For me, the month of Ramadan has always been about family.
Family and community.
When I was a kid growing up in the Corona section of Queens, we were lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with several other Muslim families. We’d all get together to pray and share our faith, and then we’d break our fast together. At that point, it’d be my siblings and cousins and friends all running around and playing games while the older folks told stories about what things were like when they were kids.
It brought our family closer together.
And that’s such a huge part of Ramadan … it brings folks together. We’re all dealing with the struggles of fasting, but we’re putting that aside because of our faith, and our trust in Allah. So, for me, Ramadan has always been about incredibly strong faith intertwined with togetherness.
Well … that and the food!
Because, as tough as it is to fast during the day, I’ve always known that when the sun went down, pretty much the best West African food imaginable would be there waiting for me to dig in. I mean, my mom and sister, and our aunts and cousins … they don’t play.
For me, Ramadan has always been about incredibly strong faith intertwined with togetherness.
You guys know about jollof rice? It’s a mixture of rice and vegetables with stew meat that’s seasoned up and dry-aged to just the right taste. And my family makes the best jollof rice on the planet. I could literally eat that at every meal forever, it’s so good.
And, oh man, that peanut butter soup!
It’s such a simple dish — beef stew, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and peanut butter boiled until it saturates into the sauce, and then eaten over rice — but if you’ve never tried it, you really should. It’s incredible.
Sadly, in 2020 there’s been none of that stuff for me. I’m quarantining out here in OKC, and, as much as I love this city … you’re just not gonna find any West African takeout.
So this year, these days, they are just so loooooong. I’m telling you … it’s like they last forever.
And it’s not just the food situation that’s been different for me this year. The whole community facet of Ramadan has been tough to come by, too. Mosques are closed, everyone is sheltering in place, and things are just a lot more solitary. It’s much harder to connect with others of the same faith.
I’m living with my younger brother and one of my cousins right now, and they’re both devout Muslims. So that’s kind of been my saving grace during Ramadan. We’re able to pray together and have our meals together when fasting time ends.
During the day, though, we’re pretty much dealing with this crisis just like everyone else … meaning things are getting real monotonous. You can only play Uno so many times. You know what I mean? We’re at the point now where we’re just bored out of our minds, driving around looking at houses and trees and stuff. It’s unreal. Like….
“Hey! Guys, guys, oh man, on the left … check out that tree!!!!”
The whole community facet of Ramadan has been tough to come by.
Then, each night when the sun goes down, I set out my prayer mat and do wudu — which is a special wash to my body — before I call out to Allah to bring him into the room. I go through some verses in the Quran and just thank Allah for the day. I ask him to accept my fast and to grant me forgiveness for any misdeeds, and I pray for my family members.
It’s an awesome experience.
But, at the same time, it’s hard not to notice that something’s different this year, you know? Usually there are just lots more people around me, because if possible I always try to pray in the masjid, the mosque. Sometimes there might be hundreds of people praying along with you, and then breaking the fast. In the masjids, everybody is so happy to see one another, feel one another, touch one another, and just hold conversations that can go on for hours and hours.
So with each new day, I’m just realizing more and more how the concepts of community and closeness have largely been missing from Ramadan this year due to the Covid-19 crisis.
And I especially miss being around my family in New York right now. We’ll FaceTime after the sun goes down, and that helps a little. But it’s not the same. And it definitely doesn’t help me when it comes to home-cooked West African food. Every night on those video calls, the first thing I always ask is: “What are you guys eating right now?”
What I’m preparing to eat won’t compare. Not by a long shot. But I’ll usually eat that first meal right then during that call. After that, I try to get a workout in and then eat another small meal. By that point it’s usually midnight, and I like to get two more meals in before the sun comes up. Sometimes I wake up before sunrise to eat, or I just stay up all night and play video games before I have to fast again.
I’m fasting right now as I write this, actually. So I’m basically trying not to look at the clock and trying to take my mind off eating. (Believe me, it wasn’t easy writing out that stuff about jollof rice a few minutes ago.)
But this is something I choose to do. Something I … love.
Now, I’m not gonna lie, it wasn’t always that way for me. Sometimes when I was a little kid and Ramadan rolled around, I’d skip out on fasting some days.
I didn’t take it seriously all the time. I’d cheat … grab some food or a snack when no one was looking. Or I wouldn’t pray every time I was supposed to.
It was just a kid being a kid, back then.
As I got older, though, I realized that my faith is central to who I am, and that I wanted to be more serious, more dedicated to my religion. And I couldn’t be happier.
Now, I always challenge myself to try to be a better person each and every year. It may have taken me some time to really see that my faith is something that’s a big part of who I am. But I’m very proud to say that I have become a better Muslim in recent years — more dedicated, more connected. And it’s been the best few years of my life, to be honest.
I absolutely love being a Muslim. I love everything about it.
And even though this year’s version has definitely been different from those in the past, it’s still been wonderful. And, more specifically, it’s really taught me to never take anything for granted.
Whether it’s religion, or family, or relationships, or even just the ability to move around and go outside and have fun with your friends….
There is so much in life that shouldn’t be taken for granted.