Fatima, Maryam and Aqsa huddled under an Umbrella as they waited for the bus together. It was a cold and rainy day in Birmingham. The timetable read the bus was another 20 minutes away and Fatima’s knees were already starting to ache from standing. The three friends had been shopping all day preparing for the arrival of Ramadan.
“Once upon a time carrying 8 bags of shopping and walking 10KM home from Kabul markets was no problem for me.” Fatima reminisced as she adjusted her niqab so it sat in place.
Her thoughts were soon interrupted by Aqsa.
“Oh My God!!!!” Screeched Aqsa, the youngest of the three.
“How many times have I told you not to use God’s name in vein!” hissed Fatima. Her thick Middle Eastern accent was stronger than usual when she was annoyed. “My mother would chop off my limbs and feed it to the goats” Fatima went on.
“What happened? Did your ex message you again” asked Maryam rolling her green eyes. Her yellow hijab made them shine like emeralds.
“No!!! GUYS!! Can you believe Ramadan is actually next week!!!” Screeched Aqsa even louder.
“If Bhaji Fatima hadn’t reminded us to prep for it God know if we would have even remembered!” Said Aqsa.
Silence fell over the three friends.
“Alhumdulilah praise be to God, we have lived another year to see another Ramadan! How blessed are we!” Fatima gushed at her friends.
“Ugh! Bhaji Fatima! It’s so hard when you’re studying AND working! I get thirsty as soon as I leave the house and my stomach hurts from the hunger” said Aqsa.
Maryam looked at Fatima and said “I’m going to have to stop listening to music.”
“I’ll have to sit and watch all the people on my course eat their food and drink water all day while I suffer” Aqsa exclaimed.
“It gets harder and harder every single year” Maryam chimed in.
“Sometimes I don’t even bother waking up in the night to eat for Suhoor. Sleep is so much more important” revealed Aqsa.
“Wearing the hijab in the heat and fasting at the same time is just hell for me!” Mariam expressed.
Fatima watched as her friends revealed their deepest and darkest thoughts to her openly.
“What about the unity my loves? ” Asked Fatima?
“What about the closeness you feel with your family when you wake up together every night to start your fast?”
“What about all the blessings you receive you can physically feel it in your stomach instead of the hunger pangs?”
“What about the spiritual benefits of fasting”
“Does anyone feel like Ramadan cleanses their soul spiritually?”
“My loves, do you know the health benefits of Ramadan?” Fatima stared at her two friends waiting for their answers.
“Ramadan knocks on the door of every single Muslim in this world and we open the doors to the blessing with open arms and an open heart” continued Fatima.
“Every single Muslim in this world will be observing a fast during the month of Ramadan, can you see the immense beauty in the strength of our community!” said Fatima.
“When the Taliban polluted the streets of Afghanistan it did not break my family. Mama would wake me up every morning so that we could prepare the lamb and bread for Baba and my brothers. Despite the sounds of bombs, and the fear in our hearts for our lives we would start our fasts together!”
Mariam and Aqsa reached over to Fatima and took the bags from her hands. They pulled her into a close embrace.
“When Ramadan came to a close, we would all feel a new sense of strength.” Fatima sniffled through the embrace.
“My brothers and I would look forward to Ramadan every single year as the month of Ramadan were the only days we got to see Baba” she said.
It was starting to get dark when three of their faces were lit by the headlights of an oncoming bus,
“Alhumdulilah, our bus is here. Let us get on it” Said Maryam.
Mariam and Aqsa in a simultaneous fashion grabbed Fatimas arms and helped her onto the bus. They were the only muslim girls to enter the bus and they could all feel eyes slowly pricking the back of their necks as they placed their shopping in the storage area and sat at the front of the bus.
“My loves, feel the blessings of Ramadan. You are living in a country where you are despised for the faith you keep. Yet the people of our faith stand together, in the name of their Lord, for Ramadan!” Fatima said loudly. She was always one for drama even at the tender age of 70.
“Shh Bhaji Fatima” said Maryam and Aqsa. Neither of them wanted any abuse hurled at them.
“There are Muslims who are greedy for Ramadan! They know the results of their prayers and their commitment to their faith during Ramadan. They are greedy for that one night. The night which is better than 1000 months!”
“My loves! While the gates of heaven are open and the Devil is chained up, how can you be indifferent to Ramadan!”
Aqsa and Maryam looked around the bus and were greeted by curious eyes. You could see the need in their eyes, the need to hear the answers to Fatimas questions. The need to hear what Aqsa and Maryam really felt about Ramadan. The people on the bus were hungry to hear Aqsa and Maryam talk ill of Ramadan and how they weren’t looking forward to the month.
“Forgive us Bhaji Fatima, for we get so caught up in this world, how we want to achieve in this world, the success we want to taste in this world, the respect we want to gain in this world, the name we want to make for ourselves in this world, that we forget our real purpose.” Said Maryam.
“Sorry Bhaji..” whispered Aqsa, “..I forget Ramdan was prescribed upon us as it was prescribed to those before for us so that we can gain Taqwa (consciousness).”
The ears of the passengers on the bus pricked upwards.
“There are those who don’t even live into the year long enough to see the moth of Ramadan one last time and I should be grateful I am here to prepare for the month in advance,” Continued Aqsa louder this time.
Fatima looked to Maryam for some words of milk and honey.
