In the beginning
Peeping through the contents of the refrigerator on a hot, sunny afternoon in the month of Ramadhan, I was hoping to find something I could quickly swallow without being seen by anyone as my stomach was rumbling. Suddenly, my grandma appeared and enquired what I was up to since I was meant to be fasting. I had only started trying the full day fast. Prior to this year, I would only fast up till Dhur as is a common practice in Nigeria if the child is not mature enough. At about ten years old I decided to observe the full day fast, but found it extremely difficult in the first few days, especially at school when other friends were having delicious and tempting looking foods and drinks at the lunch break.
Grandma’s intervention and encouragement saved the day. I really couldn’t wait until the time for Iftar. I was always excited as a child when the time came to break the fast. Water was the one thing I took the most, and I can recall my mum always saying that too much water could make me sick.
Far from home
I gained admission to Federal Government Girls’ College Bauchi, Nigeria, for my post-primary education. The school was far from home so I lived in a boarding house. Fasting then became a choice for me, as my parents were not there to watch me. Still, as a Muslim you were not expected in the dining hall in the afternoon in the month of Ramadhan and seeing other people fast presented a challenge, so I fasted because I saw others doing it. I really didn’t know the purpose. Fasting became so unbearable in the afternoons because of the extreme heat. We had to soak our towels in cold water and wrap them around ourselves to keep cool. The towels soon became warm, therefore, we had to repeat the process all over again. At the shout of "ansha ruwa" in Hausa language, meaning "time for breakfast," we all happily rushed down to the dining hall to have whatever it was that had been cooked. I especially loved this time!
Walking down the path beside ‘O’ block in the Mozambique hall of Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile Ife, Nigeria, where I studied for my undergraduate degree, I stumbled into Fawzia who had a juicy orange in her hand. "What are you up to?" I enquired. She responded that she was on her way to the mosque. The word "mosque" sounded so strange to my ears, and I couldn’t connect her with the mosque, just like I didn’t connect myself with the mosque. I probably didn’t even know that there was one on campus. She further told me it was almost time to break the fast, and before I could say anything else, she had made her way out of the hall. It was Ramadhan and I didn’t even know it, and therefore I wasn’t fasting! This exchange had a positive effect on me, and so the following day or so I fasted, but I didn’t fast the whole month. I was also not observing the salah while fasting, as it still didn’t resonate with me.
Two years later, my situation had changed from that of a nonchalant lifestyle, to that of consciousness. I had not only started observing the five daily salah, I was also observing Tahajjud and some other voluntary prayers. My understanding of Islam had grown so much, that my heart yearned for the mosque.
The Ramadhan of the year 1997 is what I could consider my first, as this was when I finally understood the meanings behind my actions. I was in college, and it was not easy hopping from one lecture room to the other under the scorching sun. However, returning to the mosque and seeing my sisters in faith observing the same call, brought joy and tranquillity to my soul. At this stage, I had also started reading my Qur’an, so I would read it and make dua until it was time to break the fast. I sometimes attended lectures and programmes that were organized by the Muslim Students Society of the University. I especially enjoyed eating together with my sisters during the Iftar.
Coming into a new chapter
In 2003, I began experiencing Ramadhan very differently from how it was in Nigeria. It fell in the winter months, and I had only arrived in Ireland earlier that year. Seeing the sun set at around 4:30pm was amazing, as it is usually between 6:30 and 7pm in Nigeria, and this meant that we got to break the fast early. The days were also cool and soothing. This was a totally new experience. As the years have gone by, the months have moved along and presently, Ramadhan falls in the summer months. Now as a mother, watching Aliya, my eldest child, observe Ramadhan is a great joy to me. She started off breaking her fast at Dhur as I once did as a child, but masha Allah, at age 9, she observed the full day fast in the summer months! Though the days were long, and some days it was very hard, I did just as my grandma did on that day so many years before; I encouraged her to see the period as an opportunity to observe lots of ‘ibadah and gain more reward from Allah.
May He accept all our acts of worship this Ramadhan. Ameen!
Fawziyyah Emiabata is a mother of three, living in Ireland, and has a background in English Studies. As an avid reader and promoter of literacy, she owns the online bookstore and bookclub www.muslimteenreads.com, which aims at providing a forum where Muslim teenagers can connect with like-minds across the globe.
First published in SISTERS MAGAZINE. July 2012 issue.