Categories
Poetry

Poem: Celebration Time!

Joy and generosity fill hearts and homes.

Everything about Eid simply glows!

Celebration Time!

‘Eid day is here!’ the children all cheer
On the sighting of the new moon.
The grownups feel a little bit sad:
‘But Ramadan has left us too soon!’

And then they remember that this special day
Is a time of reward and celebration,
So sad thoughts are all put to one side
As houses buzz with preparation. 

Everyone wakes early to take their baths
And wear their lovely new clothes.
Joy and generosity fill hearts and homes. 
Everything about Eid simply glows!

The ummah* gives praise with each step to prayer,
And hug one another when it ends.
Then they go home to eat their special meals,
And send Eid Mubarak memes to their friends.

And so the day passes with visits and guests.
Eid presents are exchanged with love.
And though tired at the end of the day, they all pray
And give thanks for the gifts from above. 

The story behind the poem

The Qur’an says ‘With difficulty is ease’ (94:6). This applies to many situations in life, including Ramadan. After the challenge of the month comes ease in the form of a great celebration known as Eid-ul-Fitr.

There are many ways the day is celebrated, reflecting the many cultures that make up the diverse, worldwide Muslim population. This poem touches on a few elements common to all.

This is the final poem from the set that I wrote for the local Ramadan guide, and the final in this series now that we are at the end of the month. I hope that you have enjoyed them, and I hope that you have a blessed Eid.

Footnote: *Ummah = the Muslim community

Categories
Poetry

Poem: Remembrance

For it is with these gifts,

Yielded through fasting,

That I am reminded…

Remembrance  


Praise Allah! Alhumdulillah!*
For the fatigue in my limbs,
The tightness in my throat,
The parched landscape of my tongue.
For it is with these gifts,
Yielded through fasting, 
That I am reminded how
I am fortunate,
I am blessed,
I am Muslim,
I am His.

Praise Allah! Alhumdulillah!
For it is when I journey 
The road through Ramadan 
With its tiredness, its thirst, its trials, 
That I truly appreciate how
He is Great,
He is Merciful,
He is Compassionate,
He Alone is Worthy of Worship.

So praise Allah! Alhumdulillah!
Praise be to Allah.

The story behind the poem

There comes a point in Ramadan for many people when the fast, or the month as a whole, just gets to them and they feel like they’ve hit a wall. The Qur’an says that God has prescribed fasting for believers so that they can attain ‘taqwa’, which is God-consciousness, and it is often in these moments when Ramadan feels at its hardest that taqwa fully kicks in. The struggling faster asks themselves, ‘Why am I doing this?’ and then they remember – it is about empathy, and appreciation, and soul growth, and drawing closer to God. This poem, originally written for the previously-mentioned local Ramadan guide, attempts to capture these moments of fatigue followed by remembrance, gratitude, and praise.

Footnote: *Alhumdulillah means ‘Praise be to God’, making it similar to the Christian ‘Hallelujah’.

Categories
Poetry

Poem: Whispers

This month is a mirror,

an invitation to reflect…

Whispers

They’re supposed to be locked up.
So what is this thing that still whispers to me?  
It came from the inside. Has one been left behind?
Escaped imprisonment and taken up residence in my mind?

This month is a mirror, an invitation to reflect.
A time to transcend, an opportunity to reject.
No outside influence on which to place the blame.
How is it that I’m still in this game?

Sometimes I’m convinced that had it been me 
Placed on the first path of temptation,
I would have polished off the apple in a heartbeat
Without needing the forbidden-fruit sales pitch.

This thought should scare me, but He says ‘Do Not Despair.’
I see what I am dealing with. There is dark but also light.
The wrong I can set right. And now’s the time to start because
They’re supposed to be locked up.

The story behind the poem

This poem, written many years ago, draws on one of the reported sayings of the Prophet Muhammed, upon him be peace, about Ramadan. The saying goes as follows: ‘When Ramadan begins, the gates of Paradise open up, the doors of Hell are locked, and the devils are chained’. This makes Ramadan a time for honest self-assessment and asks tough questions of believers: if our negative influencers are removed from the equation as a cause of our undesirable and unsanctioned behaviours, and yet we still engage in them, then what does that say about us?

Categories
Poetry

Poem: The Three Parts

A protective robe

Giving freedom…

The Three Parts

The Beginning
Ten days of mercy
For those fasting and sincere
A gift from above

The Middle
Forgiveness arrives
Repentance to cleanse the soul
Emerge pure once more

The End
A protective robe
Giving freedom from the heat
Paradise awaits

The story behind the poems

This set of poems, written in the style of haiku (the very basic 5-7-5 syllabic form taught to children in primary school), is inspired by a hadeeth (saying) of the Prophet Muhammed, upon him be peace, in which he described Ramadan as consisting of three parts: ‘It (Ramadan) is the month whose beginning is mercy, whose middle is forgiveness, and whose end is emancipation from the fire’

The poems actually started out life many years ago as a group of messages sent to our local Ramadan Radio station. The morning show presenter liked his audience to be interactive and, for some strange reason, that was my idea of participation! I then published the poems in the 10th anniversary special edition of the local Ramadan guide, as mentioned in the previous blog. The poems have gone through a little more editing since then (because it isn’t often that I can look at a piece of work after some time and not find something to change about it) but the essence remains the same.

