Half a Ramadan is Still a Ramadan

Having spent two Ramadans in the Netherlands now, I still can’t get used to the lonely and isolating experience of fasting without an extended network of family and friends. But I must count my blessings. I have a wonderful husband who doesn’t think twice about helping to cook sahur and iftar, and I have amazing friends sparsely distributed in several towns around my own. When we manage to get together once in a few months for a meal (and one iftar), it means the world to me.

The Dutch approximation of ‘Ramadan Mubarak.’

I still find it difficult to cultivate an atmosphere of spirituality without community support. The only mosque I am comfortable enough with (and whose sermons are given in a language I can understand) is relatively far away, so it takes a lot more effort to go for an iftar or a tarawih prayer and meet other Muslims. With the long hours of fasting, tarawih at midnight is hardly an option for two people who rely on bicycles and public transport.

My biggest challenge this year was overcoming others’ perceptions of me, and my own perceptions of myself. It started with hanging a paper decoration in the window. This is typically Dutch, as they announce the births of their children this way. I cut out letters that spelled out ‘Gelukkig Ramadan’ – the Dutch approximation of ‘Ramadan Mubarak’.

[Read more...]

Tired of Explaining: An Interfaith Relationship in Ramadan

This year marks the second or third time I’ve observed Ramadan as an adult in Nigeria. I have always been aware of how ethnic and religious lines are drawn in Nigeria but each time I am in the country, it always strikes me again like a slap in the face. In a context where hyper-religiosity is the norm, where on every street corner there is at least one or two churches plus an equal number of mosques, and lines are drawn between Islam and Christianity (all other religions are ignored), religion becomes an important identifier. Because ethnic and religions lines are so drawn out, and nepotism is the norm, it is not uncommon to find myself the odd one out depending on the situation. At work I’m not only the only Muslim staff, but also the only Yoruba one; once my coworkers knew I was Muslim, I became the Muslim coworker, “my only Muslim friend”, “the only nice Muslim I know,” “the only Muslim woman who would shake my hand,” and other variations. Although I do not choose Islam as my foremost identity, I am always acutely aware of my being a Muslim when I’m in Nigeria. All of a sudden I wonder if I should have more Muslim friends, because what does it mean to be friends with people who suffer from varying degrees of Islamophobia but don’t know what Islamophobia is?

Sometime in February I entered into a relationship with someone who isn’t Muslim. Someone who used to be a born-again Pentecostal Christian, as many Nigerian Christians are, and who did not know anything about Muslims or Islam, yet still thought to look down on the religion. I have always thought I could date anyone regardless of religious beliefs as long as we shared certain principles and values. And my significant other was ready to learn something about Islam from me. At first, I was eager to share my beliefs. I am not the most devout Muslimah, but I did share what I had, offered to lend my Quran, and explained what Ramadan is, as well as how important it is to me. [Read more...]

Introspection: On Ramadan Solitude, Gratitude, and Goals

It has been difficult to engage with other Muslims in my area for Ramadan (this wasn’t a problem for me last year). It’s a challenge to get to the masjid in the evening for the month’s special tarawih prayers, a soothing time to listen to the entire Quran over (approximately) 30 days.  Where I live, fasts are 17 hours long. With full-time work occupying my weekdays, non-fasting hours are mostly spent trying to catch up on sleep and rehydrate.

When I try to think about what I enjoy most about the month this year, then, it is the solitude, the collective (yet wholly individual) introspection, embarking on newly-set goals (both spiritually and more generally). While at times it seems like everyone is celebrating the more collective, communal activities the month brings, it’s often not as common to hear people discuss how Ramadan quietly affects them on a more personal level. Sana’s post from last year, along with Nicole’s and Izzie’s from this year beautifully highlight an individual peace that comes with the month.

I enjoy the seeming creation of time the month brings, the clarifying space and quiet that results from taking a bit of a break: from food consumption, a normally-busy social calendar, swearing, and television, in my case (I’m still working on trying to cut back from the interwebs…). These benefits are unique to the individual, and have less to do with one’s spiritual goals than they do towards improving one’s habits generally. Or at least that’s how it seems at first…  [Read more...]

A Ramadan Journey through Sri Lanka

This post was written by guest contributor Hafsa.

The “Golden Canopy” of the Temple of the Tooth visible from the Kandy Lake.

Last summer, I was on a journey spanning the northern, eastern and the south-western parts of Sri Lanka. On the first day of Ramadan, I found myself in the heart of the country: Kandy, the site of the middle Kingdom.

Tamil and Muslim Minorities make up almost 20% of Kandy City. Most of the former are hill-country Tamils who have endured a history of discrimination. The British initially brought Tamils from India to work in the tea plantations, and since the post-colonial period this community was considered a colonial import and denied citizenship rights by the state. Later political developments restored these rights in the early 1960s.

As I spoke to some of the hill-country men and women who were working at a plantation, my first day of Ramadan was filled with stories of everyday struggles for better standards of living, and hope for a brighter future. When time came for me and my team of colleagues to leave, it started raining quite hard outside the small meeting area within the tea factory where we had gathered. We bade lingering farewells and well-wishes and dashed out to the awaiting minivan. One of the managers ran after us and gave me a bag of freshly baked goods. I was mildly surprised, since I never told anyone what day it was.

It was a few minutes before sunset; I hadn’t quite realized. [Read more...]

Faster’s Remorse

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. [Read more...]

Non-Traditional Foodisms in Ramadan

Every Ramadan, there are delicious food articles and recipe ideas published on various sites and magazines. They are often inspired by peoples’ lived experience with food, memories of traditions and practical ideas for meal preparation in Ramadan.

My MIL’s iftar spread.

A delicious chutney accompanying a home-cooked samosa, fresh juices, Rooh Azfa cocktails, traditional rice dishes, divinely prepared meats and wonderful smorgasbord of delights at iftaar time. My mother-in-law is a fantastic cook and has spent most of her life committed to feeding her family. She still wakes up at least an hour before dawn to make fresh parathas, omelettes and whatever else her family desires. Iftaar is often a lavish affair. There are fresh pakoras, chaat, chick-pea and sweet potato dishes and other fantastic creations. I call this the “Gold Standard” of iftaars. Ramadan always brings out memories of food, smells, textures and tastes for my husbands’ family.

My family was different. In a lovely, non-traditional way. [Read more...]