& Why I Fast

The day before the start of Ramadan, I came across this great article by Hanif Abdurraqib and I immediately sent him a DM thanking him for writing it. I know, I can be weird on the internet, it’s fine. Hanif’s article inspired me because for once the description of Islam and the way he’s finding his own place in it was actually something I could relate to.I immediately wanted to write a post that was from my own perspective of why I fast during Ramadan (when I do), but for some reason putting all my thoughts together has been taking me a while. Religion’s always been a complicated topic for me, and I’m sure for many others. I’m a bit of an oxymoron where I will proudly declare I’m Muslim (maybe to make sure I’m defending the way Islam is seen in this world), but then I’m usually quick to follow that up with  “but I’m not super religious” right after...partly because I don’t agree with all aspects of my or any religion, or partly because I’m justifying my non-good Muslim behaviors, but either way I stand somewhere in the middle. I guess this is where I should point out that it’s tough to have these “I don’t consider myself super religious” conversations with my parents. Religion and family are super intertwined for me, so in a way telling my parents I’m not religious is a direct hit to them as well. This comes from our own personal experience and the fact that Bosnian Muslims were persecuted and ethnically cleansed in the early 90’s, so holding on to that identity is extremely important.

What’s always been important for me is finding those fellow in-the-middle people to relate to. Like Hanif said, those who join me for happy hour, choose their partners regardless of religion, those who don’t pray five times a day, if ever, and are simply more non-traditional Muslims, as I like to call us, are treasures for me to find and live alongside. All across mainstream media/ in real life,  we see characters/people who are (presumably) Christian, but their roles and their lives get to exist outside of that where as if you see a Muslim character or read a Muslim perspective it’s always shown in a pretty linear way and has the religion front and center. And yes, of course that is a reality for some, but I’ve always felt out of place when reading these perspectives. It’s always seemed like a privilege to me to get to pick and choose your beliefs and not get judged or shamed for them being different. That freedom to be yourself in your family/community is precious.

I grew up in a pretty traditional religious family, yes, but Bosnian conservative Islam is probably still way more lax than the conservative Islam in the Middle East so I’ve never related to the far right Islam that’s normally portrayed. Yes, my parents always prayed five times a day and fasted all of Ramadan and had expectations of us to do the same, but in the same breath, they expected us to come to those practices in our own time. There were no expectations of me or any of my sisters to wear the hijab (although my mom decided to do it in her late 40s),  nor was there any judgement about whether I decided to fast a few days or all of Ramadan (which I’ve personally only done once before.)  I grew up with my dad and Bosnian men drinking freely; culturally and specifically for where my parents grew up in the country, it’s still not common to see the women of my parents’ generation drinking, but it isn’t something that doesn’t happen all over because of religion. My parents tried to make us pray the short morning and evening prayers, but as I got older and like Hanif in his article said, I stopped praying because I resented doing it out of obligation and never really got back to it. Just like Hanif, and Kumail Nanijani in the movie The Big Sick (loved this movie!), I hid out in my room and waited for the time to pass when my parents asked me to go pray.

I moved out on my own and keep two versions of the Qur’an in my living room and prayer mats around, but it’s rare that they’re used. It’s more like it’s there and in the background of my identity and culture, even in my house. But every year, Ramadan comes around, and unlike other faith practices, I welcome it with such joy and peace in my heart. Other parts of religion always seem to feel like obligations that I’m not fully standing behind, but one thing I never really questioned the purpose or execution of was Ramadan. My view of religion and atheism and spirituality and all of it is really...whatever helps you be a better person and make sense of this world. Ramadan is one month, I know, but I feel like anything that makes you stop and be more reflective and more generous is a good thing to focus on. Ramadan has always felt pure to me.Again, like Hanif said, I don’t know why Ramadan is the “act of faith which has endured for me.” It’s a challenging month, especially if you commit fully. I’ve approached Ramadan with the same pick and choose mentality through the years: I always stop drinking for the month, fast some days, but usually not all, attempt to curse less, consciously give more. The fasting is a challenge but it’s one I accept because I know the meaning behind it. I was always taught that the point of Ramadan is to be able to relate to someone else’s suffering, to understand the pain of those less fortunate who may not know where their next meal is coming from, and to be able to see how little we really need. For me, it’s never been about the starving part...it’s to show myself that when committed, I can do anything, and when done for the right reasons, nothing is too hard. Non-Muslim friends often comment about how hard it seems, or how they wouldn’t be able to do it, but honestly it kind of awesome to get to the end of the day and see that all of that is just in your head.

It’s a time I look at positively and try to work on myself. Like I said, anything that makes you a better person is a win in my book.  For me, it’ not something to parade around as an accomplishment, and it’s not something to complain about, even when that mid afternoon fasting headache hits. It’s a choice that’s personal, just like every prayer should be. Ramadan teaches me patience, humility, generosity, and commitment to myself and to helping others, and while it’s only one month a year, the fact that it comes around every year means that we get that reminder to look inward every year. We get to look inside and see what we need to work on. If I’m being honest, this usually doesn’t look like getting closer to religion in the typical sense, just like Hanif said I don’t all of sudden turn to a dedicated Muslim practice ...but it does look like being a better me, and being better to the world, which is at the core of my personal spiritual beliefs. I’m not what many consider a typical Muslim or even the often used “good Muslim,” but I don’t mind representing this population who see being ourselves more important than the “good Muslim” or even “good girl”  label from our communities, who don’t see others’ decisions as an attack on ourselves. I think honestly one of the good parts of my personality, the non-judgmental part, was born from experiencing and not caring for others’ judgment of my own life. This year, I’ve decided to attempt to fast every day of Ramadan (minus PMS days, obviously) and this full commitment was inspired by reading a post from guy who like me, isn’t what you typically think of when thinking of a practicing Muslim, instead of some shaming post from a holier than thou person, and I think that’s pretty cool.