My mom and I sit on the kitchen floor. I am peeling parchment paper off the puff pastries and cutting them in half while she puts keema (beef) in, folding them up. Once we are done, she puts this batch in the oven. We are making samosas, a dish commonly served when breaking fast in our household. Ramadan marks the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and the beginning of one of the five pillars of Islam, Sawm (fasting during this month). It is a month when we celebrate that our Prophet was revealed the Quran.
To me, Ramadan is a month of magic. It is a time of reflection, of making future plans, of reminding myself of the values that keep me grounded. It is the holiest time in the Islamic calendar and the time of year when more than 1.8 billion Muslims embark on a journey to refrain from eating, drinking and sinning during the day.
Ever since I can remember, I have looked forward to Ramadan and all that the month brings to my life. Islam follows a lunar calendar. It is written in the Quran that the moon is a sign of God. Hence, before the month of Ramadan, I, alongside the rest of my family, can be found looking out into the night skies to see whether or not the moon is the crescent moon, or Hilal, which would then signal the start of our fasting. Whatever we find is usually confirmed by the imam of our mosque, and fasting begins the next day.
To start off, I wake up at about 3 a.m. to have sehri, a prefast meal where I take in as much food and water as I possibly can to prepare myself for the day ahead. Most Muslims commit to fasting while still carrying out their daytime responsibilities. Then, at sunset, we break our fasts with iftar, often alongside other people from our community.
The community-based iftars that my mosque has had for years are among the aspects I look forward to most when Ramadan comes around. When I was younger, I didn’t necessarily fast regularly when it came to food and drink, but I still loved coming to the mosque simply to play with my friends. I would prance around the mosque before prayer began, playing tug of war with my dupatta (head scarf) or sitting around braiding the other girls’ hair. My parents made sure that I had a new outfit each day we went to the mosque, and every day, I would model for a picture of my salwar kameez or lehenga for my parents to send to our family in India. I would sing along to the Naats and memorized more Surahs (sections of the Quran) than in any other time during the year. In many ways, it is the time when I felt most at peace with myself and most in tune with my religion.
In Sunday school, we were told that our good deeds were multiplied 70 times this month, and I found myself trying to take advantage of this. Come time for Isha prayer, I would quickly pick up pieces of trash around the mosque, so that I could take as much sawab (reward) as I could from this month. I’d find myself fighting with my parents less often, trying to limit any gossiping and lying, and so on. All too often, I feel that people characterize Ramadan as simply cutting out food and water, but it is more than that. It is about reminding ourselves of our values, reconnecting with our community, empathizing with those who have less than us, and more. One of the reasons fasting was effected was to help us relate to those forced to go hungry or without water because of their financial circumstances.
I still remember the difficulties that came with not eating or drinking during my first fast. I was in the third grade. Previously, I had done half fasts, in which I would fast but only for the half of the day. I was excited to be able to hold a full fast as I had watched my brother and parents do, but I was also scared.
My family went out to sehri at a restaurant that morning, and we headed out to the mosque in the evening for iftar. My mosque has a tradition in which an announcer calls out the names of children who have fasted for the first time. The night my name was called, I can still remember hurrying up to the front while everyone clapped and my parents stood up. It was a time in my life I can look back on when I had set a goal and accomplished it. I had undoubtedly suffered, but I was more disciplined and better for it.
I fast more regularly now, and as much as I’d like to, I no longer run around the mosque, as I would only get in trouble with aunties soon after. Yet I cherish these memories. Now, Ramadan has taken a new meaning as I spend more time learning the Quran, praying Tarawih (night prayer) and doing what I can to ensure that my bond with my faith remain strong.
To all my Muslim brothers and sisters reading this, Ramadan Kareem. And to everyone else, I hope I was able to give a little glimpse into my world.
Zobia Quraishi writes the Wednesday column on being Muslim and first-generation Indian American.