It is always the hardest, that’s what everyone says. There is some truth to it, I suppose. If you’re not used to fasting on a regular basis, don’t find yourself skipping meals regularly, if for a whole year, you take ready access to food and water for granted — then the first day is always the hardest for you.
Every year when I remember Ramadan is only a week or two away, I become excited to observe its traditions. I am not religious; I lack a personal belief in God, and strongly disagree with orthodox practices. Despite this, being raised in Islam and being surrounded by a largely Muslim community whom I love, I still acknowledge certain sacred things.
Depriving yourself of food and water for hours every day might seem like a harsh thing to put your body through. And it can be, certainly, which is why some Muslims opt out to preserve their health. But as a healthy person, I do it because I am able to and because it is always a good lesson in humility.
“What I enjoy the most about this time of year is the coming together.”
What I enjoy the most about this time of year is the coming together. A few blocks from my home is a masjid populated by mostly Indo-Caribbean Muslims, and some West African Muslims. Some attend year-round but Ramadan brings everyone in, with the maximum turn out being on Eid-ul-Fitr.
When you arrive at the masjid, you find the appropriate area for yourself, demarcated by your gender. Sit down and you are served a cup of tea or water, or juice, whichever you prefer. You can sip your tea if you are not fasting, or wait until everyone breaks their fast together. You’ll also be served a small bowl with chana and mango sowa and whole dates inside. I always look forward to the dates because they are whole and not pitted. This is to break your fast. The real iftar comes after Magrib namaz.
“Even when cloaking myself in silence, I appreciate all that is going on around me.”
I usually keep to myself at masjid but even when cloaking myself in silence, I appreciate all that is going on around me. There are older women — and women who are not so old but because they have children, I’m expected to call them “auntie” — bustling back and forth making sure everyone has a good amount of food and drink and napkins. The children trail behind them. Conversations range from school to marriage to the pains of old age. Part of me wishes I socialized more with other Muslims, but the more dominant part of me is perfectly content listening and watching and learning.
The first day of Ramadan brings with it a subtle joy that does not leave my nutrient-deprived body. To non-Muslims, it is an uneventful span of thirty days. Maybe it even feels that way for some Muslims too. While I can’t say I do the most to observe Ramadan every year, it is a peaceful sanctuary for me in the form of time. I look forward to the next twenty-nine days, and the goodness they will bring.
Ramadan Mubarak, everyone. May you and your family be blessed during this month, and every day after that.
Shabana is a 21-year-old writer who lives and studies in New York City. Her website is tinyletter.com/shb.