The imam was calling them. Their husbands were calling them. However, many of the women in this neighborhood in Alexandria, Egypt refused to come to the masjid during the blessed days of Ramadan. They were too busy fiercely competing for the title of “Best ka’ak maker this side of the city.”
My friend who told me this story is originally from Alexandria and makes some great ka’ak (traditional Arabic cake) herself. However, she has since stepped out of the competition in the kitchen and into one at the masjid during Ramadan every year, where she spends her time competing for blessings sweeter than cake.
When we speak of the greatness of Maryam, Khadija, Aisha and other remarkable women in our history, may Allah be pleased with them all, there is little mention about their superior culinary skills. That is not to say they did not cook for their families. However, what inspires us when we read about them is their commitment to Allah, the tremendous personal sacrifices they made for the faith, and their love for us, as believers who follow them so many centuries later.
We are amazed at how easily Khadija gave away all of her wealth for Islam, we marvel at Maryam’s trust in her Lord as she suffers through childbirth as we read the chapter of the Quran named after her and, we admire the fierce intellect that distinguished Aisha.
Yet, every year, many of us women, and I speak of myself first, break into a sweat during Ramadan. Not because we worry about how to make the most of this limited, spiritually enriched time. Rather, it is because we know we should invite others over for iftar and we need to cook up a storm to prove our mettle. We also feel we need to do this for our families so they will associate Ramadan with positive, delicious memories, as we do when we think back to the Ramadans of our childhood.
“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may attain Taqwa (God-consciousness)” (Quran 2:183).
Taqwa. Remembering, always thinking about Allah. That is the point of Ramadan. The title we should be striving for is Muttaqi, the one who is always conscious of Allah.
Yes, there is spiritual reward for feeding a fasting person; nevertheless, what are we doing about our inner spiritual development? What are we doing for our personal relationship with God? Have we attained taqwa if night after night, we run a marathon of deep-frying food, feeding our families, cleaning up the resulting mess and collapsing into bed, maybe after performing taraweeh prayers? Have we strove to attain taqwa this way?
What struck me about the above-mentioned story of the women of that Alexandria neighborhood was the fact that the imam and the men were trying to help these women understand Ramadan’s deeper meaning. Yet, they still felt the need to fulfill certain expectations and goals that had little to do with attaining greater faith in God. They felt that cooking, not praying was more important during the most sacred of times. These women had become obstacles to their own spiritual success.
This Ramadan, let those of us who cook, and that is still mostly us women, focus more time on contemplation than cooking. Let us spend more nights in taraweeh prayers and more hours in the day reading and trying to understand and live the Quran. Let us cook, yes, but let us also allow others in our families to help us, so they too, reap the benefits of a wiser wife and a muttaqi mother.
Ameena’s tips for Ramadan
- Write down all the positive things you did last Ramadan.
- Write down the areas that need improvement this Ramadan.
- Tactfully invite friends who do not usually go to join you for taraweeh.
- Call as many family members as possible to wish them Ramadan Mubarak, especially those you do not get to speak to often.
- Keep a copy of the Quran and a book of dua (supplications) with you at all times so you do not waste time waiting somewhere.
- Read books about the sunnah of the Prophet and try to practice them in your own life.
- Try to find a form of worship that you can do together as a family.
- Try and help keep the children quiet and busy at the masjid during prayers.
- If you get invited for iftar, stay in “Ramadan mode” and leave early for taraweeh.
Excerpted from Ameena’s Ramadan Diary by Sara Kabil and Abubakr El-banna
Editor’s note: This makes a great gift for the youth as it engages readers with a Ramadan daily checklist and it has tons of ideas like draft emails to send to non-Muslim friends and tips on how to focus on the spiritual aspects of Ramadan.