This post was written by guest contributor Nicole Hunter Mostafa.
My non-Muslim friends and family may have a hard time understanding why, but Ramadan is a wonderful time of year for me. Of course, it’s difficult to fast, especially during the summer months, but regardless of the time of year, it’s always lovely when Ramadan rolls around again, not least of all because it’s a time when I get to eat food that’s reserved for this month.
The first time I fasted for Ramadan, I was not yet Muslim. On the surface, I did it for a good friend of mine. He was observing Ramadan outside of his home country for the first time and was quite depressed about it. But on the inside, I was rather excited about observing Ramadan. By that point, I was pretty curious about this whole Islam thing, and attempting to fast during Ramadan seemed like a good place to really start my journey.
After the first long, hot day of fasting, I was exhausted. I met my friend for iftar. Prior to the start of Ramadan, he had regaled me with stories of what his mom traditionally cooked during the month—the soups, the drinks, the sweets. But on that day, he was equally exhausted, and neither of us felt like cooking anything. So we did what any average pair of twenty-somethings would do when they were hungry: we ordered a pizza.
I didn’t know any better. He did, but the first day of Ramadan fasting tends to temporarily erase all fasting lessons learned from years prior; all you can focus on is how delicious every food in the world would taste if you could only eat it right now.
The Pizza Hut delivery guy arrived promptly. He showed up about ten minutes before maghrib, and in those ten minutes, as the aroma of pizza filled the apartment, nothing seemed more appropriate for fast-breaking than a huge slice of heavy, cheesy, greasy goodness. Forget about dates and zamzam—in those ten minutes, it felt (and smelled) like pizza was the true gift from Allah.
When the athan sounded, we both dove for the pizza box. I still remember that first post-athan bite. It was purely magical. We gobbled up that pizza like we had never tasted anything like it before in our lives. In that moment, it seemed like we had made the best decision ever.
We were able to bask in the post-pizza afterglow for about an hour…and then our stomachs began to churn in an ugly way. By isha, it was all over. We were both violently ill, and we were each swearing that we would never eat pizza ever again for as long as we both shall live.
This is my sixth Ramadan fasting, and to this day, pizza is the one food that never sounds good to me during fasting hours.
The rest of Ramadan went more smoothly for us, fasting-wise. When we broke our fast together, it was always with dates and water first, as is traditional for Muslims around the world (and apparently for good reason). Then, for our meal, we always ate homemade soup and modified sambousas (baked, not fried, and we used egg roll wrappers to make them). No more pizza, for sure. And I was very surprised to discover that the guy was a pretty terrific cook.
In addition to the fasting lessons I learned, that first Ramadan was also one of the most spiritually significant I have ever experienced, even though I had not yet said shahadah. I read Qur’an and tried to learn to pray. And although my early conversations with my friend were what prompted me to begin to explore Islam, we stopped talking about religion during that Ramadan. I wanted to make my own way into the religion without his influences, and he didn’t want to put pressure on me to convert, even inadvertently.
So I fasted, and I grew. And I read and I studied. I ate soup and dates and learned to eschew my daily Route 44 cherry Dr. Pepper from Sonic (at least during Ramadan) in favor of as much good ol’ water as I could gulp during the night time hours. I delved deeply into theology and was shocked—yet comforted—to discover how closely the theology of Islam matched with what I had always believed about God, despite having been raised Catholic.
Little did I know how that first Ramadan was signaling the beginning of more than one major journey for me. A year and a half later, I converted to Islam. Two years after that, I married that guy.
This is now my sixth Ramadan fasting, and over these years, I’ve become good at making soup, although I think my husband is still better than me. I’d be lying if I said we never succumb to the temptations of heavy, greasy, delicious food in the hours after iftar, but to this day, we always start things off with soup (the one I’m best at making is Quaker soup, a Saudi soup made with oatmeal) and baked sambousas (my favorite filling is feta cheese mixed with dill). Although we do sometimes go out or visit friends for iftar, I admit that eating anything else always feels a little weird for us.
My husband and I had our first baby two months ago. Even though she’s still tiny, we’ve been having fun introducing her to our little Ramadan traditions, like hanging a fanoos. She’s too young to appreciate our culinary Ramadan traditions (okay, I suppose you could argue pretty convincingly that she’s too young to appreciate any Ramadan traditions at all), but we have already identified one of the Ramadan guidelines we intend to hand down to her when she is old enough: never order pizza for iftar.
For more on MMW’s Ramadan series, and to read the rest of this year’s Ramadan posts, click here.