Categories
Poetry

Poem: Yesterday’s Ramadan

Has my faith become weak or has life become rough?

Yesterday's Ramadan

Remember how Ramadan was when you were small?
How despite the challenge, you wanted to do it all?
“They say I’m too young? Who cares what they think!
I’ll give up the food, I’ll give up the drink.
I’ll behave my best. I won’t be bad.
I’ll pray each salaat, just like mum and dad.
I’ll rise early for suhur, pray taraweeh ’til late.
I’m sure I’ll be tempted, but for iftar I will wait. 
I’ll run to the neighbours with plates stacked with food.
I’ll smile like the Prophet* and share my good mood.
I’ll break my fast with zamzam and dates,
And swap samosa stories with all of my mates.
I’ll give my pocket money to children in need,
And I’ll help get everything ready for Eid!”

Now all grown up, you ask, “what went wrong?
I find it so difficult – the month is too long! 
Was it easier back then, or was I far more tough?
Has my faith become weak or has life become rough?”
You feel like you’re lost, like you can no longer cope.
But ‘do not despair’, He tells us; do not lose hope.
That child of Ramadan-past has not gone,
Because deep inside you its spirit lives on. 
So call on your Lord to get you on track,
And soon, through His Love, your child will be back.

The story behind the poem

Ramadan is a blessed and wonderful time, but it is also a challenging one. Fasting can be hard for many, for numerous reasons, but it isn’t just the fast itself that can present difficulties. For some, the abstinence from food and drink (and, let’s not forget, intimate relations) between the rising and setting of the sun is the least of their worries, because it is the spiritual connection to the month that is eluding them, or life that is giving them a really tough time, and that is what is making everything else harder in turn. It is common when in that position to look back to when things were simpler and wish for them to be that way again, and that is the feeling I wanted to capture when I wrote this poem for the Ramadan guide.

Footnotes: *Peace be upon him. **Zamzam is the blessed water from the well of the same name in Makkah. You can learn more about the story behind Zamzam here.

Categories
Poetry

Poem: Abundance

With each act of worship it’s your status He raises.

Abundance

With every minute of every day
Allah gives Ramadan rewards away.
Iftar* is a blessing, so is suhur*,
And so is the hunger and thirst you endure.

You pray morning, noon, and night to Him.
He uses this to wipe away your sins.
With all that you give to those less fortunate
You earn His love, so it’s you that wins.

Taraweeh, I’tikaaf, Laylatul-Qadr** –  
All ways to gain extra reward without measure.
The spirit of unity and neighbourly love
Gives your Lord the greatest pleasure.

So with mind, body, and soul sing His praises –
With each act of worship it’s your status He raises.
And cherish the month, do all that you can,
Because nothing is more rewarding than dear Ramadan.

The story behind the poem

In my previous post with the poem ‘What is Ramadan?’, I mentioned how some of the content I write for our local Ramadan guide is composed with a wider audience in mind of those less familiar with Islam and the holy month. The rest of the content is written for the Muslim readership from the angle of reflecting and reminding, with a view to inspiring readers and helping them get the most from their month. So when doing the special 10th anniversary edition of the book with verse instead of the usual information pages, I shaped those previous reminders of just how much there is to gain from Ramadan into a poem.

Footnotes: *The iftar is the meal at the end of the fast, at sunset, and suhur is the meal taken before dawn breaks and the fast begins.. **There are a number of practices and occasions that are particular to the month of Ramadan, and these are three of them. The Tararweeh is an additional nightly prayer in which the Qur’an is recited in full over the course of the month, while I’tikaaf is a period of total seclusion and immersive worship that some Muslims practice in the last third of month. Laylatul-Qadr, or the Night of Decree, also falls in the last ten days of Ramadan and is the night on which the Qur’an was first revealed. It is described ‘more blessed than a thousand months’, and people try to spend as much of the night as they can in extra worship.

Categories
Poetry

Poem: What is Ramadan?

The ninth month in the Islamic year

The first in order of importance

What is Ramadan?

The most sacred time for Muslims everywhere
A month of fasting, charity, prayer
Reflection, devotion, spirituality

The month in which the Qur’an was revealed
To Prophet Muhammed, upon him be peace 
The best of all humankind

One of the five pillars of Muslim worship
The ninth month in the Islamic year
The first in order of importance

From the break of dawn to the setting of the sun
A challenge to all that are able 
To abstain in dedication to the One

Refraining from food, drink, and more
Rising above earthly desires
To reach a place closer to Him

Learning self-restraint and empathy
Strengthening family and community
All for the prize of His mercy

May He grant this to us all. Ameen.

