The best thing about Ramadan is that the whole world is fasting more or less the same way as you are. These are my favorite things about Ramadan- the universality and the unification it provides. Ramadan transcends race, gender, income, and culture as everyone who is physically able to fast, refrains from physical intake from sunrise to sunset during the same month, regardless of the language they speak or the time zone they reside in.
Ramadan is also perhaps the most easily identifiable pillar of Islam that non-Muslims know, and in my opinion, the pillar non-Muslims are most interested in. While Ramadan is the great equalizer, the most interesting aspect of it is how different cultures celebrate it in different ways, and to what degree daily life is affected by fasting.
The Minority New York Muslim experience
One of the things I hear most frequently about Ramadan in Muslim countries is how many of the businesses “shut down” during the day, with altered hours to accommodate the fasting population. Having never been to a Muslim country during Ramadan, I feel as though this must be at least somewhat exaggerated, based on living in America my entire life. Life basically stays the same during Ramadan here, with the exception of how late people stay awake and consequently try and sleep in a little more.
Everyone still goes to work, and people still go out despite the summer heat. I myself try to keep busier during Ramadan since the day goes faster than if I just sit around or sleep. If anything, I am more active during Ramadan, whether being more productive working or playing basketball or golf with friends.
Even though we do live in “upstate” New York, the community of Muslims here is pretty sizeable, which is most evident during Ramadan. The parking lot overflows on Friday for Juma prayers at our local mosque during Ramadan, as does the mosque itself.
Image source: lev radin / Shutterstock.com
People constantly throw Iftar parties with plenty of traditional food and drinks; I almost never eat dates over the course of the year, but during Ramadan I literally go through boxes of them. My all-time favorite Ramadan food, however, are these delicious chicken qeema pastries my mother makes. I usually help myself to several of for both Iftar and Sehri (sahur).
Memories of Sahur and Post-iftar Workouts.
While the sense of community felt during Ramadan is unparalleled and the food never tastes better than at Iftar, my favorite part of Ramadan is the familiar memories it invokes. I remember the first time I fasted for a full day; my father showed me at Sehri that dipping your bread in milk staves off hunger longer. I have no idea how this works, but it does.
Another fun Ramadan habit is working out at night, when you can drink fluids and stay hydrated. Every year I unsuccessfully try not to drop too much weight during Ramadan, though this may be the year I’ve finally figured it out how to combat the weight loss to a degree (involves a lot of protein powder).
Eid is our Christmas.
The last day of Ramadan is always fun, with Iftar kicking off the celebration that is Eid, which always involves mornings prayers, food, parties, food, presents, and more food. Since we don’t celebrate Christmas, something that is such a big part of American culture, the general feeling is Eid is “our Christmas”, with parents and other elders giving away presents and/or money, much to the delight of all the children. We even have an “Eid tree” we use every year, something visitors tend to enjoy quite a bit upon entering our house, particularly younger ones.
While we have our own cultural twist on Ramadan and Eid, America is beginning to embrace these holidays as well. The popular American social media company “Snapchat”, for example, had a special Ramadan filter on the first night of Ramadan.
While our celebrations may not be as grand as celebrations in majority Muslim countries, they are experiences I as a New Yorker will always cherish and would never trade for anything else in the world.