I remember one night in Turkey I couldn’t go to sleep because of this weird feeling in my chest. It was 4 A.M, my roommates were asleep, and I had absolutely no service to talk to anyone about the way I was feeling at the moment. I couldn’t breathe. My body was facing the ceiling, paralyzed in bed, wanting to get up and soak myself in cold water to get out of it. I couldn’t breathe at all. I kept on taking huge breaths of air to make the feeling in my chest go away but it ended up making it worse. I just started breaking down silently so no one would wake up. “Why am I here, why can’t I pray properly, I’m in a country with the call to prayer being read aloud 5 times a day, why is this not the best Ramadan,” were all questions in my head as I tried to figure out a way to control my breathing. I felt as if I was going to die, I wanted to leave this country, I wanted to go home and so I did. I called Turkish Airlines the next morning and changed my departure to two weeks earlier. Perhaps it is being away from home that affected iman in such a great length. Perhaps I should be around more family, perhaps it was because I was surrounded by a culture that was not familiar to me and I could not understand the lectures in Turkish. What was the point of being in a country for Ramadan when you can’t even grasp knowledge in your own tongue? Why did I have this anxiety and why did it not go away even during this Holy month?
Two years later, and I realized that I do not have anxiety because of my lack of iman. I do not have anxiety because I’m a “bad Muslim.” It is not because of my struggle to establish the prayers. It is not because of my struggle to have patience. I have anxiety. It affects my spirituality greatly. There is a difference.
This Ramadan, I felt as if I was stuck in a dark tunnel, just waiting for the days to be over to see the light at the end. Everyone around me had this high, had this excitement, they had the time to do the things they wanted to do.They attended lectures, they read Quran, they prayed night prayers, they went to Iftars. They had their goals, they had this community they felt like they were a part of, as I always felt as if my fast was not accepted because there was more I could have done but did not do. It wasn’t because of laziness, it wasn’t because of this lack of interest in the religion, or being close to Allah, to be honest, I did not know what it was. It was if I had a wall in front of me, and a wall in back of me, and wall from my left side and my right side, boxing me in, limiting me in what my capacity was. It was as if I was not capable of being this person with spirituality.
It was the first time in about 7 years I missed Taraweeh prayers because of work. So I blamed it on the lack of connectivity with the Masjid and the people. “This is why my Ramadan is lame, because I’m not in the Masjid,” I told myself. So I went to the Masjid one night right after work, and I wanted to leave right away. The fear of breaking fast with others and being in the same room for with everyone became all too familiar so I left.This was not my community, this was not my home, I needed to leave.
I told myself, “hey, maybe its because of knowledge, maybe you should gain more knowledge and read upon the religion more.” So I did, but there was no love in it. There wasn’t an attachment to know more. I bought books, read a few chapters, and left them on my desk to collect dust. I downloaded lectures, listened to them on the train, took notes, but I was not affected by them as I once was when I had this iman high when I was 16 or 17. What is going on? Why is this year so different? Why can’t I have this connection with Allah anymore?
I do not have that answer even til now. The end of Ramadan is near, and do I feel like a changed person? Do I feel like I am recharged with iman? No. Sadly no. I tried. Or, at least I think I tried. I broke into more panic attacks this Ramadan than the voluntarily ibadaah I could have engaged in. I had more depressing thoughts than zikr on my mind this year.But I realized one thing, and if it was not for Ramadan, I probably would not have realized it to the fullest. Your iman is never going to be the same. Your iman is never going to be at the highest. Life is going to come at you, and the only thing you can do is protect your iman and prevent it from getting lower. Yes, it might be low. Yes, the thoughts might eat you up inside. Yes, waking up for Fajr sometimes is physically impossible, not because of your sleep but because you physically feel paralyzed facing your ceiling indulged in thoughts. Protect it. Be aware. Try. Explore your heart, what works for you, what engages you. Allah sees efforts and what you did to get to your goal not the actual goal itself. Ramadan is a month of recharge, but its also a month of reflection. I reflected on myself and my relationship with Allah alot this month, and although, it maybe rocky, it may lack a lot of connection as compared to previous years, I reflected, and I am ready to recharge.
May Allah make us among those who worship Him as if we see Him. May Allah give us hearts that allow us to be conscious of His mercy. May Allah protect our hearts and our iman and allow us to become closer to him. Ameen ya Rab!