The story behind the poem

In my post at the start of the month (Ramadan, Reading, and the Pen), I wrote about how I do a spot of freelancing every year for a local Ramadan guide. The primary audience for the booklet is the Muslim community, but as it is distributed free via a whole host of outlets in a very diverse city, I write some of the information pages in the guide with an eye on readers from other faith backgrounds who might not be as familiar as the primary audience is with what the holy month involves. When we swapped out the usual Ramadan information pages for poems in the 10th anniversary edition of the guide, I was keen not to lose the explanatory element for this wider readership, so I retained it by using verse instead.

Categories
Poetry

Poem: Welcome, Old Friend

I pick up where I left off, like with a dear old friend.

Welcome, Old Friend

It is strange how something that has been away for nearly a year 
Feels like it was with me just yesterday.
I pick up where I left off, like with a dear old friend.

It is strange how I can suddenly be so comfortable with the hunger 
That I usually cannot tolerate for more than a few minutes.
The emptiness that I loathe is now welcome, wanted, craved.

It is strange that I even wonder at this. Well known are
The blessings of this month, which flow through all who take part.
I give up little with my fast. I am given so much in return.

It is strange how the time passes. Thirty days now seem so long
But I know the end will soon be here and my beloved companion,
Not long arrived, will have to move on.

So it is strange and yet not so strange at all
That I already find myself heavy-hearted,
Grieving the farewell moment though it has only just begun.

The story behind the poem

I wrote this poem in 2010 when I was emerging from a challenging period in my life. Shamelessly leaning on a cliché here, it would be fair to say that spiritually speaking, I had been lost in a desert. Then Ramadan came along like an oasis. The relief, tranquillity, and replenishment it gave me immediately had me thinking about how I didn’t want it to end, when it had barely gotten underway.

Categories
General

Ramadan, Reading, and the Pen

Opening of Surah al-‘Alaq – translates as ‘Read! In the name of…’ (photo credit: islaam.net)

Ramadan, the holy month of Islam, has arrived. As well as being the month when Muslims around the world fast from the break of dawn to the setting of the sun each day, it is the month in which the Qur’an, Islam’s sacred text, was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

The revelation began when the angel Gabriel, known in Islam as Jibreel, appeared before the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon them both, while he was meditating on Mount Hira and spoke the following words:           

Read! In the name of your Lord who created.

He created man from a clinging form.

Read! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One

Who taught by the pen;

Who taught man what he did not know.

Surah al-‘Alaq, verses 1-5 (from Qur’an translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, Oxford World Classics)

Like the first revelation, Ramadan for me begins with reading and the pen. For the past fourteen years, on a seasonal basis, I have been writing content for a guide to Ramadan produced by a small local outfit called Ramadhan Publications. (The ‘h’ in there is not a typo – when it comes to English renderings of Arabic words, variations in spellings are commonplace.)

A couple of months before the holy one arrives, the director of Ramadan Publications will get in touch with a request for the new year’s content. The email will contain an attachment of the previous year’s pages, and so my Ramadan will begin several weeks in advance with reading and the pen.

My brief is to write an introduction for the book and website, and to give readers an overview of what Ramadan entails. I will read what was written the year before, and then pick up my pen to get writing. With Ramadan regulations and rituals having been in operation for over 1,400 years, however, there isn’t exactly anything new to say about the month. So the challenge is all about finding fresh ways to present the material so that it is engaging and inspiring as well as informative.

Usually, I do this by finding an angle that ties in with what is happening around us, what might be playing on our collective minds. This year, with the ongoing concerns about Covid-19, the emergence of a new conflict on top of all the struggles already going on internationally, and the worries about the sharp rise in the cost of living here at home, the power of faith and prayer to help overcome feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness suggested itself as a theme.

Although the scope of the assignment is somewhat limited by availability of space in the book and the specifics of the subject matter, there is some room for creativity. One year, on the publication’s tenth anniversary, I jettisoned the usual information pages altogether and went all-out literary with a set of poems instead. I often pick up the pen to jot down spiritual musings outside the requirements of this project, a lot of which is expressed in poetic form, so bringing some of that into the mix was a particular joy.

For me, reading, writing, and Ramadan definitely go hand-in-hand. So in that spirit, God Willing, I will be sharing some of my Ramadan musings with you in the coming weeks. This will include both the poems that I wrote for the Ramadan guide and some original material from my notebooks.

I hope you enjoy my humble offerings and I hope, whatever your faith background, that you have a nurturing, enriching, and uplifting month.

Peace and blessings,

Nazira

Categories
General

Creating through Curating

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

I have had fun recently over on the Koyal Writers’ website putting together a ‘found poem’ using the answers from our ‘7 Questions with the Koyals’ blog series. The blog series yielded such a rich body of references, imagery, and insight into our writers that I wanted to somehow capture some of that in one place to reflect the essence of us as a group.

The ‘found poem’ format, which creates new material by curating from existing material, leant itself well to the task. The poem, entitled ‘We Are…’, can be found here. Enjoy!

(With special thanks to fellow Koyal Sidra Ansari for her editorial enhancements!)

Peace and blessings,

Nazira