As I prepare to enter my twelfth year of observing Ramadan, I can’t help but revisit my first. I had recently accepted Islam freely and privately in my attic bedroom. My fast was just as covert as my conversion. In a house full of Christian roommates, none were aware of my new faith and the fasting that followed. One of their boyfriends, a perceptive medical student, realized that I was losing weight but I never shared why. I sat in the living room, eating my late dinner in their company way beyond sunset. I was never really sure that the sun slipped beneath the horizon until the sky was dark blue and black. I hurriedly ate a bowl of cereal upon waking, way after dawn, again confused about the boundaries of time. It never occurred to me that I could ask someone or search the internet. I later made up for those deficiencies but in spite of those flaws, I soared on an incredible high for the entire month. After the puzzling previous years of searching and praying, I was elated to finally be on a path that resonated with me intellectually, socially, and spiritually. Ramadan was a new beginning for me.
My second Ramadan was more communal. I befriended a sister, an Afro-Caribbean convert like myself, and we regularly attended the mosque and night prayer vigils together. We were college students then and ended our day’s fast with iftar dinners at the local mosque. After starting with the traditional dates and water, we made room for all of the various cultural cuisines at our collective feast. I vividly remember my first tastes of Nigerian black-eyed pea fritters, and Egyptian stewed fava beans that year.
The speed of life picked up after my college days, blurring the details of the subsequent Ramadans but some trends stand out. By the third year, I was married and had a fasting partner to wake up for the pre-fasting meal with me. Beyond meal planning and food, we shared our goals for the blessed month and supported each other in attaining them. From the sixth Ramadan onward, we had lived in Yemen and Algeria where we experienced an entire society yielding to the blessed month, not just household by household. By the ninth Ramadan, Lil’ Z was born in Oman and we had to add parenting to the already challenging experience of fasting, introspection, and spiritual striving. We also tasked ourselves with translating Ramadan into a tangible and memorable experience, adding the festivity and fun that any family tradition should embody.
Each year has its unique demands but Ramadan is a constant in the cycles of our lives. A rite that seemed so foreign 11 years ago has become a welcomed annual guest in our home. Even Lil’ Z is counting down the months. Before its arrival we prepare and plan by slowly starting to clear the clutter in our lives, homes, and schedules. Then we set goals to worship more, serve more, and be generous. We aim to be acutely aware and intentional about the use of our time and energy to avoid squandering these precious resources vainly. In a successful Ramadan we are able to tune out, so we can tune in. This year, as with every year, we pray that our hearts are awake enough to listen.