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My Ramadan experience—like my health—has evolved throughout the years. I cannot help but reflect on previous Ramadans having arrived at this one as a 30-year-old. I’d like to share those reflections on observing Ramadan with a disability with all of you.

I was born with congenital myopathy which consists of my muscles being weak. I always walked at a slower pace and needed some form of assistance for daily tasks. I could barely climb stairs as a child, and was often hospitalized during winters for pneumonia. I started using the breathing machine whenever laying down from the age of 8. I needed to undergo spinal infusion surgery when I was 15 for rods to support my body. My disability was considered somewhat invisible until I needed help up from the chair after my surgery, and once I started needing to use the wheelchair part-time from the age of 16.

My muscles were always weak but time captured its narrative. 

From my early 20s I started using the wheelchair whenever I went out, have needed help walking at home from my late 20s until now.

Now, I have approached Ramadan as a 30-year-old—an age that I found far away as a child.

Early Childhood: Ramadan Behind Walls

When preparing for Ramadan during the pandemic, I cannot help but notice the subtle similarities when I first experienced Ramadan during my childhood. Ramadan during my early childhood fell around winter time in Hong Kong. Winter was usually the flu season, and having a flu was bad news for me. It often led to hospitalizations, and so winter has always been approached with caution.

Our world right now—due to the pandemic—has been approaching life with caution. It is especially approaching life with caution during the winter time to contain the spread.

Ramadan—once the pandemic first hit back in 2020—was during the warmer months in Hong Kong. This year, Ramadan is in April, just before winter leaves. Ramadan is, therefore, approaching after a period of caution.

Ramadan—because of winter—was once a period of caution for me. This, however, evolved once Ramadan did not arrive at winter’s peak later on during my childhood. I got to be more present within the community instead of the hospital or wrapped indoors.

Late Childhood: Ramadan Within the Community

My family and I were blessed to live near a mosque in Hong Kong. Stanley Mosque was somewhat isolated from the wider Hong Kong Muslim community, due to it being within a secured government restricted area near Stanley Prison. Families living near, or within the neighborhood were the only ones permitted to go, otherwise there was required permission to access.

Stanley Mosque is a gem with rich historical significance. We would hear stories of how it was built before World War 2 to accommodate Muslims in the army and police force. It was designed replicating the Badshahi Mosque design, so South Asian Muslims first arriving in Hong Kong could feel at home when serving here.

We were now part of its history—I being from the third generation.

My younger brothers and  I would have Qu’ran classes there, and all us as children looked forward to Ramadan. Ramadan meant our mothers preparing meals to share for iftaars at the mosque, and us helping them, along with our fathers. It meant the wider Hong Kong Muslim community having access to visit the mosque during the end of the month. A courtyard that usually contained a handful of children during the year was now packed for taraweeh.

This was exciting for us.
I got to be part of a community.

Children were exempted from fasting during the day, but some of us tried. My peers and younger brothers would count with their fingers how many days they could fast. I found joy listening to them and would jokingly say that I fasted half a day. Some found it cute and would say that it did not count. I waited for the day where I could also count with my fingers and say that I fasted, too.

There was a year during my childhood where that day came. I was only able to fast for a day, and it brought me joy. This was before my teens.

My father would sometimes take us to the wider community for Ramadan, too. I felt most familiar within the Chinese Muslim community, because of how the Imam’s family and mine were close—the Imam and his wife, like my parents, were also raising a child with a disability.

We would often go to Ammar Mosque and Islamic center in Hong Kong—it is a building with prayer rooms, seminar rooms, offices for imams, library, playrooms for children, classrooms, and a canteen with Halal Chinese food. Iftaars at Ammar Mosque were always packed. This was a sharp contrast to Stanley Mosque. There were Muslims from different age groups and racial backgrounds from Chinese, Indonesian, to South Asians and Arabs.

My childhood consisted of hearing the Imam’s call to prayer over the head-speakers at Ammar Mosque and feeling like I belong. The stairs at the mosque would not bother me, because I could see the elderly from the Chinese Muslim community trying to climb them, like me. There was solidarity and support to help each other up. I did look forward to my father carrying me, though, and was mostly greeted with smiles for showing up.

I came from a loving community.

Teens to Young Adulthood: Treasuring Ramadan at Home

The Imam would sometimes visit us at home on Fridays after fulfilling responsibilities with Muslims that were imprisoned in Stanley Prison. We would have tea, and during Ramadan, he would still visit for discussion. He would share how Ramadan was in different parts of the world, especially at places he would visit. He had some years in Thailand and would share how there would be open-house iftaars in a large neighborhood where anyone could just join. He hoped for replicating something like this for the Hong Kong Muslim community, especially for Eid after Ramadan, but arranged trips for Hong Kong Muslims to join this Ramadan experience in Thailand instead.

