What I’ve learned while fasting during a global pandemic
Celebrating Ramadan during COVID-19 is nothing I could have planned for, but I’ve found strength in my community
I don’t always think I’m a “good” Muslim. I don’t wear a hijab or pray 5 times a day. I wear whatever makes me feel confident, versus what other people think I should wear. I do pray, not just when I need something but whenever I feel grateful. Most of all, my girlfriend and I don’t exactly align with the Adam-and-Eve origin story in most Abrahamic faiths.
Because I don’t fit the mold that I’ve always associated with Islam, I feel pressure to legitimize my identity as a Muslim.
This is one of the reasons I decided to fast during Ramadan, a holy month when Muslims don’t eat, drink, or take medicine from sunrise to sunset. This time is meant to bring us closer to God, to reflect, be generous, and celebrate by gathering and eating with intention. On a personal level, I try to be the best version of myself during Ramadan. I focus on being slow to anger, especially when I’m hungry or craving coffee. I also spend more time thinking about how I can support my community.
On a personal level, I try to be the best version of myself during Ramadan. I focus on being slow to anger, especially when I’m hungry or craving coffee. I also spend more time thinking about how I can support my community.
This year, Ramadan coincides with a global pandemic, which has exacerbated my sense of loneliness. During a typical Ramadan, I’d try to see my family somewhat regularly. My parents’ table would be full to the brim with cousins, aunts, and uncles who would be served freshly-made kebabs, fruit chaat, and naan. We’d finish the night with dessert that my mom had whipped up without using butter (she’s a doctor for diabetes), and I’d usually cross my fingers and hope that magic cookie bars were cooling in the next room. I’d hold my grandma’s hand and tell her all about the projects I’m working on, or whatever I was writing about that week.
None of that is on the menu this time around. But just because the Muslim community can’t eat together doesn’t mean we can’t stay connected.
Muslim community groups and business owners around the world are celebrating Ramadan with Zoom calls, virtual prayers, and free food distribution. There are countless stories of generosity, like that of Amina Salad, a local grocery store owner in Seattle, who donated 3,000 pounds of rice and 600 containers of dates during the first two weeks of Ramadan. Local mosques are holding virtual weekly classes about the core lessons of Islam, while the Muslim Community Resource Center in Washington State is supporting the elderly and those living alone by providing financial support for groceries, medical supplies, and other essentials.
I realized that I’m blessed, but I’m also privileged. I’m so lucky that I have enough food to eat and am able to donate to local charities. I’m privileged to live in a neighborhood where I can take walks and enjoy the Seattle sun, and I never have to worry about my personal safety. My girlfriend also wakes up before sunset and often boils me an egg or makes me a matcha latte so I don’t feel like I’m doing this on my own. She often cooks dinner while I finish a workout and we always toast with a date, a sacred fruit in Islam. It’s also a privilege to be employed and work from home, especially during a time when over 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment.
It’s a privilege to be employed and work from home, especially during a time when over 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment.
I’ve learned that I don’t have to do this alone, and I’m not just talking about fasting. I can call on my community and my loved ones to check up on me, Facetime me during dinner, or suggest a new recipe to try this week. I can ask my coworkers to be patient with me because it can be challenging to work full-time while fasting for double-digit hours.
I don’t have to be the “typical” Muslim as long as I’m being honest about what I need and drawing strength from my community.
So, this isn’t the Ramadan that I had planned for, but I still find ways to feel connected to my loved ones. To culminate my celebration of Ramadan during Eid, I’ll wish my cousins Eid Mubarak over Facetime, whip up a home-cooked meal with the ingredients in my cupboard, and decorate my home. Maybe this time, I’ll trade in samosas and haleem for zucchini lasagna and shortbread cookies with a date puree — a modern take on the prophet’s favorite fruit.
I’ll still be celebrating Eid, but in my own way. It’s OK to practice Islam in a way that’s authentic to who I am.
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About the writer:
My name is Aleenah, I’m a journalist at heart who works at the intersection of technology, education, and storytelling. These days, I write for Microsoft IT Showcase, an external platform where we tell stories about the technology that empowers over 151,000 Microsoft employees worldwide. My identity as a queer, Pakistani woman drives my passion to tell stories about communities of color that are often underrepresented or misrepresented in the media. My writing stands on the shoulders of poets of color like Rupi Kaur, bell hooks, and Nayyirah Waheed. Their work reminds me that when someone shares their story, the most powerful thing I can do is say, “I believe you.”