“Ramadan Mubarak,” a colleague said to me a few days ago.
He’s not South Asian, so with the limited information he got from the Internet, he tried his best to converse about it with me. Since I grew up in India, he thought I would know about Ramadan and its history.
But, to both of our surprise, I didn’t. I could barely contribute to that conversation; all I knew was that Muslims fast for a month.
I did not like the feeling this exchange left me with: I did not want to be clueless about something that is a big part of my fellow South Asians' lives.
Upon researching, I found that Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is considered one of the holiest months of the year. Furthermore, the Quran was believed to be revealed to Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan.
During Ramadan, Muslims (with some exceptions) fast from dusk to dawn as a period of spiritual discipline and deep contemplation—honouring the five pillars of Islam: fasting, charity, faith, prayer and pilgrimage.
The first meal of the day, called sehri or soohri, is eaten during the early morning hours, and their fast is broken by eating a meal after sunset called iftar.
The end of Ramadan is marked by celebrating Eid al-Fitr, which translates to the celebration of breaking fast. People dress up in new clothes and get together over elaborate meals; Eid is a time of celebrations with your loved ones.
However, even after much reading, I still felt I hadn’t tapped into the real essence of Ramadan. I was craving to know the real-life experiences of people around me, so I spoke with those in my life who celebrate.
I asked a colleague about his earliest memory of Ramadan, “Around 3 am, my mom would come to my room and lovingly wake me up. Then, with a big warm smile, she would ask me to get ready and come to the table for sehri. That time before dawn, when the rest of the world would be quiet, the chatter in our dining room had a different kind of peace and love.”
“We all used to indulge in nutritious food and drinks to prepare ourselves for the fast during the day and express our gratitude to the higher power for giving us what we have,” he added.
I thought, essentially, as humans, isn’t peace and love that we crave? We go on hikes, detox trips, etc., to feel what my colleague felt in his dining room, surrounded by loved ones during those early morning hours.
I further asked that finding this peace must be challenging; eating only at certain times of the day could make people feel weak, tired and irritable.
My colleague agreed that although it is true to some extent, “There is a different kind of positivity that prevails. Ramadan is the idea of working on oneself: the process of becoming a better human being.”
He’s aware that people around him are extra careful during Ramadan and conscious of eating before him.
Hearing him say this, I confessed that I also felt the same; I try not to mention food or water when he is around. He laughed and said I don’t ever have to do that because he was taught to be around food and still not crave it; it is a test of his strength and resilience.
“My elders always gave the example of how the less fortunate around us develop themselves to become immune to the better world around them,” he said.
Those words made me feel like a punch to the gut. We are so engrossed in our daily lives that we take small things for granted.
Ramadan reminds us that others around us may not have 24x7 access to food. It brings humility and makes us more compassionate.
According to my colleague, scientific evidence suggests that during this 30-day cycle, the human body detoxifies and resets—demonstrating the belief that self-discipline during this month can positively impact physical wellbeing.
Faiz Al Riaz admitted that although the initial days of Ramadan are tough and challenging, he can feel these benefits as time passes.
“I feel lighter, calm, and my mind is relaxed. Life slows down in a good way,” he said.
In this busy time, when almost everyone is running a race to achieve something, the holy month of Ramadan serves as a reminder to take a step back and enjoy the little things in life.
When asked if something special happened at the mosques during Ramadan, my colleague responded, “When I was a child, I always looked forward to going for salat (prayer); witnessing the entire community praying together was beautiful. Also, I remember how my parents encouraged us to make time to help those in need voluntarily.”
Riaz expanded on this thought, “Donations and volunteering make you feel grounded and weaken your nafs (ego). You begin to see beyond yourself, seeing and believing in the greater good.
Every year we are encouraged to realign ourselves with our faith through these practices in the hope that we can continue with lessons learned throughout the rest of our lives.”
That is what Ramadan is—it motivates you to be a better version of yourself.
I wondered how the anticipation of going home and getting together with family and extended relatives would feel. Reflecting on his childhood, Riaz said, “We all waited for iftar—when we would get together to break our fast, pray and celebrate. The table would be filled with colorful food, and the house would smell delicious and pious. I loved my mom’s sewayiaan; we used to have them every night. The laughter and banter still ring in my ears. Knowing that we all went through this together brought us closer and made us stronger.”
At this point, I was eager to learn more about Ramadan; however as a non-Muslim, I hesitated before talking about it. I did not want to say the incorrect things or use the wrong words to hurt something so soulful for those who celebrate Ramadan.
When I confessed this while talking to my Riaz, he replied,
“Don’t assume and don’t come from a place of judgment. We are happy to share our culture and history with others. As long as you come from a place of love, there is no need to hesitate.”
Listening to my colleague and Riaz talk about Ramadan was illuminating, as if they were writing a love letter to their faith.
These open, curious conversations helped me connect in a small way with Ramadan's soul—which is so much deeper than a month-long commitment to fasting.
It’s a month that teaches and reminds us to do better, be kind to others and ourselves, and make this world a better place to live.
On that note, now that Eid is upon us, I hope you feel more comfortable learning about the traditions of our Muslim friends, and Eid-Mubarak to everyone celebrating!
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