Growing up, Ramadan was my absolute favorite time of the year. Maybe it felt so magical because from what I recall, it was around the time of all of the other holidays or maybe the days were shorter so it wasn’t a big deal to skip a few meals. I remember fasting for the first time when I was in the first grade. Maghrib (after sunset prayer) was very early then so my Muslim friends and I—who were also my neighbors and from the same country of origin as me—would compete to see who would fast the most. We’d go to eat not long after coming home from school, anyway. I remember my parents gently reminding me that I was young so I shouldn’t feel pressured to fast a full day but being so proud when I did. In second grade, when my cousin came to visit us from Paris, my mom prepared a beautiful feast for Iftar (time to break fast)—even more special than she already regularly did—and I was so excited to have a family member there. About ten minutes before iftar, I went to check the fridge and see what there was…and subconsciously reached for a deviled egg, chewing and swallowing two bites before I realized what I had done. My eyes started to well up and I quickly ran to tell my somewhat intimidating cousin what I had just done. He pulled me into a hug and assured me that God wouldn’t be upset. “You didn’t do it on purpose,” he said. “God knows what’s in your heart.. and He’s so proud of you for even fasting so young when you don’t have to yet!”
I remember feeling aghast when my best friend would break her fast in elementary school and maybe even middle school just because the cafeteria was serving pizza that day or she just didn’t feel like fasting (even though I don’t think she had to yet). Long before I got my period and it became an obligation, I truly loved this special, holy month. Some of my fondest memories I have as a young child wwere when my dad would gently wake me up in the middle of the night for Souhour (pre-dawn meal) and we would sit and eat challah bread with Nutella together. My mom would often forgo food for sleep – which later became my strategy as well… Breaking our fast together and making the time to eat all of our favorite Ramadan staples brought us all closer together as a family if only for that month.
But with each passing year, my relationship with my parents became strained, Maghrib became later and later, and Ramadan went from a sweet, treasured month to a looming chore that depleted me of my energy and honestly turned me bitter. In high school, none of my Muslim friends would fast. Their parents told them unless they declared the intent to the day before, it wouldn’t count. Others didn’t feel it was right to fast and be unable to focus and do well in school. Still, I trudged on—longing for the days when Ramadan was in the winter. Once I got to college, religiosity went out the proverbial window. I would try to fast—and for the most part I did—but sometimes, I’d be at a party and see the sun coming up while I was drinking water, having totally lost track of time. I’d swear I’d do good this time and refrain from all the sins but would be easily tempted to go to whatever welcome back to school party my friends were all going to because #FOMO.
Last summer, I started Ramadan with the purest intentions. I wanted to become more spiritual, cleanse myself of bad energy, and truly master patience… but within two days, I had already reached my boiling point. My family members constantly forcing religion down my throat in the most judgmental manner and nagging at me to pray, rude people consistently barreling past me through the crowded streets, and all of the cruel things being done in the name of Islam were just too much for me to handle. I fasted haphazardly and was truly elated once the month was over. This year, I don’t even want to try.
Breaking our fast together and making the time to eat all of our favorite Ramadan staples brought us all closer together as a family if only for that month.
Ramadan is supposed to be a special month—one where Muslims around the world practice humility, patience, perseverance, kindness and absolve themselves of anger, greed, gluttony and impure thoughts. Unfortunately, time and time again I see that this is not the case for a good chunk of Muslims. People prepare large, extravagant meals and go to the mosque to gossip with their friends while their children run amok, climbing over those who really just want to sit there and revel in the imam’s sermon. Family members and friends, rather than encourage and patiently guide us, judge and demonize our efforts because they do not align with theirs… Around the world, people are more aggravated than ever, crimes increase, and let’s not even get into the atrocities ISIS is responsible for DURING OUR MOST HOLY MONTH (and they call themselves “Islamic”).
I guess this year, my faith is being tested and I am questioning how I feel about organized religion as a whole. Above all, I think it would be hypocritical of me to spend a month fasting on and off, complaining about the entire process, and defeating its very purpose so I’ve decided that I probably shouldn’t fast. Maybe I’ll give it a try so that I can attempt to reconnect but since I feel so downtrodden about it all, I just don’t have the heart to make the effort. I know the gravity of my actions—Ramadan is, after all, one of the most sacred duties of a Muslim—but since God knows what’s in our hearts, going through the motions is moot since mine just isn’t in it. Instead, I’d like to focus on my spirituality and connection to this world. I want to continue to donate to those who need it and think of ways to make a difference in people’s lives. I want to better myself as an individual and for those around me. And I don’t think I need Ramadan or religion to do that. Perhaps in my journey of self-improvement, happiness, and dedication to others, I’ll get back that love for Ramadan and faith that I used to have, or perhaps not. What I do know for certain is that religion is personal and religion is supposed to be beautiful and raw—not forced and fake. So this year, with all of the confusion and bitterness I feel towards religion and how people throw it in others’ faces, I will not be a hypocrite. I will not fast.