R'11 Day Twenty: Looking Back and Moving Forward

For some reason, I was feeling a little nostalgic yesterday. Well actually, I know the reason why...I was extremely thankful that this is my first Ramadan that I'm feeling THIS connected to the community. Despite having lived in Calgary for 12 years, and having met an amazing network of friends, this was the year that Ramadan really seemed to click for me in many different ways. I'll expand on this later ;)

So of course, nostalgia led to a trip down memory lane and wonderful long term memories stored in my hippocampus were activated by my limbic system and brought back to life. So logically, I have to now share them in this entry, because as you'll see, my Ramadan connectedness really did progress over time to reach its pinnacle this year :)

Early Childhood (0 years - 10 years): Denton, Manchester

After I was born in Scotland, my parents relocated to Ashton, and then after a couple of years, to Denton, a very small town just outside of Manchester. We lived in a small white house with a porch in the front, and were pretty much the only Muslims in town (I remember this because all those who came in and out of our house were very British!). I know I didn't fast before I was 10 years of age, I perhaps dabbled in it every now and then but I can't really remember. Oh well, onto the next few years!

Tweens - Teen (11 years - 17 years): Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

I'm not really sure why people are stunned to learn that I lived in Saskatchewan for a good chunk of time! So yes, after we immigrated to Canada, my dad of COURSE had to land a job in a clinic in P.A. (shout-out to Erin!), so we moved there...to a very cold in the winter, very hot and mosquito-ridden in the summer. Granted though, we had an amazingly strong yet small Muslim community and I remember it so well! There were probably around 40 Muslims living in P.A., which at the time had a population of around 10, 000. During Ramadan, which was in the Winter those days, weekends were packed busy with Iftar dinners, both preparing and attending. I remember our house being jammed to the brim every other weekend or so, as we'd invite families over. We didn't have a designated mosque there, so we'd pray in the basement of a family friend of ours, a husband-wife doctor duo...who lived two doors down from a good friend of mine I attended high school with (Farrah!). I really felt connected to the community at that time. There was no need for an organization of any sort, everyone was at the same level and we all had mutual understanding. Ramadans felt full and comforting, even during the bitter cold winters. And since I was fasting at the time, I understood the premise behind it...but it wouldn't be for some time after this stint that I'd feel this connected again.

Undergraduate Years + 1 year off post-BSc!! (17 years - 22 years): Calgary, Alberta

After I finished high school, we uprooted ourselves and moved to Calgary, since I had been accepted into the U of C, and my dad had since bought a clinic and had worked in the city for a year. It was the first time in my life that I lived in a BIG city, and it was great! Yet, the downside being that we weren't connected to the community, and lived in a very homogenous caucasian neighbourhood. The main SW Mosque was a twenty-minute drive away, and while my dad had worked here for a year and laid down  connections, the rest of us and I had not. At the U of C at the time, the Muslim student population was non-existent (1999 - 2003). I knew one another Muslim student and saw another few maybe, if that. The MSA (Muslim Student Association) was not very active, and if they were, I received the cold shoulder from hijab wearing girls (since at the time, I was not hijabified). Ramadans during those years were mostly spent with family. As much as we tried to make friends through my dad's practice, it ended up being that his patients were more interested in asking for medical favours and prying into our personal lives than in truly wanting to get to know us as solely family friends. So that stopped cold and we didn't really have any other families to share Iftar with. It was a vast departure from Prince Albert, and I remember my mom saying how much she missed those times. As I did as well. Things over the next few years didn't get better either.

Post-Graduate Years (23 years - 25 years): Boston, MA, USA

So in the Spring of 2004, I found out I was accepted into Tufts University for the graduate program in Occupational Therapy...which meant that I was moving in a few short months. Without going into the trauma this caused my mom (!!!), it meant that I was going to have to re-form connections once again. Ramadan during these years was in the late Fall, if I remember correctly. I didn't have a car and lived off campus, and the closest halal store was in downtown Boston, so I'd have to take the 'T' into the city with a backpack on my back. I remember entering the halal meat store at the time, located on Blackstone Street where the market was held on the weekends, and I was greeted by the butcher, a young man who told me he was from Morocco (haha, foreshadowing?!). I told him how hard it was to find halal meat in Boston, not having a car and being limited to transit, etc. As we talked, he prepared the meat, and I picked up the cheapest pack of dried dates (forget about the juicy Medjool ones, I was a poor grad student!) and some pita bread, and loaded up my backpack with 15 pounds of halal chicken and meat, praying it would last me ALL of Ramadan. The butcher would later become a familiar face as I went back to the store, and he even remembered my name as his sister was also called 'Sameera'.

