By Tasmiha Khan
Ramadan is underway. On Sunday, May 5, many Muslims across the world began fasting for the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, through Tuesday, June 4, contingent upon the sighting of the crescent moon. This is the holiest month for Muslims worldwide; it marks when the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
Observing Ramadan is more than a ritual. It is a month where I am able to renew myself spiritually despite the all the negativity that may be brewing in the world. As a minority woman who observes hijab to the best of my ability, my faith is visible and I am more likely to be viewed as a target by outsiders. Islamophobic sentiments are increasing and intensifying, from constant attacks on Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from President Donald Trump, to his attacks on Islam and Muslims. In April, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to “examine hate crimes, the impact white nationalist groups have on American communities, and the spread of white identity ideology” as the Hill reports. To add to the pain, consider how, during a recent hearing to investigate the rise in hate crimes in the United States, the House Judiciary Committee asked Dr. Abu Salha, whose two Muslim daughters and son-in-law were murdered in a brutal hate crime in 2015, if he taught hate to his children and if Islam condones violence.
That the government is failing to adequately address the scope and magnitude of hate violence that disproportionately impacts Muslims of all backgrounds — including Black, South Asian, and Arab-American communities — is not surprising, but it is heartbreaking. Nor does the Trump administration seem committed to dismantling the complex motivations behind white nationalism or its effects, including hate violence. But that won’t stop us from forging ahead this Ramadan.
The inflammatory rhetoric against Islam is everywhere. It is is hurtful and trying. Yet I am hopeful. That’s what Ramadan — which comes from the Arabic word “ramad,” meaning intense heat — means to me. For many Muslims, Ramadan marks a time for purification and a concerted effort to strengthen our piety. Ramadan also reminds me of the struggles our nation is facing — the heat from opponents of Islam, and what they are trying to do break Muslims down.
Ramadan is known to be a time where observant people fast from before dawn until sunset. All Muslims who have hit puberty are obliged to fast during Ramadan; women who are pregnant, nursing, or on their periods, along with those who may be traveling, facing old age or chronic illness are exempt and can make it up later. Still, it’s often up to everyone else to fend for themselves in environments that don’t understand why someone would observe a month-long fast.
“It would be really helpful to have employers at least acknowledge Ramadan’s existence,” Sadeq Rahman, who is from San Jose, California, tells MTV. “There are times where someone in management won’t know about the value and practices of this month and they can judge Muslims poorly as a result.”
Rahman had once scheduled a job interview during Ramadan and was asked to have breakfast beforehand; because he declined, the whole interview was canceled because the other party was so offended. “Had the interviewer known what Ramadan entails, I doubt he would have been this mad. I can’t not fast,” he remembers.
The confusion isn’t exclusive to employers, either: Gulrana Syed, who lives in Palos Hills, Illinois, tells MTV News, “People at work need to realize that I am more tired than usual and can’t always hang out after work to eat or chill by eating with them because I am fasting. A lot of Ramadan has to with abstinence.”
As a Muslim American woman, I’m often asked if it’s hard to fast, often by people who have never felt a need or desire to do so. Like any regimen, it takes some time to adapt. Complicating matters is the fact that people simply aren’t as aware about Ramadan as they are for other holidays.
In fact, there is so much more to the month than the fast. The goal is to rise in spiritual ranks — abstaining from food and drink is just one part of that. Add in abstaining from entirely human tendencies like backbiting, gossiping, lying, and arguing, and things become far more trying.
Recently, there has been a push by Muslim and non-Muslim people alike to show solidarity with the community and speak out against anti-Muslim sentiment. But allyship also includes uplifting and making space for our traditions, too. Countries with Muslim majority residents reduce working hours during Ramadan and set up the whole year in such a way that those observing feel less pressure come this blessed time, but change at all levels helps. Party City now carries Ramadan decorations, and more employees are calling on companies to allow for flexible work schedules during Ramadan. These gestures may seem simple, but they make a huge difference for the Muslim population living in the United States.
“Ramadan is a time for Muslims to regroup, recharge, and recommit to God,” adds Hazel Gomez, a student who lives in Detroit, Michigan. “Be patient with us, [and] have our backs during this sacred time. True allyship means to deeply listen to those most affected and to recognize one’s own biases and prejudices.”
Amani Al-Khahtahbeh, the founder of Muslim Girl, agrees. “Understand that Muslims are not only fasting physically, but also spiritually, so they are working hard to avoid things like unnecessary conflict, or losing their temper or patience,” she tells MTV News. “So, really, just try to be nice! Take in the vibes and allow Ramadan to bring out the best in you, too.”
While Ramadan can feel like bootcamp, it is also a time when I can focus on resetting myself and take stock about how I can better myself, the world, and the lives of those around me. Most of all, Ramadan teaches me lessons of resilience. I may be exhausted, starving, and parched. I may want to say something snide, or gossip, or lose my anger when someone tests my patience. In the processes of embracing the flaws that make me human, I make a conscious decision to not give in. Ultimately, I have the choice to be kind. To not do so would be a lost opportunity.
In the process, I am able to reflect more deeply. Appreciate more frequently. Cherish the blessings, both small and big, more significantly. Empathize genuinely. This Ramadan, I’d like us to treat each other more humanely, whether or not you are fasting or recommitting to anything. Ramadan is for us; allyship can be for everyone.