She and her family had just lost nearly everything in 1991 as they fled from Gulf War-torn Iraq.
But . . . it was Ramadan! How could God allow something so terrible to happen during Islam’s holiest month?
When Dijla Al-Rekabi wrote to me recently, however, disappointment had turned to gratitude. And it was a “kiss from a full moon” that helped her see suffering in a new light.
So, what’s with this story of how a full moon restored her faith in God? I asked her, and she replied with the following letter.
(The 30-day Ramadan fast, by the way, is specifically a sunrise-to-sunset abstinence from all food and drink. Its variable dates are based on the lunar calendar and began this year on July 21.)
Dear Warren: Though I have been fasting since I was 11, the most memorable Ramadan I have ever experienced was the one of 1991 (1411 Hijri, the Muslim calendar). What made it a one-of-a-kind experience was when it occurred. It came two days after we were forced out of our home because of the Gulf War.
All our preparations for welcoming the month were shattered, and since we were in a war zone running for our lives, we couldn't fast in the sense of a voluntary religious fast, but we undoubtedly did a different kind of involuntary fasting “starvation” due to the scarcity of food.
After 14 days of our ordeal, we ended up on the border between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It was an arid desert, empty of everything except us and the sand that stretched as far as our sight could reach. Most of our time was spent nearly passing out due to the extreme hunger and thirst.
I remember, though I was only 14, how deeply hurt I was by the fact that our suffering took place during such a holy month. Although we continued our daily prayers as long as our physical strength permitted, I realized how disappointed I was with God to the degree I thought He was not even worthy of a reproach over what He had allowed to happen.
During the third night of being on the border, I forced open my weary eyes an hour after dusk, only to see a breathtaking sight: a full moon was rising up from the far horizon, and it was unlike any full moon I'd ever seen before. It was the first time I realized how huge the moon could be. It encapsulated the whole gathering of people (33,000) on that empty, harsh desert.
It was bright red in colour. Though it was so far away in terms of distance, it felt as if it was kissing the face of everyone and everything its light came in contact with. Everything was colourless except the moon during that night.
My eyes were fixed on it, watching it rising inch by inch, lifting itself up and watching over us.
To be precise, I wasn't watching it; we were having an intense kind of eye contact with each other. Yes, the moon and I were looking into each other’s eyes and souls, asking and answering questions in silence.
Then I realized that there were still so many blessings to the month of Ramadan I thought we’d missed.
That night felt as if God was reaching out to us and was gifting us with this magnificent scene of the full moon to mark the middle of the holy month a month we had yet to fast even a day of.
While we were so lost thinking how miserable we were and how we missed the holy month days, God was already counting us with those who are most dedicated of his worshippers. He accepted our patience through the ordeal as the only divine form of fasting that counted during that time!
What made the Ramadan of the 1991 so different and unique was the state we were in. We came to God during that time in our most vulnerable stage of humanity. We came to Him seared with endless types of wounds, wounds that were treatable with gauze and bandages; wounds that were better left open, visible and exposed; wounds whose shattering impact on our souls we could never begin to describe.
Though I was only 14 years old at the time, I have no doubt that I was extremely angry with God. What had we done to deserve this? Couldn't He at least wait until after Ramadan to allow this mess to take place?
Given my age back then, I thought that God was robbing us of everything, including the chance to cultivate the rewards of the holy month. Ironically, though I’ve fasted 22 Ramadans since, I have yet to cultivate a reward as magnificent as that “kiss from a full moon"!
Dijla Al-Rekabi, Calgary
Thank you, Dijla. And to all our Muslim coffee companions, Ramadan Mubarak!