Patience 

Guilty as charged. Bang went my promise of a blog post every night, the plans of cooking nutritional meals for me to regain my strength and the pep talk I gave myself about not being crabby when hungry. It has all flown straight out of the window.
We’re now on day 18 and I cannot begin to describe how proud I am for getting this far. At the start of Ramadan, day 18 seemed a million miles away, and here we are, with less that two weeks to go until Eid, and I’ve managed every single day.
The one thing I have noticed more than anything this year is the isolation. That has played the biggest part in why I haven’t blogged for so long. It is difficult enough living in a community which isn’t predominantly Muslim, as going about your everyday business, you could be forgiven for thinking that the days of Ramadan are just like any other. The isolation goes deeper though when you find yourself breaking your fast alone every night. For me there has been no extravagant meals. It seems pointless to make that extra effort when I cannot manage more than a plateful of food. The children have eaten a good few hours prior by that point, and I don’t want to cook more than necessary and have it go to waste.
Last year’s diet was mainly a small bowl of soup followed by some fried eggs. This year, I seem to be surviving on noodles. Quick and easy to make, just the right portion size and satisfyingly filling. I went one step further last night and followed it up with an egg sandwich, but by 9.30pm I am honestly past the point of hunger and just want to quench my thirst.
The isolation I have been feeling had led to me becoming slightly depressed and withdrawn. I would leave it until the last minute to leave home each morning to take the kids to school, and upon my return, shut myself off from the world until it was time to drag myself back out again in the afternoon. I wanted to interact with my friends, but realised my energy levels were sapping because I’d not had a decent meal for sahur. I was aware my breath wasn’t the most fragrant, and I found myself avoiding contact because I couldn’t be bothered to make the effort.
I missed the atmosphere of the holy month that I had been so used to in Istanbul in previous years. I missed the bustling conversation over the iftar meal on an evening. I missed listening to the drummer walking the streets in the early hours waking people up before sunrise. I felt resentful at my situation and I felt very alone.
The biggest lesson I have been taught over the past month is patience. Nothing in this life lasts forever. Every emotion we feel, every event we anticipate and every step we take is temporary. I constantly looked for a purpose, for an answer as to what I was doing with my life. I wondered when I would get my break, my good news and my focus. I had prayed so much to Allah knowing that prayers were so much more important in the holy month, and yet each day I woke with the same heavy heart and tired mind.
Today was the day I was to receive my good news and indeed, my prayers and patience had paid off. I received news that I had been accepted onto the undergraduate university course of my dreams. So many things had previously hindered me from studying for the career path I’d had in my mind since childhood. There in front of me was the email confirming my acceptance and I cried. I had done it. Despite the odds being stacked high of being a single mum to three children, going through a messy divorce and learning to stand on her own two feet again, I had done it. I had achieved what I’d set my heart on.
The first person I wanted to call was my mum. I wanted to scream down the phone and tell her my good news. I wanted to tell my Dad and show him that I was going to make him proud. I sat and looked around me and realised that the two people who would know just how much this meant to me, weren’t even there anymore and that hurt. 
I couldn’t get to school quickly enough this afternoon to tell my children. My girls were so happy for me, but their biggest worry was who would look after them when I would be studying. It was an understandable reaction after the upheaval of the past year. I then went to collect my son from his school, and his reaction was the best I could have ever wished for. He shouted for joy and gave me the biggest cuddle ever, with a smile beaming across his face. He knew just how much I wanted this, and what I didn’t have in terms of my parents celebrating with me, he certainly more than made up for it.
Today I got my purpose, something for myself. Today I learnt the lesson to never give up. So many days I felt I didn’t have the strength or determination any more. So many times I questioned when I would reap my rewards. Today my faith and beliefs were reconfirmed because I believe that this is my reward for never giving up.
I have my focus back, my motivation and more importantly, my smile. 

Day 25/26. Night of the Qadr

Unfortunately there was no blog last night due to having no internet connection at home. Now I am used to the electricity and water cuts every time I come to Istanbul, and I have learnt to cope with those. The Internet however, is another story. If only we were as connected to our religion as we are to the World Wide Web. I think the world would be such a different place. 

Today is known as Night of the Qadr (Kadir Gecesi). This is the most important night of the Islam calendar as it the night when the Quran began its revelation to the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him). It is known to be a night holier than a thousand nights, and the time from Iftar onwards through to sunrise is filled with prayers and worship.

