My First Ramadan
By Khalid Malik Rosa
My first Ramadan was a time of change for me. It would be the first time I engaged in the Islamic fast. Also, I would learn about how important Islam is to me in the face of societal criticism and ignorance.
On a personal and practical level, I was also able to take time to figure out some important matters in my life. I decided to pursue a career in business instead of academia, which for me means pursuing an MBA rather than a PhD. It was a very tough decision; I am glad I had the down time to really focus on important issues. I also finally changed my name legally. I had to wait almost two months to get clearance from the Federal and Colorado Bureaus of Investigation before I could complete the process (and I thought we lived in a free country). My name change was official and legal as soon as the holy month began.
With the name change and fasting, I finally felt like a real Muslim. How is that possible? Well, I got daily mispronunciations of my name, and I still do. I am asked where I am from in South Asia or the Middle East. And, I constantly stumbled into people who did not know much about Islam, specifically, about our holy month. I was gracious and forgiving, and I tried not to make any issues out of things. However, I was taken by such blatant disregard people have for anything different from the “American standard.” Based on my Latino heritage and family, I used to always be asked if I could speak English and where I was from. I could brush those experiences off as naivety (or ignorance). Now, I am treated as if I can only be an outsider to the “American experience.”
Being an outsider in the USA has been commonplace for me just like in the daily experiences of some people of color. I have been alienated plenty of times for being different due to my huge Mexican family or the Roman Catholic practices I grew up participating in. However, now I related to my Muslim friends on a new level. I remember in years past accidentally inviting Muslims to lunch during Ramadan. Finally, I was on the other side of the question. I was rearranging my schedule, and learning to negotiate the pangs of hunger and thirst.
I was always hungry. This is my primary memory of Ramadan. I noted what I ate and how much I ate. I broke the fast with friends, and I ate a year’s worth of halal meat. I always watched a clock to note how much time until I could eat again. It became a daily obsession, even after I got used to the fast. Food and water were truly my favorite things.
I truly learned to savor my meals. I have to admit that food at the end of the day tasted the best. My everyday home cooked meals tasted like I was out at my favorite restaurant. Water had become a favorite elixir of the day; it felt 120% more refreshing. I have to admit that not drinking water or tea at work was a hard sacrifice, especially when I did repetitive work.
The worst of times was when I was too tired to eat. I would come home exhausted after putting in a long class and work day; and I would not have the energy to prepare a meal. I usually would lie down and pass out for a few hours. Sometimes, I would not get up until the morning prayer time. Therefore, I would go entire days on one meal. Naps were another friend of mine. I took many of them in order to rest up for the fast and balance out my sleep.
I was always tired. This is another significant memory of my first Ramadan. I attend graduate school full-time, and I work full-time. However, I was more exhausted than usual. Work, school, prayers, friends, and homework kept me busy and made the time pass quickly. I tried to focus on my deen and to experience the full effect of the holy month. Amidst the exhaustion, I gave up soda and candy. I could not rely on soda pop to pep me up.
My Muslim friends are important to me, and they got me through my first time fasting. I also met some awesome Muslims in all my interactions in the community here in Denver. Lots of folks had advice, but I noticed that many converts had the best advice for me. I am starting to understand what it means to be an American Muslim. While Islam is rooted in many beautiful and diverse cultures, I see a need for Islam to express itself here in the United States. Converts to Islam bring a different experience of the faith. Moreover, Latino Muslims also contribute to the culture of converts here in the US. As we continue to develop our ‘umma, it will be interesting for all of us to bring our Ramadan experiences together.
On a lighter note, a non-Muslim friend at school told me she was also fasting with us in honor of Ramadan. She told me this after class one day (mid-day) as she finished her coffee and donut. I smiled and noted that fasting is tough at first, but we adapt to it. I was perplexed by her snacking in the middle of the day. We later discussed rules of fasting as I explained this important Pillar of Islam. I gently noted the restrictions around eating in Ramadan if one intends to fast as a Muslim.
My family has finally started showing disapproval. I was first asked all about Ramadan, and I was asked all about fasting. I was also asked continuously about why I converted. The questions felt invasive initially, but I patiently responded to the inquiries. While they live back home in California, my close relatives began questioning my fast and calling it a “health concern.” The lack of water throughout the day was the biggest concern along with my legal name change. I finally was seen at home as a Muslim, and I would see my family’s disapproval, which is a discussion for another time.
Overall, I was forever changed by my first Ramadan. My eating and sleeping habits were forever impacted. The most important time for me was the last two weeks of Ramadan. I began to feel a sort of ecstatic state by the end of the day. I was really able to connect to my prayers at the end of the day. While noting all the details of how my first Ramadan felt, the most important was my connection to Allah (swt). That connection has changed how I see Islam in my life and how I feel that Islam is becoming an integrated, guiding force in it. For me, that was most significant about the holy month. And, I hope to continue to grow in our faith tradition. Insha’Allah.