Ramadan is always a test of faith for Muslims all over the world but it's also a time of strength and hope for many. One of the ways that many of us get inspired during this blessed month is by reading stories of other Muslims.
We had the opportunity of getting to know one Muslim's story - Carin Timskog. The Swedish-Muslim revert embraced Islam in Ramadan 9 years ago and it changed her life. We talked to her to find out more about her revert journey through the years and how it's like living in Tangier, Morocco today. We also got her to share how she spends her Ramadan in Morocco too, so read on!
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you found Islam.
First of all, I'd like to express my gratitude for this feature and outreach. I’m really honored. Alhamdulillah. I’m Carin, a Swedish-Muslim revert of 9 years, a mum of a 2.5 years old sporty girl and the founder of the blog Energized Muslimah.
Being Swedish, physical activity and a healthy lifestyle, have always been part of my life. Even though I was a stay-at-home mum and naturally fully occupied, I was longing to work and do something. So I started my blog and another one a year later too. My passion for fitness and helping women to find their true potential made it nearly impossible not to take up my business again.
It was when I lived in Qatar for 5 amazing years that I reverted to Islam.
I had always been searching.
Searching for answers, searching for something that made sense, and I had been searching for inner peace. I was a yoga teacher and I had spent considerable time in both India and Thailand, searching for the meaning of life. But it was not until I lived in Qatar, and I was positively stunned by the people’s inner peace, that I finally found the truth. The perfect religion of Islam.
I used to run around in my business suit and high heels. But I also saw Ale, one of my staff members, who was from Indonesia, always standing in the staff room for his prayers. I’ve never ever met any human being with a smile like him, and with inner tranquillity like him, by the way. May Allah protect him. Ameen.
My interest and curiosity arose. One thing led to another and one and a half years in Qatar, I decided to fast during Ramadan, I bought my first hijab (abaya and matching scarf), and I started to watch YouTube tutorials on how to pray. My other staff member, Ahmad from Egypt, all of a sudden brought me two big bags of Islamic books and a Swedish translation of the Qur'an! MashaAllah. On the third day of Ramadan, I went to the Islamic Center, and on the fourth day, I went back and took my Shahadah. MashaAllah tabarakAllah. One sister, who is a lovely sister and also a revert from the Philippines, explained to me that the first pillar of Islam is that you believe that there is only One God, which is Allah. Something that made complete sense to me, and something that I somehow always had believed.
And here I am, 9 years later - living in Morocco, far away from Swedish culture, but close to my family, my Moroccan family. I consider them family although, in Swedish culture, we'd call them relatives. I’m also close to nature and I’m so extremely blessed to hear the adhan every day. Alhamdulillah.
Islam is, without doubt, the biggest gift I’ve ever gotten, and I’m so humbled and thankful that it’s almost scary. Because you can never ever take anything for granted. Alhamdulillah for everything. And as I’m about to end this introduction, I’m making a quite du'a that Allah will reward all the amazing people I’ve come across and that showed me kindness and guidance. I will always remember how the sister brought me to Tarawih prayers, how we had iftar parties and so on and so forth. The sisterhood I experienced in Doha, Qatar, will forever be an amazing experience. Sisters because of Islam and love because of Allah SWT. Everyone came from different parts of the world and from different cultures, but we came together because of Islam and we were united. SubhanAllah, Alhamdulillah ❤️
[P.S. Want to read more revert stories? Check out how these reverts around the world spend their Ramadan!]2. What does Ramadan mean to you and how do you take care of yourself during this month?
Ramadan means a lot to me. I panic only thinking about fasting and being without coffee. But at the same time, it’s the month of forgiveness, it’s the month of getting closer to Allah SWT and it’s an amazing feeling. I love it! And it’s the holy month when I was guided by Allah SWT and declared my faith, so naturally, it will always be very special to me.
I take care of myself by eating well. Continuing to eat proper food and lots of water during the eating window. I’m reading more Qur’an, I’m less on social media and I’m praying much more. All this really nourishes the soul… what a reminder for everyday life by the way ? But I also continue to work out, and I do so just before I break the fast. I normally run, walk, do pilates, flexibility training, bodyweight training or strength training.
3. What challenges did you face getting used to Ramadan at first?
The extreme headache from not drinking my mugs of coffee… but that was minor. Ramadan was just absolutely amazing. Really. The sister who I took my shahadah with brought me to one of the oldest mosques in Qatar and it was packed! The night prayer lasted for hours! I was tired and I didn’t know what it was all about. I had almost no clue about the prayer. And I almost didn’t sleep during Ramadan. I was in the office for work 5 days a week at 9am. No idea how I managed or survived or when I slept. But all I remember is that it was amazing. I love the feeling that I still have in my heart, just thinking about this… Alhamdulillah!
