As Ramadan came to a close, I couldn’t help but reflect on the different things it means to me throughout the years. It is the month where Muslims fast from the break of dawn to sunset from both food and water. I can imagine many think that means stuffing your face with as much food as possible during the night. That isn’t the case. (Though, temporarily, that was my case as embarrassing as it is to admit.)
I grew up in a time when the internet was slowly entering people’s homes, and we weren’t surrounded by too many Muslims. So we were on our own to figure out how to do things. As a result, I would eat almost two meals at once during the morning meal, and it was so unappetizing to eat so early in the morning. I’m pretty confident that it did not help with my energy or quenching my thirst throughout the day.
Eventually, kids at my junior high found out about this. One classmate, Brian Wilson, would ask me every day what I ate for breakfast because he was so fascinated by how much this little, petite girl could eat in the morning. Looking back at this incident, I always wonder what Brian knows about Ramadan now. Does he know that Ramadan isn’t about stuffing your face, but about much more than that?
This year, ‘Eid was on May 23rd, 2020, which marked the end of our holy month Ramadan—as well as the first Ramadan and ‘Eid for the world in quarantine.’ Having Ramadan fall in the middle of this global pandemic is something no one ever imagined or prepared for. We are used to breaking our fast in community, offering food to others to break their fast, and congregating in large numbers at the local mosque for the nightly prayers. Not being able to do this, just like a lot of things we are not able to do as we stay in quarantine, was very unsettling. However, as I reflect on this month, I still feel like I was able to take full advantage of what the month brings to rejuvenate and reconnect to my faith as an American Muslim. I left the month feeling a spiritual high that I had not experienced for quite some time.
A month of barakah
This spiritual high is probably due to the fact that Ramadan is a month of barakah. The closest translation in English for this word is blessing, but the feeling and witnessing of it are so much more than that. I feel this barakah when I only get two to three hours of sleep and can still function. Whereas, I’d be a basket case outside of Ramadan with that little sleep, or how I would get hangry when I don’t eat three meals or have snacks throughout the day. I’ve also felt the barakah throughout the day in every activity I did—it always felt like there was more time to get all the work and personal chores done.
I also feel the barakah when I remember how grateful I am for the food and water in front of us when we break our fast, especially at a time now during COVID-19 when so many are struggling to put food on their tables.
‘Eid before COVID-19
One of the ways we recognize the passing of Ramadan is ‘Eid-ul-Fitr, the first day after the month of Ramadan, which is a day of celebration for Muslims. Before COVID, the tradition is to gather with others and recite a takbeerat, which is a series of phrases that express worship and gratitude as soon as the sun sets the night before until you attend an additional morning prayer and sermon at the local masjid. We dress up in new clothes, usually traditional, buy gifts for the kids in our immediate family, and spend time with family and friends for the rest of the day. Growing up, our family always house-hopped to open houses and enjoy great food throughout the day. As an adult, the tradition changed to having brunch with family and then going our separate ways to respond to different invites.
‘Eid during COVID-19
This year, since we are remote, my husband and I made the best of the situation. Our local masjid had a virtual reciting of takbeerat that we listened to and recited along. We cooked and ate our favorite brunch foods, like french toast, apple cinnamon teff flour pancakes, and an egg dish with a South Asian twist, (we both love brunch foods). We had a series of virtual hangouts with family and friends and enjoyed yummy desserts like cinnamon rolls, fruit, brownies, and pumpkin chocolate chip cookies throughout the day. Then we ended the night starting a marathon with the classic Star War series (He wanted to watch Empire Strikes Back, I wanted to watch Return of the Jedi, so we watched both).
Surprising upsides of Ramadan during COVID-19 for me
It is important to note that Muslims are not a monolith, so what Ramadan looks like from one person to another—especially during the quarantine—can be very different. I consider myself very blessed because I can work from home and still have a job, unlike so many others who are struggling right now.