Anyway, the first Ramadan I was there, I had evening classes twice a week, and therefore took my dinner in tupperware and ate during a break in Physiology class. The best part was that my prof knew I was fasting, and would time the class break with Iftar. It was the sweetest gesture ever and I'm forever thankful he did that. I then found out that another student taking that class was Muslim, a married woman in her 30s. After learning I lived alone and probably seeing my dried dates, she one night brought me a large pack of JUICY Medjool dates! SubhanAllah, I remember her to this day, she totally made that Ramadan, and I remember how I RATIONED that puppy until even AFTER Ramadan and dates were left over!! Anyway, as the three years passed while I was in Beantown, Ramadans were quite low key. I lived alone, and therefore broke my fast alone, never sharing an Iftar with anyone except when I was in class. I was too introverted back then to seek out a Muslim student group, and even if there was one on campus, it was for undergrads and I felt old and awkward busting in. Life did become easier when I bought a car my last year there, since I had internships to attend and later after completing my degree, a job that was not easily accessible by transit. Yet regardless of the lack of Muslim support I had those years, I had an amazing group of classmates and peers, and their words of encouragement meant the world. Those years in Boston taught me that I could finally be accepted for who I was, even though I was vastly different than the majority.

Early Career Years (25 years - present): Calgary, Alberta (yep, again!)

Eid 2008
So in the summer of 2007, I moved back to Cowtown, and started with Renfrew full-time as a school-based Occupational Therapist. Ramadan was in late September that year, I remember it clearly, I was not as busy as the rest of the therapists since I was new, and some days draaaaaggggged on! I still was not connected to the Muslim community even upon returning back, but we did attend the large Eid prayers after Ramadan was complete. Then for Ramadan of 2008, I wore the hijab for those thirty days. That changed things a little, because I started a new role as a mental health OT at Calgary Islamic School and Almadina. All of a sudden, I was thrust into the middle of Muslim-ville. I was SO intimidated at first, I felt like I was Muslim by name but not in the same ways as these devout and knowledgeable teachers were. HECK, Kindergarten kids probably knew more of the Quran than I did! So while I was juggling a new OT role, I also had to tackle a new look since the hijab was becoming more permanent even after Ramadan, and I was also trying to learn more about my religion. It was hard to force myself through another transition, especially since becoming employed at Renfrew, I felt the MOST confident about myself as I ever had. Yet as time went on, my coworkers in this project became my cheering squad, and I found myself taking strides and trying to redevelop an identity I never thought I'd have to (i.e. the hijabi-fied me). Ramadans held much more meaning since I was around fasting Muslims for the first time in my life. I had people to share feelings and thoughts with and they understood. Our family friends circle expanded slowly and I felt connected once again. We attended the MASSIVE Eid prayers at the Stampede grounds, and I actually started taking that day off from work to devote it to the rare chance Muslims get to celebrate. Then in the Spring of 2010, the final piece was found, since I didn't know ANY other working professional hijabis, and I wondered if there was any! Thanks to my mom (long story!), I met one and then many more to follow, and I finally...finally!...felt like I was a complete person. As time went on to the present, that circle expanded and I found the support I needed as I tried to delve further into Islam in ways I never had before. My work took off as well, and I found myself making more and more connections in a community that had scared and intimidated me before.

Which brings me to this Ramadan, 1432 Hijra calendar, 2011 Gregorian calendar. I knew I had to make this the best Ramadan yet. I vowed to attend every single Taraweeh prayer I could, to recite as much Quran as possible, to learn more about Islam as much as I could, to self-control in behaviour and manner, to give as much as I could to those who needed it, and of course, to write a blog entry for each day in Ramadan! For the first time, I've been invited to FRIENDS' houses for Iftar (breaking of the fast) dinners, and vice versa. We have FAMILY FRIENDS we can invite, and I've had to add a MY5 feature to my cell phone account from all the texting and calling to friends! Alhamdulillah, a new Muslim initiative has been formed among our group (called Muslim Social Development Initiative, more coming soon!) and this has taken off, we have a matrimonial event planned for September, funding proposals being written, etc etc. Alhamdulillah is not strong enough of a word to express my gratitude for all of this.

So finally (long entry, I know!), at the age of 29 and after many journeys and with ALL thanks due to Allah for keeping me strong, patient, and on the right path, I finally know who I am and what I want out of life. I've finally learned how to put Islam first with everything I undertake, and how to view life's pursuits through a spiritual perspective. I am not scared to admit that there is SO MUCH MORE I need to learn, and I am trying to be patient with myself during what will be a lifelong pursuit of knowledge. But honestly, it brings me to tears to think of the journey that has led me to here. And for that reason, I will continue to strive to be the best Muslim I can be for the rest of my life.

Comments

  1. Sameera jan, I guess this is your best post, i enjoyed every word, and every stage of your life was very exciting to read, I am so envoy your patience toward your path, i wish i knew you before and i wish more , vaghean khoshalam az inke dooste khubi mesle to daram, va motmaen hastam yek rooz toro dar jahaye balatar mibinam... ghorbanet .. REZA

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