Remembering One Another in Ramadan

Sunday, July 28, 2013

As I think about my fasting this year, I have been nostalgic for a past summer, a past holy month spent in Bangladesh. For me, it was amazing to feel that collective energy - I broke fast with my extended family and participated more fully in my religion by reading the Qur'an and the Hadith during the heat of the day. I tie learning my language, Bengali, to this spiritual practice. I felt very connected to that space and active in my practice.

This Ramadan, I was linked to this article about fasting overseas versus fasting in the US and I looked back on that time in another light. I wondered whether the experiences I had were in fact 'easier' than those I have now in the States. As with most things, it's a mixed bag. I definitely slept more there, but I also had more time to read spiritual texts. I refrained from TV and online media more easily, but I was very intense about my reading and writing. I felt much more connected and communal, yet I would not trade the chance to explain my faith and fasting to a (thankfully very supportive) workplace as I have done this year. I will always remember breaking fast together with a mostly non-Muslim crew of 25 young women at our bonding trip in the first week of work: it affirms my faith to explain and be supported in it.

I will not be perfectionist with my faith. I know that I am unable to abide by all the recommended restrictions, and sometimes it makes me anxious. I have not been fasting for the whole of Ramadan, due to a housing crisis that forced me to move out of my apartment. Though I fasted wholeheartedly through protests and 90 degree heat, the strain of changing homes for the past few weeks really threw me off of schedule. It has made me feel guilty, but it has also made me think about the true intention of any religious practice. I realize that I must be gentle with myself and, as with all things, recognize that there is a spectrum. Islam is a practice of remembering. As I orient myself back to the path, I am reminded that everything has a purpose, even when it challenges us.

If Islam is a religion of remembering, then this Ramadan has brought me to remember the root of my passion for justice. Ramadan always brings about a mix of emotions in me - I was nearly in tears at the end of reading that article, remembering the wage workers breaking bricks and pulling rickshaws in Bangladesh, all the while more piously fasting and praying than I. If you want an illustration of privilege and lack thereof, you can find no better place to examine it than with basic food and water. The collective spirit of voluntary hardship helps us to remember Allah, and to remember our places on this Earth.

And yet it is also the time during which we come closest to one another, friends and strangers alike. It is that intention that draws me again and again. As I fast in a much different way than last summer - now both waking up for the morning meal alone and breaking fast alone most nights - I remember that the collective energy remains regardless of whether we are in the same rooms. Regardless of whether we are fasting in a 'challenging' manner, whether we are abiding by all of the rules set forth, we are reaching towards one another and making the intention. We remember together, and just that is significant.

For a poetic exploration of Ramadan, check out Fasting for Ramadan: Notes from a Spiritual Practice by Kazim Ali.