Category: Poetry

Poem: 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.

Poem: 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’.

Poem: 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?

Poem: 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.

Poem: 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.

Poem: 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.

Poem: 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.

Poem: 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.

Poem: Abandoned Self-Portrait no.156

Kind brown eyes 
           Massive thighs
Shapely lips 
           Excessively-wide hips

Right. Let’s start again…

Flowing, glossy dark brown hair
          Lumpy, saggy bits everywhere
A smile that radiates love and care
          Boobs a ridicul—
Okay, enough, let’s not go there.

Why can’t I write one nice verse,
One line, one word about myself
Without you butting in?
          That depends on the word.
How about ‘beautiful’?
Surely it doesn’t only belong 
To the visually pleasing?
What about the gorgeous-withins?
          But what you are inside
          Isn’t the subject of this portrait,
          And supporting your claim to beauty 
          Would mean helping you to tell a… 
          Porky pie 


So what words am I allowed?
          Ugly. Stupid. Lazy. Greedy.
          Loser. Failure. Burden.
          Disgusting. Slobby. Pig.
          We can go on…
Please don’t.
These words you speak
Like they’re so original, so clever,
I’ve been hearing them forever.
They have echoed in my ears
For as long as I can remember.
Words flung at me,
Explicit, implied,
From mouths all around me
And countless pair of eyes.
Children, adults, in-betweens.
Loved ones, strangers, in-betweens.
Professionals with a duty of care.
          Suet Dumpling

Okay. Fine. I give up. 
I will choke down the ‘beautiful’
That dared creep onto my tongue.
I can pretend for a second,
Try to use the artist’s licence,
But they are always there—
The voices, the critics—
Poised to remind me
That I
Am not entitled to the B word,
And that I
Am in a battle I cannot win.

          Oh, but all is not lost.
          You could be beautiful, you know.
I could?
          Oh yes.
          So very beautiful.
          If you were thin.

The story behind the poem

I have struggled with my weight my entire life, so it is a subject that often shows up in my writing. This poem began as an attempt at a positive self-portrait many years ago but as soon as I drafted it, the internalised fat-hating voice piped up and started telling me what a joke it was to write nice things about myself. Confidence undermined, I ended up hacking away at the poem until it was in complete tatters. Rather than abandoning the poem altogether, however, I decided instead to have a go at capturing just how the portrait came to be shattered. I’m not sure if I’ve done it as well as I would have liked to, but when the essence of this poem is a cry against the tyranny of perfection, it seems only right to share it as it is, imperfections and all.

Poem: Three Little Birds

They came to Bob Marley
And Corinne Bailey Rae.
Now they have come to me.
Three little birds, named
Belief, Love, and Joy,
With lyrics of affirmation.

Belief sings, ‘Have faith in yourself
And trust in God’s plan.’
Love sings, ‘Be kind to yourself.
You deserve compassion and care.’ 
Joy sings, ‘Let His light into your life,
And let yours shine out to the world.’

Three little birds bringing
My very own inspiration song.
I listen to them now, 
Singing outside my window,
And smile. So too does
My inner child. 

On and on they sing,
The three little birds, 
Telling one little girl
That she matters
And is worth a little song
Every bit as sweet as she.

Oh, if that one little girl
Could have heard 
This one little song 
From these three little birds
When she was still small,
How different would her world now be?

The story behind the poem

I wrote this poem in January 2018 while listening to birds singing outside my window after Fajr, the Muslim dawn prayer. Their chirping brought to mind songs by the two singers referred to in the opening lines of the poem, and I found myself wondering what the birds might say if they were to sing for me. I jotted my initial thoughts down in my Morning Pages and later shaped it into this poem.