[P.S. A lot of reverts go through challenges as a new Muslim. Read this revert's story to find out how he overcame his challenges!]4. Where did you draw your support/encouragement when you began your revert journey?
I was so blessed to be surrounded by Muslims. Qatari sisters were absolutely amazing. They were so welcoming! They stood with open arms in Qatar, especially as I have blue eyes and they could tell I was a foreigner and revert. But in Qatar, there were also so many sisters' gatherings and also Islamic Centers. I was fully occupied attending all various types of lectures, classes and sisters' gatherings.
5. How has Ramadan changed for you over the years?
The first year, I fasted even though I was against it, but I wanted to become a better manager to my workers. This year I’m longing to fast, to increase my worship and in shaa Allah have all my sins from last year forgiven. Over the years I have been longing, because it’s really a time when I reflect more and working on getting closer to Allah SWT. And you’re reminded of Allah every day even more, as you hear the recitations from the Tarawih prayers and attend yourself.
6. What's your biggest struggle during Ramadan and how do you overcome it?
My biggest struggle is to be without coffee! I have no other choice than overcoming it because fasting is fasting. The first year of fasting was absolutely such a difficulty, but as the years passed by and the days pass by every year, it becomes easier.
The body is so strong subhanAllah. I still remember when I was featured on Qatar TV and we filmed during the hot summer month of August. It was 50 degrees Celsius hot, it was Ramadan and I was still working many hours every day with my personal training clients. But Alhamdulillah, I survived that too. The love for my clients, my job and with Allah SWT’s help, it all worked out well. Alhamdulillah.
This year, the fasting hours in Morocco last from around 4.30am to 8.30pm. Back when I reverted in August in Qatar, when it was hot and I was working as I mentioned earlier, so over the years, it’s just getting easier and easier Alhamdulillah. And here in Morocco, it’s still not hot, it's only about 20 degrees, so Alhamdulillah it's a comfortable Ramadan. I’m simply extremely blessed and I’m extremely grateful Alhamdulillah.
7. As a personal trainer and nutrition coach, what do you usually eat for iftar/sahur and what would you recommend to fellow Muslims who want to keep a balanced lifestyle in Ramadan?
My approach is to eat proper food. I don’t have the mindset of “oh I’ve been fasting, now I can eat anything, or it’s no worries to eat some sugar”. I see and hear many Muslims eating too much sugar, too much food or drinking smoothies. My iftar meal is like a regular lunch or dinner. Half plate vegetables, ¼ with protein such as fish/meat/chicken and ¼ with carbohydrates such as quinoa/potatoes/rice for example. And I drink water. For Sahur, I eat oat porridge or overnight oats with boiled eggs.
First of all, I wish my fellow Muslims would eat healthy every day of the year! But as a guideline, disregard all the deep fried food and all sugar-ish foods. Instead, choose more single ingredients and put these together into delicious cultural meals. I still remember the absolutely delicious food I had at Bali when I was there a couple of years ago. I love Asian food! The problem is not the food itself, but often the amounts, or all the added sweets before or after the meal.
When we overeat, we get tired and lazy. But when we eat enough proper food in moderate amounts, the energy will arise and we will be less in the mood to have too much food or even sugar. It’s all about behavior and habits to change for the better. As a general advice: ensure you drink enough water, eat more vegetables, eat more protein and choose complex carbohydrates in moderate amounts.
I also stay healthy from being outdoors, getting fresh air and physical activity. Fasting makes me even more thankful and conscious. When I’ve been away from food for so many hours, and I didn’t eat anything for so long, I’m even more thankful for the food that I get. But I also care even more about what I actually put into my mouth and body. And as we know, what we eat really matters, and also in which amounts. If I want to feel awesome, I need to eat well. Eating bad, I honestly cannot really expect myself to feel anything else than bad.
7. How do you reconnect with your faith/God during this month?
Through more prayers, like the Tarawih after the Isha prayer, but also with more consistency in night prayers before Fajr. By reducing time on social media, by reading more Qur'an and by fasting! Fasting really makes me reflect, it makes me more humble and more thankful. And just like we know, fasting is for Allah SWT, and we do it for His SWT’s sake. I think Ramadan is the ultimate month of reminders of being a Muslim. A reminder about your blessings, but also about what this temporary life actually is about, which is to worship Allah SWT.
[P.S. Check out these 6 useful ways to make the most out of Ramadan especially if you're a busy Muslim!]8. What are your non-Muslim friends' reactions to fasting back in Sweden? Do they understand it?
