Ramadan as a young Muslim widow: Ruba’s story

March 2023

Ramadan Mubarak to all of those in the Muslim community and to our Muslim members. We understand how difficult it can be to experience this month without your loved one, so South London-based WAY member Ruba, 31, has shared some of the challenges of being widowed and young within the Muslim community during the Holy Month of Ramadan and how she is marking her third Ramadan without her beloved husband, Aqeel.  


Ruba and Aqeel

I met my husband, Aqeel, in late 2012 when starting my final year at University. It was a complete surprise and a true illustration of “you never know what will happen when you walk into a room” – I thought I was just attending an interview for a mock-trial competition, but I had actually just met my future husband and father of my child!

I still remember the glint in Aqeel’s eyes as he posed difficult questions to see how I would answer (as he often did later in our relationship!) and the relaxed way he sat, his old-school double-breasted navy suit jacket an instant indication of his charisma and charm. I learnt very quickly about his astonishing quick wit and incredibly bright mind. Aqeel became one of my mentors, confidantes and eventually, one of my closest friends. Once we realised that we wanted to forge a life-long partnership together, with the blessing of our parents (Iraqi on my side and East African-Indian on his), we got engaged in 2014 and married a year later in a wonderful Muslim-Arabic-Indian-British affair.

We had a wonderful marriage and were blessed with a daughter in early 2019. We were absolutely besotted with her and were ready to live and grow together and to grow our family as we had always dreamed. But in late 2020, Aqeel dressed for work, attended court as a Barrister and – though he did make it home – he didn’t make it to the end of the day. He collapsed suddenly at home and passed away with what we later learnt was an aortic dissection. He was just 33 years old. 

The immediate “firsts” after Aqeel’s death were heart-breaking – his 34th birthday and our daughter’s second came around within three months. Five months after his death also marked the start of the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan and, to be brutally honest, I was dreading it.

Resolutions for Ramadan

Ramadan is one of the most spiritual months of the Islamic calendar. It is a month of fasting, where Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. More deeply, it is a time of spiritual upliftment, where material desires are set aside for the whole day to encourage self-reflection, prayer and contemplation.  

It is also an incredibly family-oriented month – communities and families gather for the early breakfast (suhoor) and breaking of fast (iftar), engage in congregational prayer and listen to recitations of the Quran (Muslim holy text). It is a time for children to join in community activities and learn more about their faith. Aqeel and I had for instance discussed the notion of “Ramadan resolutions” (the idea that you would set yourself a spiritual goal for the month) and how we would build this into our growing family life.

Whilst Muslims are taught to remember death often (this being part of our core belief that this world is temporary), the flipside is the expectation of ultimate acceptance; that even if you face an excruciating challenge such as losing your partner, you accept it as your decree from God. Whilst this may provide an ultimate spiritual goal to work towards, it doesn’t reflect the day-to-day struggle the bereaved experience, particularly in as poignant a month as Ramadan. Ramadan as a widow can therefore be excruciating, as it serves as a constant reminder of your loss and what could have been.  Those who haven’t suffered such a loss also won’t necessarily appreciate the challenges, and it can be hard to see others observing Ramadan with their growing families when there is a gaping hole in yours.

This Ramadan will be my third without Aqeel. I am slowly starting to acknowledge that, no matter how heart-breaking, Ramadan will never be what it was or what we hoped it would be when he was alive. My goal for this year is therefore to remove as much pressure as possible – I won’t try to replicate a Ramadan from when Aqeel was alive, but I will still fast and observe the month. I will still integrate Aqeel into the month by sponsoring charitable iftars across the world in his memory, and I will still build a love and excitement for the month in our daughter. 

I will also, importantly, still be open about my pain of losing Aqeel, even within the context of practising my faith, and will use the month as an opportunity to grow spiritually while carrying this pain.  For me, this takes the pressure away from formal acceptance, opens up an important community discussion and helps focus on our spiritual growth towards God in Ramadan, even when those we love most aren’t physically present to grow with us. 

Update:

Eid Mubarak to those celebrating. 

Eid marks the end of Ramadan and can be a difficult time for WAY members. 

On Eid, communities gather in communal prayer, share gifts & donate Zakat El-Fitr, traditionally to feed those in need. 

Please consider supporting WAY on what is a special day of giving.

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WAY’s Diversity Working Group

Ruba is a member of the WAY Diversity Working Group, which was set up last year to help make WAY as inclusive as possible and to maximise reach and support for as diverse a membership as possible.

Ruba told us: “My membership of WAY and involvement in the work of its Diversity Working Group is driven by a desire to send this message to all widows, both of faith and non-faith backgrounds. That one’s faith can be an aid throughout their grief and may even give an ultimate life goal to aim towards. But that it shouldn’t stand in the way of being open and honest about your daily difficulties. My wish is for people in my position to see that joining WAY gives an invaluable way to express this honesty – a lifeline to a community of those who have suffered similar loss, this being a painful reality that unites us despite our differences, religious or otherwise.”

The Diversity Working Group is keen to hear from anyone who would be interested in joining. If you would like to find out more, please contact us at enquiries@widowedandyoung.org.uk.