Written by Hanan Abdel-Khalek
A week in, it has all gone by so quickly, a beautiful blur of rice, frayed deep blue velvet prayer rugs, milk, honey, and dates, wudu water spilled from a cheek, laughter caught on the ends of the steamed hot air rising from the kitchen. Tasbeeh whispers, rolling on old and young tongues. And in all of this beautiful blur, I can go through 10 solid emotions in a day, when Ramadan comes in, I find myself feeling an immense closeness, and a severe far ness from Allah all at once, at times.
“I have never struggled to rectify something that is more difficult to overcome than my soul.” – Sufyan ath-Thawri
The pressure in which these intensified emotions have rolled out day to day, has urged me to think about, study, and understand my entry points well. Like a General planning his next move in this warfare I am in with myself. I examine the access I have into the signal that connects me to Allah. What are these mind vortexes I step in and out from, daily, hourly? Why does it feel like I am wrestling with my spirit and heart constantly to enter and leave them? The needs versus the wants, versus the needs. I am a seesaw of commitment. The nature of the heart is so soft, and sensitive, that the fear of losing that signal, the connection to Him, overwhelms, at times, to a paralysing degree. Daily tasks, what are those? Keeping up with daily prayers, Dhikr, Athkar for protection of this unruly heart of mine. Ok, What else? Reading this heavy book, revealed in this month, filled with the greats, bursting with colours, secrets, treasures, science, and reflecting on its sublimity.
But here’s the thing, all of these daily tasks I set myself, views the heart in a vacuum. As if the other tasks I do, won’t counter the impact of the ‘spirit tasks’. The chatting with friends, the mundane laundry pile, the emails that won’t write themselves, reply to that WhatsApp, tune on to that Live, the cheeky Netflix episode before your next Salah. These are actions too; they’re tasks that carry pressure of impact, a knock on effect. I go deeper, what food am I consuming? How am I consuming it? When was my last mental check in? Have I been outside? Look at that sky!
All of these thoughts, whirling around my mind, and in all that sparkly noise, I find some clarity. A great lesson from this month, for me, has been the practice of discipline. To look back, I have always called myself a free spirit without understanding the truth behind my own words. I’m not free, I’m not free at all, rather, I lack discipline, and hate anything that forces me to succumb to it.
But here’s the thing, discipline leads to freedom. Discipline enables that email load to finally go away so that you are left with that filling hour to be present with your mum learning her ancestral recipes as she spins magic in the kitchen. It allows the hoovering to get done so that you can breathe, with some African Bukhoor and finally have that direct conversation with Allah (swt), and level with Him. It summons you from your lazy slumber on the couch to recite the daily protections so that your heart can survive another day unscathed by the claws of distraction. Without discipline, the formula I have been looking for, all this time, to gain sovereignty over the state of my heart, just won’t work.
Now that I found the formula, I had to re discover what was distracting me from my new found balance. My entry points, the spaces and dimensions around and inside of me, areas on my body, the corner of my room that gathers dust, were both feeding me spiritual food, and making me starve of it. Entry points are metaphorical, and metaphysical, but they are also very tangible. The bodily senses are entry points to your heart. Am I exercising restraint, and discipline over the things I consume, watch, hear? The things I say, are they fruitful for others to hear? Are my hands going to purchase things online, that can lead to a knowing or unknowing endorsement of child labour, that may impact my heart later? Is the food nutritious, is it Tayyib? Halal? Small doses? Am I wasting water when I take wudu, letting the tap run? Did I leave my light on wasting energy? Am I being gluttonous, selfish, greedy? What about my limbs? Are they being fed appropriately by giving them gentle workouts? Am I sticking to my commitments, the facetimes, helping my friend on her project, the meetings, the call to the cousin I promised a week ago?
If Ramadan is a time of discipline, what is it that helps lift me in this month, that I don’t feel in others? True, there are blessings in this month, only awarded to us by Allah that no human can take responsibility for, but the rest, that daily willingness to participate in any of it, that burn of motivation, yes that comes from you. It can be orchestrated, created and gathered. I read in a book once about Quest Physics, I don’t think it is a legitimised science, but it should be, it goes like this,
“a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule is ‘If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.’
I see my path to finding peace, like this, a mini quest. With that said, the formula for a balanced heart, I’m sure looks like a very different blueprint for every single spirit out there. But for me, I have found, that my balance, and freedom, both rest in discipline. The daily tasks, therefore, spiritual or otherwise, are all necessary, not just for a healthy mind, spirit, and body. But for the flagrant, and colourful beating of an otherwise numbed, and neglected heart.
After all Allah loves small and consistent deeds.
Featured photography by Dana Mahmoud @dana.mahh
Thank you Hanan, for sharing such insightful and important food for thought!