I’m one of those Muslims who has never celebrated Christmas, though like most Muslims in the UK, I know what Christmas excitement feels like. As a child, the frosty air feels like magic, an air that is festive, full of possibility and generousity. The shorter days and the longer nights let us appreciate the twinkling lights of street illuminations.
It was also the one time at school when talking about God or his presence in our lives was normal and acceptable, as much as it was at home. The nativity plays brought the story of Jesus (AS), son of Mary (RA), into our schools.
One of my favourite poems was about the night before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore, the first couplet being as follows:
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house;
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
A contrast to the idea of a party celebration – a loud and raucous gathering – here we had excitement brimming within the silence; the giddy excitement that keeps us awake in the anticipation of an extraordinary visitor.
Christmas songs and sleigh bells, tinsel and reindeers now gently nudge fond memories of painting calendars and stapling baubles from recycled greeting cards. But that childlike excitement of the night before comes to me on certain nights including the night before Eid or the first fast of Ramadan.
I find that the night connects me to different things, far from the worries of the day that I lay to rest.
Time flows, ever unchanging, and yet the night alters our perception. The day comes to a close, our work comes to a halt, we say goodnight to one and all before retiring to solitude. We say goodnight to people but often also to our duties, our worries, and our stresses. As we know from Allah’s words in the Quran, the night was made for rest, and the day for work (25:47).
Before sleeping we remind ourselves with a prayer that we die and live, by His name and in the final third of the night, Allah calls to us, to greet and worship Him as His Rahma descends to the lowest heaven.
When I’m awake at night, a different part of me comes to life. All the puzzle pieces of the day come together – my reflections of that day and myself, the ideas in an essay I’m writing, the colours on a canvas I want to paint.
The night is for rest, but this isn’t absolute. When we set our minds to rest, perhaps it is our heart that opens up. I find myself wondering if it is a coincidence that in these hours of the night that I find connections within myself, that Allah calls to us to connect to Him.
When we sleep our bodies find rest but in prayer, our soul finds contentment.
In Ramadan, we temporarily change our routines so that more of our worship shifts into the night. Our meals, which are an act of worship as much as fasting, are no longer taken in daylight hours. We pray our nawafil or Taraweeh after Isha and the alarm for Suhoor can double as an alarm for Tahajjud. We do not abandon the dunya in the day, nor abandon our akhirah at night. Allah calls to us and we run to Him.
With the sighting of the moon on that first evening of Ramadan, my heart reawakens to that vivid joy that anticipates the gifts of this month, the beauty of Allah’s words, and the lights we keep burning through the night.