The following post is a collection of three open letters written by Muslim-American Brown Girls.
Hey. You’re here, and like every year, a smile will creep on my face at the thought of you.
No, not Zayn Malik.
RAMADANNNN, AYEEEE WASS GOOODDD?!
As a fair and lovely crescent hangs in the sky and pakoras suffer in the heat of the deep fryer, I embark on my religious journey to spiritual perfection. For Muslims like myself, Ramadan is the last minute project the Teacher assigns after everyone bombs the final: the saving grace. In Ramadan, I get to try myself to test how much control I have, from looking ahead and stepping the gas a little harder every time I pass Starbucks to preventing myself from Tweeting strings of colorful profanities at Donald Trump.
And I’ll be honest: I haven’t taken advantage of the month as much as I should have. Yes, I’ve fasted and performed Taraweeh prayer (the additional nightly prayers), but..that’s all I did. I didn’t devote time to understanding the religion better and strengthening my relationship with God yet, and I’m determined to change that. I write to you today to tell you that it is NEVER too late. Yes, you have classes and it’s hot out. But it never goes unnoticed by God: you are always rewarded for your struggles.
[Read Related: 15 Types of People You Encounter During Ramadan]
If you don’t fast, start. If you fast, look for reasons why. Don’t fast because you have to, fast because you want to make God proud of you and you want to feel for the poor and put yourself in their position. Don’t blindly read the Quran because your mom said you should, instead, try to understand it. Acquire knowledge, from the details of the beloved Prophet’s lifestyle to the Arabic alphabet.
It doesn’t matter how far along the road you are, just that you are moving forward with all your heart and soul.
(The following open letter to Ramadan is from a Shia-Ismaili-Nizari Muslim)
Well, this is awkward. Most people, most Muslims, don’t know what an Ismaili is outside of derogatory remarks and fumbled guesses at our “practices.” That, however, is rightly juxtaposed by the fact that most Ismailis don’t really have a grasp on Ramadan in any facet. Ramadan, you and I are in an awkward spot, to say the least. To make things easier, let’s just lay out the basics. Yes, I am fasting. No, my family is not fasting. No, I do not pray five times a day. No, I do not cover my head when I pray – nor have I ever been so compelled. No, I do not read the Quran as penance. I am considered heterodox by all standards expect for this fast I keep.
I am the only Ismaili I know that is fasting. Without the support system of an ummah to back you – Ramadan is harder than what is already perceived. When your entire family gets up with you at 5 a.m. to make an egregiously delicious breakfast and worship – the weight of the early morning disappears, and the will to continue with your ethical oath is strengthened and validated. I do not have this physical support system. Ismailis are Shia by sect and stress an esoteric approach to Ramadan. Holding one’s tongue and thoughts in place of holding one’s hands back from grabbing lunch. Ismailis, as far as I can equivocate, haven’t fasted in the exoteric sense, i.e. refraining from food, since the Middle Ages.
That still leaves me in an awkward spot. Where is the Ismaili community in my exoteric fast? It’s no lie Ismailis consider themselves part of the broader ummah but the ummah doesn’t always reciprocate that sentiment. This isolation is often internalized. Ramadan is very fleeting to the Ismailis of my generation.
To call oneself Muslim, yet not fast in the exoteric sense, causes much cognitive dissonance among Ismaili youth. Against these odds, this will be my third year holding an exoteric fast. So to Ramadan, I say thank you. Thank you for proving that the ubiquity of Islamic sacrifice goes beyond sectarian theological politics. Thank you for connecting me with the ummah regardless of the community’s acceptance. In spite of this strange spiritual solitary confinement, I can still understand brotherhood. Thank you for teaching me submission in all facets- esoteric and exoteric.
If Ramadan was a person and I had a chance to say one thing, it would be “I need you.”
To me, Ramadan isn’t just a month of spiritual cleansing, but one of self-reflection. One of self-awareness, self-love, and forgiveness. I await Ramadan each year because – although it may not be a significantly noticeable change- I change for the better each Ramadan. Each Ramadan allows me to reflect on not only my actions of the year but on who I am as a person. You see, for me, fasting is not only about abstaining from food and drink. Fasting is not about being hungry. For me, fasting is about self-control. It allows me to take time and reflect on who I am as an individual.
I need Ramadan because it grounds me. It allows me to forgive myself. It gives me an opportunity to change. They say 30 days of doing something makes a habit – and Ramadan is just that. Thirty days of changing into a better you. I remember growing up I never really understood when my mother said: “During Ramadan, you not only fast with your stomach – but with your tongue and heart.”
I never understood why people suddenly stopped doing so many of the things they did all year – just during Ramadan. I never understood- until now. Ramadan in a sense is an opportunity for one to develop positive traits. Each Ramadan, I focus on one negative trait I have that I want to get rid of – whether it’s cursing too much, controlling my anger, or being hurtful to myself. I try to avoid doing these things for a month in hopes of making it habitual to live without them.
Ramadan allows me to not only bring myself closer to God and my religion but myself. It allows me to learn how far I can push myself to change- it reminds me that God is all-forgiving. It reminds me that if God, a higher being, can forgive my actions, so can I. It allows me to take time out of my day and find the inner peace that brings me closer to loving my lord. Ramadan reminds me that everyone makes mistakes and everyone can receive forgiveness.
[Read Related: Iftaar Chronicles: Love in the Food Line]
The Quran says, “O Son of Adam, even if your sins were to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you.” Ramadan reminds me of this.
I’ll be honest, I’m not the best Muslim out there. I have made countless mistakes – mistakes I have been so regretful of – mistakes I even found myself not being able to seek my own forgiveness for. Ramadan allows me to reflect on these mistakes, to learn from them and remember that God is all-forgiving – that I can better my actions for the future to avoid making similar mistakes again. That I need to forgive myself to better myself.
I once read a quote that till this day reflects exactly how I feel about Ramadan, it said:
“I love Ramadan because that kid who never prays, prays. That girl who never covers, covers. That guy who never fasts, fasts. Even if it’s just for a month, at lease these ‘types’ of people have tested the ‘sweetness of faith’ just for one month. And perhaps months later down in life, if their life ever becomes bitter – they’ll refer back to Ramadan and yearn for that same ‘sweetness; they sampled just that one month. You call them ‘Only Ramadan Muslims’ but I call them ‘Muslims who may only need Ramadan to change.’”
I yearn for that sweetness – I yearn for that change.