When I first reverted to Islam, my closest friends didn’t understand it at all. It was really difficult for them, seeing me wearing hijab and praying. They were really somehow uncomfortable.
Da'wah is very hard in Sweden in my opinion. While some friends still think my choice is very strange, they totally accept and don’t care because they see how happy and calm I became after embracing Islam. Some still find it difficult though, probably because they don’t believe in any religion or God. The common practice in Sweden is to believe in the Universe, or that it’s enough to just be kind and show love. So naturally, the discussion of hijab for example, comes in the way for even starting talking about who the Creator is.
But to make it short, and in my experience, when I’m happy, confident and calm, my friends are curious and relaxed too. This is what we should do as Muslims. We don’t need to tell anyone that we are Muslims, but instead, just show them with our kind actions.
9. How is Ramadan like in Tangier, Morocco?
Moroccan culture has a huge emphasis on family (which includes everyone, the word “relatives” doesn’t really exist). Hospitality and generosity are also part of their culture. I’m used to going to bed early and being up early. However, this isn’t really the Moroccan culture, especially not during Ramadan, although this may depend a little bit on when Ramadan is in the year.
What I embrace and really like about Ramadan in Tangier, is that my family and I will go to the beach in the afternoon and just chill and relax. Such a great way to disconnect and instead reflect and connect with oneself and with each other.
My husband and I and our daughter, then break fast together at home. We are simple people, Alhamdulillah. We start with dates and water, and of course, I need to have an espresso too, because I'm a coffee lover ? It’s very common in Morocco to eat sugar-ish sweets and other finger-food for iftar. The local markets (souqs) are full of those sugar-ish bites, and people seem to enjoy them. The Harira soup or Tagine are other traditional dishes, but we don’t have these actually. We only prepare food that is healthy, nourishing and quick to cook.
After Isha, it’s time for Tarawih prayer. My husband goes alone to the mosque now, but when I was pregnant, we went together.
Here's one local tradition that I observe - one hour or more before Fajr, children are walking around in the neighborhood with a horn and drums… waking people up, ensuring they are awake for Sahur. Then before Sahur, there are more congregants in the mosques, and also in the praying room of the building where we live. You hear the recitation and you just really feel something in your heart. Alhamdulillah!
My husband and I have sahur breakfast together, and again, we keep it simple, just like any other breakfast with one overnight-oats each. And boiled eggs. And a large mug of coffee of course.
10. What are some of the activities the Muslim community in Tangier does during Ramadan?
There are lectures in the local mosques, but those are for Arabic speakers. Being a non-Arab speaker, these are normally not open or easy to attend for me, but I don't see it as a negative thing. They do have couscous after the Tarawih prayer during the 27th
night of Ramadan, but I’ve never attended this.
Credit: @shaggy23 on Instagram
We do have many mosques that have outdoor praying places during the Tarawih prayers. This is very nice, and many sisters have met each other and bonded during these prayers. When I lived in Qatar, we had so many iftar gatherings, which were memorable. But since I moved to Morocco, life happened that I’ve spent my Ramadans with my husband and sometimes our family.
11. How do you celebrate Eid in Tangier?
If we are still in Tangier, which we normally are, we have breakfast before we head to the mosque for Eid prayer. Then if the rest of our family aren’t travelling we'd go and see them and have lunch together. After that, we continue to visit other family members. Or we might travel to them, then we will have lunch together.
But if they are travelling, we have an Eid lunch together on our own, either at home, or we bring something from home and head out because, we love to be outdoors ?
12. How is life in Morocco different from life in Sweden?
I never lived in Sweden as a Muslimah, I’ve only been there to visit. But honestly, what I’ve come to realize is that no place is perfect in this Dunya. As much as I love Sweden, with all the rules, calm culture, organization, infrastructure and so on; the lack of hearing adhan affects me. Not having lived in there for 10 years, I do miss my family and the structure. But I don’t feel as good there anymore since I became a Muslimah, as I do in Morocco… This is because of the mosques, prayer rooms everywhere, halal food and the belief system. Alhamdulillah!
One of the difficult things for me being in Sweden is to wake up for Fajr. I don’t feel any essence of life there… Probably it’s because of the lack of mosques and call to prayer. It’s just such a different feeling. Alhamdulillah for Morocco.
It’s not always easy for me living in Morocco, but I hear the adhan and I have Muslims around me wearing hijab, praying and believing in Tawheed, the Oneness of Allah SWT! Alhamdulillah. So, to be in Morocco and have these things, it cannot be compared to living or being in a non-Muslim country. However, there is a purpose for everyone and everything that happens. Just like my husband always reminds me, “may Allah put us and make us live where we are most useful and where there's good in it, wherever that might be. Ameen.”
Find Carin on:
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