When Ramadan begins, there is excitement in the air. There is a spiritual energy that comes from fasting, the community gets together and prays together unlike any other time in the year, and there is a renewed connection to the Qur’an.
But some of us will not be able to take part in all the things that make this month so special.
Some of us may have to take medicines or are anemic or are going through a difficult pregnancy and cannot fast.
Some of us may be bedridden for a large part of the month and will not be able to pray taraweeh (Ramadan night prayer).
And some of us may be so ill that we cannot even lift the Qur’an to recite it.
But it is easy to compare ourselves to others, or to our old selves, and it easy to confuse means for ends. What makes fasting, praying taraweeh, and reciting the Qur’an so special are not the actions in and of themselves, but rather that they are done in obedience to Allah (swt) and in hope of His mercy, love and rewards. They are the means, and God’s pleasure is the ends.
For example, fasting is forbidden on the days of Eid. An act that has so much virtue as both an obligatory act during Ramadan and a voluntary one outside of Ramadan actually becomes a sin on the days of Eid. Not fasting during those days becomes an act of worship and obedience, and thus an action that brings us closer to the Most High.
Remember that at the very essence, it is your intention that is important. Had you been in good health, you would have fasted and done all the things that your health permitted. The Prophet ﷺ described two men: one man whom God has bestowed upon wealth and knowledge, and he acts upon that knowledge and gives from his wealth; and another man whom God has given knowledge but no wealth, and that man says, “If I had the wealth he had, I would do the same”. The Prophet ﷺ said “And they are rewarded the same”. (Ibn Majah)
So when you see the people and think, “If I was ok, I would be fasting this month,” or when your family leaves the house to pray taraweeh and you say, “I wish I could have been with you,” you are rewarded exactly the same as those who are doing the actions. In the eyes of God, you are just as special as the person praying all night; as the person completing the Qur’an; as the one who is thirsty and tired from his fast.
Moreover, you have a special relationship with Allah (swt) through your illness. The Prophet ﷺ tells us, “No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that,” (Bukhari). In another narration, a companion visited the Prophet ﷺ when he was ill. The Prophet ﷺ told him: “No Muslim is afflicted with any harm but that Allah will remove his sins as the leaves of a tree fall down,” (Bukhari).
Thus you are in the realm of God’s forgiveness as you are ill. Moreover, there is a different type of need for God when we fall all. The Prophet Job called to Allah (swt) in his illness:
“Indeed, adversity has touched me, and you are the Most Merciful of the merciful.” (Qur’an, 21:83)
Your calling to Him in your illness is a form of worship, one that many others may never experience. Moreover, any patience that you show is appreciated by Allah (swt). He tells us in the Qur’an: “Indeed, the patient will be given their reward without account.” (Qur’an, 39:10)
Remember that the point of worship is not to break you, but to build you. Once the Prophet ﷺ walked into the mosque and saw a rope hanging in between its two pillars. He asked, “What is this rope?” The people said, “This rope is for Zainab who, when she feels tired, holds it (to keep standing for the prayer.)” The Prophet ﷺ said, “Do not use it. Remove the rope. You should pray as long as you feel active, and when you get tired, sit down.” (Bukhari)
Whatever actions you are able to do, no matter how small they appear to be, can only be truly quantified by God Himself. Allah (swt) will not judge you for the actions that you were not able to do, and it would be a distraction to focus on them. Rather if you can do other things – supplications, remembrance, charity – God will reward you for your seeking alternative ways to come close to Him. And even if you cannot do anything at all, Allah (swt) knows; the Most Generous rewards you for what you would have done.
And if your heart still aches because you actually love to worship Allah (swt) through fasting or taraweeh or Qur’an and you are unable, your love for that act of worship is loved by God, who rewards you for that love. A man was asked why he recited Surat al-Ikhlas in every prayer – something that we might criticize him for because it is a ‘short’ surah (chapter) – but he responded that, “It is because this surah describes the Most Merciful, and therefore I love to recite it.” Upon hearing the man’s reply, the Prophet said: “Tell that man that Allah loves him.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Your love for certain acts of worship is appreciated and loved by God.
So if you are going through this Ramadan in illness, remember that you, too, are loved by Allah (swt). Even when you cannot take part in the actions of this month, Allah’s mercy, love and forgiveness descend upon you like they do for the fasting person, the one in night prayer, and the Qur’an reciter. You are with them in rank.