to fast from all that Allah does not love for us, and to feast on what the Beloved loves for us.
Let us certainly fast from the limited mind, and all that it conjures up. Let us fast from fear, apart from fear and awe of Allah’s majesty. Let us fast from thinking that we know, when Allah alone is the Knower.
Let us fast from thinking negatively of anyone. Let us fast from our manipulations and strategies. Let us fast from all complaint about the life experiences that Allah gives us. Let us fast from our bad habits and our reactions.
Let us fast from desiring what we do not have. Let us fast from obsession. Let us fast from despair. Let us fast from not loving our self, and from denying our heart. Let us fast from selfishness and self-centered behavior.
Let us fast from thinking that only what serves us is important. Let us fast from seeing reality only from our own point of view. Let us fast from seeing any reality other than Allah, and from relying on anything other than Allah.
Let us fast from desiring anything other than Allah and Allah’s Prophets and friends, and our own true self. Essentially, let us fast from thinking that we have any existence separate from Allah.
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