One of the traditions that remains very important to me as a Muslim Unitarian Universalist is welcoming the month of Ramadan. For all Muslims worldwide, irrespective of religious practice level, Ramadan matters deeply.
Ramadan is really a special month that is much more than a month of not eating or drinking during daylight hours. Although this is a starting place, it is not the be-all end-all. Abstaining from food/water is a way to make more literal space, through detachment from food/water, for the deeper work that Ramadan invites us into. That deeper work includes detachment from material things, self and communal-awareness of systems of oppression and injustice, generosity, gratitude, healing and forgiveness, and more.
The reality, though, is that for some Muslims, physical and health conditions get in the way of being able to fast from food and water. For example, Muslim women who are breastfeeding/pregnant/menstruating do not fast. Even mental health needs can stop one from fasting. And some Muslims just choose to continue to eat or drink, but still welcome and celebrate Ramadan.
Personal Fasting Experience
I have fasted for 20 years and my own observance of Ramadan has changed over time, varying during the month too. I remember my first day of fasting. I was 14 years old, living in San Diego in the winter of 2001. I remember waking up early to make myself something to eat before sunrise. This morning meal is called suhur. I was surprised that my mom was making me pancakes! Even though she was not happy with me fasting because she was afraid it was bad for my health, she woke up early to support me. My meal to break fast, known as iftar, consisted of a couple of dates, chocolate chip cookies, and milk. I was full very quickly, and I learned that I needed much less and that I could be more intentional with my eating. Fast forward in time, my sons grew up with the experience of watching us as adults fast, and they joined us too. Muslim kids (who aren’t expected to fast from food and water) often want to mimic the adults around them.
This Ramadan I am intermittently fasting because right now it’s hard on my body to fast from food and water. Ramadan continues to be a needed yearly reminder to detach from harmful foods and to restore balance to the body, mind, and spirit. Although there is a feeling of missing out sometimes, this really is a time of slowing down and being more present with life. The nice thing abut the observance of Ramadan in Muslim countries is that the work day changes to accommodate the needs of those fasting. We don’t get that type of experience in the United States so it makes fasting more challenging.
How can this information help us?
It’s important for the Muslim and non-Muslim community to hold space for the reality that when a Muslim does not fast from food/water, for whatever reasons, that it is a personal decision. This is important because there is a lot of stigma around not eating or drinking from within the Muslim community and also from the non-Muslim community under the assumption that everyone observes in the same way. We should not ask someone if they are fasting.
This blessed month you can invite yourself to wish a happy Ramadan to Muslims you know. You can use phrases like “Ramadan Mubarak” or “Ramadan Kareem” or just say Happy Ramadan! 🙂
And in honor of these special weeks, you are invited to share in some special Ramadan treats this Sunday, April 17th, during coffee hour.
Wishing you well,
Elizabeth Valencia, Intern Minister
** Sarah Cannon shared Ramadan chalice pages with great information on Ramadan. Be sure to check it out in the Dear Families newsletter for the week of March 28th