The Imam would encourage us to join, and would share how the elderly that were over 90-years-old from that neighborhood would be found trying to attend house-to-house-gatherings.

“Sa’diyya, what’s your excuse for not going?” Imam would say as everyone else smiled.

Back then, my family and I had a hired caretaker from the Philippines who had reverted to Islam. She lost her daughter who had needed a spinal surgery like the one I ended up having at 15. She cared for me like her own daughter and we enjoyed Ramadan together as a family for 8 years until I graduated from university. We always looked forward to the Imam’s family visiting, and once I started university, we would hold iftaars at home with my sister-friends that were mostly reverts.

Early 20s: Beginnings of a Shift

After graduating from university, and starting my journey as a writer, I noticed that it was getting harder for my father to carry me up the stairs at Ammar Mosque. My parents would, however, still try to take me, and bring my wheelchair with me, too. I was starting to encounter some peers with micro-aggressive behavior as well, but I tried to overlook it. This only increased however, and it was also getting harder to navigate the wheelchair whenever Ammar Mosque was packed for iftaar. I still, however, found sanctuary and solace from hearing the call to prayer by Imam.

I was still part of a community.

Letting Go of Fasting 

I was adamant about trying to fast the whole month of Ramadan during my early twenties. I fasted for some days during my late teens, but only made it to fasting for the full month of Ramadan once in my early twenties. This, however, impacted my health as I could not sit out for long. I could see how I needed to focus on other acts of worship and let go of feeling the need to fast to fully experience Ramadan. I am grateful how my mother allowed me to try, and later helped me through accepting the mercy behind exemption from fasting, due to health.

Newfound Joy: Ramadan After Marriage

I also got married in my early 20s—I got to experience the joy and strength that can be found in companionship.

I loved how my husband got to be part of the Stanley Mosque community during Ramadan. He got to experience a treasure from my childhood, and I treasured witnessing him as a revert experiencing part of our community.

We got to experience Ramadan outside of Hong Kong together for the first time when visiting my relatives in Pakistan back in 2016. It was interesting to see a whole country celebrate Ramadan—it was beautiful to see families come together as one. It made me notice how I have mostly had a community back in Hong Kong.

My community was part of my family.

Late 20s: Disconnecting from Community

My family had to move away from Stanley after dad’s retirement back in 2017 to the other side of Hong Kong. We were farther away from most I knew. My brothers would still visit during the summer from the UK, and we had our Ramadan together as a family back in 2018. It was a new beginning. A new chapter. We were together. This is what mattered.

We continued with our Ramadan goals. I continued to try to read the whole Qur’an, but would never be able to do so. I would almost reach every time, though.

During the Pandemic: Connecting Online

My husband and brothers have been abroad since the Ramadan of 2019. The pandemic thereafter has not made traveling straightforward or safe for me to be around many. I relied on staying connected with some loved ones virtually. I have only been spending time with my parents in person for the past two Ramadans.

They are my joy.

I finished writing the first draft of ‘Strength from Within’ two Ramadan’s ago and started sharing poetry on Allah’s

subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)
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99 names on Facebook that Ramadan, too.

I found connection with the online Muslim community

My sense of community has evolved significantly, especially from how I have experienced Ramadan throughout the years. I have grown to see that sometimes, we need to build a space that allows us to look after our health. A community can also be found within our homes, but that does not mean we have to let go of a community we once experienced. What we once experienced is something we can treasure and build on for our future.

Awaiting Future Ramadans

I finished compiling a poetry book on Allah’s

subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)
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99 names a few weeks ago with the hope that it would be ready for my mom this Ramadan—she lost her sister a few months ago and I am hoping by next year that book be a form of sadqa-jariyah.

I am hoping that it can later comfort and uplift hearts as a community.

As I enter this year’s Ramadan, I am uncertain how it would look. My mom might need to be with my grandmother in Pakistan, but my husband is here, inshaAllah. I understand that this is a reality for many families during the pandemic. I, therefore, pray that we experience many more Ramadans and they consist of all loved ones together, happy, and well. I also pray that we can be a form of sadaqa-jariyah for our loved ones that have passed.

One Consistent Truth in Every Ramadan Experience

There is one thing that has been consistent throughout all Ramadans and for which I am grateful:

I am grateful to be alive.

30 once felt far away, and I am grateful to be here.

I am grateful that I got to experience Ramadan both at home and within the community.

Allah

subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)
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has never left those hospitalized behind. Hospitalization is just a way for us to grow closer to Him by further seeing the beauty within our homes and communities.

 

Related Readings:

Chronic Illness and Ramadan: Coping Tips and Strategies

Accommodations For People With Disabilities At Mosques

The post Reflections On Observing Ramadan With A Disability appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Source: Muslim Matters