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Desperate for Ramadan
This year, I'm seeking refuge from the fear and rage of Sept. 11

By Laila Al-Marayati
November 2001

Every year, as Ramadan approaches, I eagerly await the month's arrival, as if I am getting ready to see a long lost friend. But this year, in a way that I could never have imagined, I am desperate for Ramadan to begin. I will be seeking refuge from the fear, confusion, rage and sadness that have threatened to overwhelm me since the unspeakable happened on Sept. 11.

Like others, I responded with shock, and fear for my own safety and that of my children. After all, Osama bin Laden and his ilk consider Muslims who don't share their point of view and especially those who aren't actively fighting the West to be traitors and, in his mind, legal targets. I still can't shake an irrational sense of shame because I share some features with the terrorists, in terms of Arab ethnicity and Islamic affiliation. Yet, I cannot fathom how those who claim to share my faith could actually believe that the terrorist acts could be consistent with Islam under any circumstances.

The support from friends and neighbors, now and in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, has come as a relief from my tortured thoughts and feelings. And, to my astonishment, an innocent curiosity about Islam emerged among the American public as a consequence of the attacks--a curiosity that provided American Muslims with an opportunity to share our beliefs and experiences with others in an atmosphere of friendliness and understanding.

But lately, these fleeting hopeful moments have been replaced with grief and dread, as bombs drop on starving Afghans and as respected leaders speak of torture, military tribunals, indefinite detention and mass deportation. Now, the slogan Islam is not our enemy has been replaced throughout the media with headlines like Yes, It is About Islam ( The New York Times). The networks are back to their simplistic reporting with sensational segment lead-ins like Do Muslims want to rid the world of Christianity!! (Fox News) Television and radio pundits who have never read the Qur'an are suddenly experts, reading verses out of context--when they even bother to have a Muslim on the program. It seems they want their guests to purge the Muslim community of the evil within and expunge the problematic sayings from the Muslim scriptures altogether.

Yet it is the very text of the Holy Qur'an, with which I renew my relationship every year during Ramadan, that makes me want to be Muslim. It was bestowed as a guidance and mercy to bring forth all mankind out of the depths of darkness into the light. (Qur'an 14:1)

Every year, I look forward to a different experience with the Qur'an. Through this living text, God responds to the innermost cravings of my heart, answers my questions, soothes my fears, gives me hope. I will read verses that I may not have fully understood before and suddenly their meaning will be clear. The events of today will somehow be addressed, and in the end I will be able to rejoice once again in the beauty that is God's creation, in the wisdom of His guidance, and in the awareness of my own strength and ability to patiently persevere.

I know this will happen, because it happens every time. But, now more than ever, I need this transformation to take place quickly. I need the light of the Qur'an to overwhelm the darkness that now engulfs me. Events are occurring at breakneck speed and on most days I feel like a hapless spectator in a scenario that surpasses even Hollywood's wildest imagination.

Lately, exercising control over the tangible, manageable aspects of my life is the only way I can confront my sense of powerlessness. Fasting will fill that need for now, as I concentrate on the task at hand. I will incorporate the daily rigors of this year's fast into my lifelong spiritual journey whose transcendent moments sustain me during times of crisis. On a more mundane level, I suppose that being hungry and tired will distract me from the events of the moment since I'll need to focus on my job, my children and planning for family meals that will take on a different meaning this month.

During Ramadan, Muslims are exhorted to be more generous in their charitable giving (zakat), something that seems to come so much easier since Sept. 11. The Arabic word zakat actually means self-purification so that the act of giving is also an act of cleansing. So, while my donations, whether for the families of the victims in New York or for starving Afghan refugees, seem meager and insufficient, I know that they can only accomplish good and, in so doing, refresh my soul.

In quiet, sometimes awkward conversation, many of my Muslim friends share with me a sense of numbness; we are aware that we need to be more spiritual--yet were frustrated that the state of being we long for eludes us because of so many distractions. We know that fasting will enhance our consciousness of God and uplift our spirits, leading us closer to the spiritual completeness we need now.

Perhaps after Ramadan, we'll have renewed strength to deal with the changing landscape in which we live. Hopefully, we will face the threats to our civil liberties with resolve and not resentment. Perhaps we'll have the courage to begin to confront the extremism that we know exists within the Muslim world. And maybe we will be so transformed after Ramadan that our community will even be able to impact global events that will lead to peace and justice in places where they are sorely lacking.

I know that things will never be the way they were when I used to go happily about my daily life from home to work to soccer practice and music lessons, engaging in all of the other normal things that regular folks do. Before, I did not feel that simply being an active member in the Muslim community could be viewed as suspect. Not knowing what exactly constitutes suspicious behavior makes many of us feel less certain of ourselves even when there is no rational basis for self-doubt. We are like strangers at home, where we now have to prove that we're nice, patriotic people, something most of us have been all of our lives.

As the war on terrorism progresses, I must admit that I am more skeptical than hopeful about the future. But after this Ramadan, I know that anxiety will be replaced with reassurance, fear with courage, bitterness with compassion and despair with hope. Ultimately, some day things may even be better than they were before Sept. 11, simply because we rose to the occasion and survived challenging times.

And We do not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear: for with Us is a record that speaks the truth and none shall be wronged (Qur'an 23:62)

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