I visited the mosque this afternoon with my mother in law. Today was the last day of her Quran recital, meaning she had completed reading the whole of the Quran over the past month, and for the first time, she had done it by reading Arabic. The ladies in the mosque were full of hope, a sense of achievement and thanks to Allah that they had lived to complete their worship. My children visited the mosque and listened intently to the Imam reading the last few passages, and joined in with the prayers they knew. The Imam then led general prayers in which he prayed for those who have left this world, those who are ill, those in debt, and for us all, that our prayers may be accepted and our sins forgiven. It was an emotional time, and I only wish the I could have visited the mosque every day throughout Ramadan to worship. 

It was a very hot day in Istanbul, with the temperature reaching at least 30 degrees. Considering there was probably a 10 degree difference between the UK, thankfully I didn’t struggle with fasting today. I expected my mouth to be dry and my brain to have melted, but as usual, Allah helped and guided me through the hours. Of course it helped that I wasn’t working, and so my energy was preserved, but trying to tackle three arguing children in that heat is a job worthy of an MBE.

There was 11 of us for Iftar this evening. It felt magical. There was lots of laughter and chat. The table was filled with freshly baked bread, different types of fruit juice, three different types of food, and a large box of chocolates for when we had finished. You are rewarded if you accept guests for Iftar and so lots of people take turns to play host and prepare Iftar for family and friends throughout Ramadan. More than anything, it is a good excuse for family to get together at times when they may be too busy with other commitments.

Not long after Iftar, I rushed out to meet a friend. We had agreed to go to the local mosque to pray this evening because it was a special night. My two girls came with me. My son could have come, but he is at an age now where he should really pray with males rather than females, and so he agreed to go with grandad to the mosque. At least 200 women gathered in a small courtyard outside the local mosque. From the elderly to the very young, every one had gathered with one intention- to worship Allah on the most important night of the year. There is an extra set of prayers that are completed throughout Ramadan, and these are completed after the usual last set of prayers of the day. It was now 10.45pm and everyone had gathered in lines, women trying to find a space where they could in the hope that praying by the mosque would be more rewarding than praying at home. Of course, Allah accepts our worship wherever it may be- the most important part is that you have the intention of praying.

At the entrance to the mosque, people were giving out water, and some people were giving out desserts, usually as a mark for a loved one who has passed away, in the hope that their good intention would give peace to those people they didn’t have in their lives anymore. They hoped that by doing a good deed, the sins of their loved ones who had passed would be forgiven, and on what better night than Qadr.

We followed the lead of the Imam whose voice was echoed from the megaphones places around the mosque. In uniform, packed all together tightly liked sardines, we started to pray. It didn’t matter that we were nudging and bumping into each other as we knelt down and rose again. We were all there with the hope that Allah would hear and accept our prayers. 
One hour later, the prayers were complete. Slowly, the 200 women filed out of the mosque, many meeting with their husbands, some with children and some on their own, and they would be heading onto other mosques to continue their prayers. Tonight is the one night that we are asked to prayer continually until sunrise. The local town was filled with masses of people who hoped to spend the early hours offering their prayers at the numerous mosques in the area, and considering there is a mosque on nearly every other street, that counts for a lot of prayers.

Some males choose to stay in their local mosque from Iftar right through until sahur everyday in order to be strict with their worship. A friend of ours is staying in the mosque every night until Eid, with the exception of going to work. He returns to the mosque straight after he has finished work, and stays there until it is time to leave again the next morning. This is particularly common over the last ten days of Ramadan.

It is now 1.30am and I am sitting listening to more prayers on the television. I have goose pimples, and I have become quite emotional at times today. Muslims display such a strong connection to their faith. There is a certain sense of fear against doing wrong, and the consequences that may follow. The Quran states that Allah is a forgiver, and asks us to prayer for when we want to be forgiven. Allah is there when we are alone, when we need guidance and help. Islam isn’t a faith that should be feared. I believe it should be used as an example, that when those who sin, know they can ask for fogiveness. It is a faith that is so strong, it brings together hundreds of people at a single time to pray in unison to their creator, to give thanks for all that is and all that is to come.

I hope Allah accepts my prayers and my fast today. For my Mum and Dad, my grandparents and my husbands relatives who have all passed away, for my husband and my children whom I wish health and happiness, for my husbands family and for our friends for whom I wish the same, for myself and the hope that my wrongdoings may be forgiven, and my good deeds accepted, and for all those in the world who may need a helping hand for whatever be the reason- I wish my worship tonight for you all.