No daily commute and more time to catch up on much-needed sleep during Ramadan
Working from home helped me with one of my biggest challenges: going through the month of no sleep. No, really! I always tell people that the most challenging part of the month is not the lack of food and water, but the accumulation of lack of sleep. Both before and during COVID-19, this has always been my biggest challenge and only intensified being in Washington where the spring and summer days are very long.
It was helpful to be remote because I didn’t have a one-hour commute both ways. That extra time allowed more time for breaks, sleep, catch up on work if I needed a more extended break, and staying on top of my annual goal to read the Qur’an from beginning to end.
Reconnecting with friends
I grew up in Southern California, so a good part of my social circle still remains there. Sometime about a decade ago, one group of friends began a tradition to come together every Sunday during Ramadan to come together for a dhikr, meaning the remembrance of God. This became one of my most favorite traditions of Ramadan. This gathering brings a lot of peace, appreciation for our faith, and gratitude for experiencing a special connection with those I care deeply about. So knowing this and being with a circle of friends I care so deeply about made it very special. A few of us moved away, including the two who lead the sessions, so we haven’t done it in a while. For me, it has at least been five years since I’ve seen most of them. Being remote inspired us to re-start this tradition and added something extra special for us this Ramadan.
The schedule of a Muslim in Washington during Ramadan
Just to give you an idea of what one Muslim’s schedule during Ramadan is like, I’ve shared my daily schedule below. Again, keep in mind that this can look very different from person to person.
- 3:30 AM: I wake up an hour before the break of dawn to perform extra prayers, eat something, and hydrate myself. By the end of the month, this will be closer to 2:30 AM.
- 4:00 AM: (will be close to 3:20 AM by the end of the month) I stop eating, pray the first of the five daily prayers, read Qur’an, and meditate. I’m wide awake at this point, so I work for an hour or two, then go back to sleep for a few hours.
- 9:30 AM: I wake up and go through the workday as normal while trying to pray my daily prayers on time, use breaks to read Qur’an, and most days, take a short nap after work.
- 8:20 PM: (will be close to 9 PM by the end of the month) I break my fast to eat a meal and then get ready for evening worship, which involves reading more Qur’an, praying extra prayers, or reading a book or listening to a podcast. Some days, I may just rest until it is time to pray the last daily prayer.
- 10:00 PM: (by end of the month, this will be 10:45 PM). I pray the last of the five daily prayers and try to go to sleep no later than 11:00 PM, so I can wake up by 2:50 AM.
Time for reflection
I’m not going to lie, this routine felt really hard by week three and four, but it provided so much comfort in my day knowing I was able to start with reading the Qur’an and meditating. Being up at an odd hour allowed for much needed quiet and reflection time to think about so many things in life. This feels so important since we live in a time where we are kept busy all the time and don’t have enough reflection time. I found that this was one of my favorite times of the day during this month. It helped me set my intentions for the day, both for work and personal, which provided a lot of grounding that I carried with me throughout the rest of the day.
The morning routines also helped me feel a deeper connection with my community, knowing that many others are going through some sort of schedule or routine for Ramadan, even if it looks different. A sense of comradery seems so much more important as an adult.
There is always a feeling of comradery with Muslims across the world, but more so in the last two decades. Since 9/11, the spotlight increased on Muslims. For me, this created a sense of fear in certain parts of my life or living in some areas. At the same time, I found a really strong support system within my community that empowered me to be comfortable and strong in my American Muslim identity. During this time of solitude, I felt the support my community has provided over the years and the closeness of many, even though we are all in quarantine.
Ramadan is a time to reconnect to religion and spiritual health for me. It is a month of rejuvenation, a month for a second chance. It reminds me of my purpose on this earth and encourages me to reset my goals and intentions, so another year doesn’t slip by without fully living it.
It is time to remember that simple and healthy food is the way to go. For the record, my go-to suhoor meal now is some egg whites and salad with water, unlike my junior high days.
So, Brian Wilson, if you are out there reading this, THAT is what we are supposed to do–eat a small, simple breakfast and spend time in deep reflection.