It’s that time of the year again. I have begun to see the blog and Facebook posts dedicated to the theme of “How are You Getting Ready for Ramadan?” Some of the posts address introspective ideals like: getting your intentions ready, and preparing your mind. Others focus on outward aspects such as: decorations, how to make Ramadan fun for your children, and family. All of these posts are inspirational and adorable; and now with two small children of my own I can take part in these conversations. But it wasn’t and isn’t always this way. I like many other Muslims often approach Ramadan with trepidation and anxiety. Lacking are the posts address these feelings of loneliness and depression that so many Muslims experience for approximately thirty days. No one seems to want to talk about the micro-aggressions many of us face during Ramadan that add to the feelings of loneliness and confusion. During a time that should be about joy and togetherness.
As a convert myself, I understand firsthand about the crushing loneliness that overcomes one at the approach of Ramadan. So many Muslims with the oncoming of Ramadan are preparing iftars for their families, decorating their homes, connecting with relatives, and plan out visiting schedules. My Facebook feed is a never-ending dialog of who, what , when , where and why. My own personal status for years, was silent.
My immediate family isn’t Muslim. In my extended family, I only have two cousins who practice. I don’t have memories or traditions that surround this time of the year. I don’t have ideas and plans and dinners to attend every night. I don’t have pictures to look back on. I don’t have extended circles that I know I will see. Instead of being excited; Ramadan would break my heart. Even more after I got married and would join my husband family. Ramadan would remind me that my family wasn’t Muslim. And if anything were to happen to them, we wouldn’t be together in heaven. Ramadan would remind me of the chasm between us. The choice I made that almost tore us apart. Ramadan would remind me how different I was than the rest of my Muslim friends. It would hurt when no one would notice my pain. It would hurt even more when no one would invite me over.
The hurt would be compounded when the microagressions begin to appear. When I did finally get invited to an iftar or I did attend one at the masjid; I would bring the traditional foods that my family ate during holiday times. When I brought pillau, or pastellios, or bacalou. People would stare and ask, “What is that?”. Like
I had brought an alien puppy to the party. I’ve heard comments of “ that’s not what you break your fast with”. Years later I still hear, personally and from others, versions of comments like that.
I currently run the Ramadan program for my office. I had a staff member tell me recently that they and others didn’t like the some of the foods featured during the Black Culture Nights I had instituted; to help diversify the once Mediterranean and South Asian centric menu. They said that “fried chicken wasn’t something you ate for iftar”. Needless to say, I got a dearth of feedback after I shared that conversation with other Black and Latino Muslims. They shared with me that this was so common and often their cultural foods aren’t accepted at iftars. They are told iftars have to be a “certain way” and have a “certain food” to be acceptable. Implying that somehow the only ways in which an iftar can be real is if the food is Arab or South Asian. Anything out side of that is unacceptable and invalid. Providing just another example of the ways in which the Muslim community perpetuated Arab and South Asian cultural dominance.
What does it matter what food shows up at an iftar? There are Muslims who are in a famine and fasting. What does that say that you imply that someone’s cultural dish is not “acceptable”. We as a community need to stop this type of shaming and culture bashing. Not only is it Un-Islamic and perpetuates idea of cultural superiority; but it also pushes non Arab and South Asians to the fringes. It creates situations of isolation and loneliness. Not everyone is able to find other spaces or communities. Sometimes the dominate Arab masjid in a community is the only one for miles. That one masjid may be all that someone has.
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”
Let’s all apply that this year; and understand that no khofta has superiority over any baked ziti and no baked ziti has any superiority over any collard greens.
When Ramadan approaches on my personal social networking pages I often reach out to converts and other Muslims who may be alone for the season. I invite them to share Ramadan in my home with my husband and myself (and now our two children). I encourage others to do the same. We often quote how many people are coming into Islam; but never how many are leaving. Ramadan is a peak time for people to leave the Deen. Isolation, rude comments and a lack of over all support are some of the key reasons. If you have the resources to reach out and open your doors to those who may have no where to go this season, do so. You have no idea who would could be keeping in the folds of Islam. If you hear of someone making comments about the cultural dish of another, kindly pull them to the side and admonish them lovingly. We can all use a reminder. Let’s try and make this Ramadan season the best Ramadan yet, inshaAllah.