“None of us are perfect” Said Maryam. “ We all have weaknesses and shortcoming and we are given this month of forgiveness to make peace with our sins by repenting.” She continued.
“Yes,” Said Fatima “..We have a forgiving and most merciful Lord. As part of this mercy he has given us numerous ways to gain his forgiveness and one of those ways is reflecting and acknowledging the darkness in our hearts during Ramadan.”
The bus came to a halt and the three girls pushed their way through the crowd that had just gathered around the driver as the doors opened.
The girls gave each other their Salaams and went separate directions home.
Fatima’s felt a river of joy move inside her as she walked home that evening. Her thoughts helped her forget the aches in her knees. She was getting older, but her heart felt younger and more alive with each passing day.
She unlocked the gates to her house, closed her front door and dropped her bags of shopping on the floor. She ripped the niqab off her face and shrug out of her Abaya to reveal a denim mini skirt and a red belly top. Her ears were decorated with various pieces of jewellery and her neck was adorned with glistening pearls. Her grey eyes twinkled as she looked at herself in the mirror stroking the very little curls she had left on her head.
She scuffled to the kitchen, opened the top drawer and dug around for a little while until she found what she was looking for.
She opened the garden door and lit her first cigarette of the day.
“Ya Allah, my Lord.” She said looking to the skies.
“You know all my weaknesses better than I, but I am not one to shout about them nor will I hang my weaknesses out in public for people to judge,” She said to herself.
“We all fall to sin, but every year you send me this month to help me survive from my demons.”
“..Years ago when I was as young as Aqsa I would parade in my skirt with a cigarette in my hand around the markets and the City of Kabul with pride. The men would look to me and I would look back with arrogance” She looked to herself in the mirror and laughed. She said to herself “.. Until I learnt that the real sinners amongst us all are those who openly sin for Muhammad PBUH said: All of my Ummah will be excused except for those who make their sins known!”
Fatima thought back to her younger days when she used to hide from her mum because she didn’t want to go to the markets for Ramadan Prep shopping. She hated shopping and would hide to avoid the masses and masses of crowds but as soon as she got to the peak of the market her excitement would grow.
She would be welcomed by riot and riots and riots of people. Big men carry stacks of meat on their heads, covered women grabbing their children, vendors screaming prices, older women haggling through the noise, stray cats squeezing their ways through the hundreds of legs. The overheating traffic and angry horns weren’t so annoying and the tangle of arms and legs were now a maze and an adventure for her. What she loved the most was hearing the women covered in blue burqas gossiping and complaining about Ramadan.
When she passed the stalls of fresh vegetables she heard covered women nattering amongst themselves.
“..I’ll miss the taste of fresh tomato juice in the morning! I just can’t start my day without it” One woman said.
As Fatima passed through the stalls of pirated American DVDs she can hear the women say..
“..How will I watch my American movies with the handsome American actors now? I will have to wait 30 days to reunite with them!” One women said.
As Fatima passed through the stalls of jewellery, handmade pots and vessels she could hear the women say..
“..I’ll be in the kitchen full time now. When it’s not Ramadan I at least get a few hours in the day to relax!”
As Fatima passed through the boutiques of colourful cloth shops and pushed her way through the rugs hanging from the tents she could hear the women say..
“..I will be praying 8 rakats of Tarawee this year. May Allah forgive me but the heat won’t allow me to do more than that!”
As Fatima passed the food vendors, women crowded the freshly cooked meat curries and snatched at freshly baked naans. Fingers pointed at the piles of Pilau rice and the fresh stack of kebabs. She could hear the women say..
“..Ya Allah this heat is unbearable and I am able to drink! How will I survive in this heat without any food!”
When she returned home from shopping with her mother she would sit at her Babas feet while he read the paper and pester him with questions.
“Baba! Baba! All the women in the market don’t wish for the arrival of Ramadan! Why are we preparing for it and welcoming it as thought it is a guest we haven’t seem for years!”
Baba would look at his little daughter, touch her head and say..
“..Habibti, do you know who the people of the Sahaba were?”
Fatima would shake her head confirming she did not know.
“The Sahaba were the people who lived during the time of Mohammed. He would hold sermons for the Sahaba just to advise them of the rewards and the benefits of Ramadan. He would tell his people how there is one night in the month of Ramadan which is better than 1 thousand months put together!”
Fatimas eyes grew like saucers.
“He would speak from his heart when he told his people that one good deed done in the month of Ramadan would be seen as SEVENTY good sins in the eyes of Allah!”
Fatima listened harder.
“He had tears in eyes when he would tell the Sahaba that this was the Month of Patience. Ramadan was the Month of Kindness. Ramadan had been prescribed upon us to cleanse us of our souls from all the rotting!”
Fatima looked to her dad and asked..
“..What happened when Muhammed died? Did they carry on these traditions Baba?”
“Excellent questions Habibti. After Muhammed SAW s passing the Sahaba would prepare SIX MONTHS before the arrival of Ramadan! They believed it would be an injustice to Muhammed and terrible manners if they didn’t fully prepare for the best month of the entire year!”
Fatima looked at her dad and said
“I’m going to go and help Mama with our Ramadan preparation.”
Ramadhan Mubarak ♡
p.s – I just want to say a massive thank you to my younger sister MISSELLEMIAH who spent the first days of her Ramadan bringing my story to life by drawing Fatima, Maryam & Aqsa for me! By god, I can’t express how proud I am of her work! ♡