I was in the first grade, and my teachers were worried about me.
It was the month of Ramadan, a month of fasting celebrated by Muslims worldwide, and at the age of six, I had decided to take part for the first time.
I never understood their concern, as I was so happy to participate in such a sacred month. During the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, daily fasting is obligatory for adult Muslims, and most begin during their teens. But I have always loved Ramadan, and was eager to take part, joining my family as we sat down together to break our fast.
The beginning of Ramadan on Sunday, May 5, brings back those memories from when I was in lower school. Growing up and seeing my family come together for prayers was always a beautiful unity. After a long day of fasting, it’s a warm feeling to sit with your family and reflect upon each other’s day, after eating the food that mesmerized you for the last 12 hours.
To break our daily fast we say a prayer, take a sip of water, eat a date, do our prayers, and then sit together at the table to eat the amazing and delicious food my mother spent hours cooking; appreciating every bite. I promise you; my mom makes the best food ever. It was always filled with so many different spices and flavors.
One of my favorite dishes is Mansef. Mansef is one of the traditional dishes made in the Middle East. This dish is made with lamb, of course. What Middle Eastern dish isn’t? The sauce/soup of the Mansef consists mainly of jameed (dried yogurt). My mother would take the sauce and pour it over some seasoned rice, lamb, pine nuts and bread. Mmmm, delicious.
During Ramadan, believers fast dawn to sunset, taking in neither food nor water. But it is about so much more than the mere act of fasting. It is a month to repent for all our sins, a month wherein we clean our mind, body and hearts. We get a chance to get closer to Allah (God).
Living in the U.S. Virgins Islands, on St. Thomas, does not make fasting easier. It is extremely hot on several days. Not eating is one thing, but not drinking water is another. Regardless, during the difficult times I remind myself that the more difficult it is, the greater the blessings. If anything, I prefer the difficult days, because it makes me more grateful. I appreciate things more in life. I count my blessings as I drive by or walk by the poor population or anyone that does not have my so-called privileges or blessings.
The blessings of Ramadan are countless and so rewarding. It is the best month of the year. Weeks, and even months, before this holiday, I get super excited to fast and truly feel a part of our culture. As soon as it ends or gets close to the ending, I get a feeling of sadness as I have already adapted to living such a beautiful lifestyle, in a state of being “full” spiritually as well as being healthy, both physically and mentally.
We are a few days into the beautiful month of Ramadan. Approximately 1.8 billion Muslims all over the world, have come together, celebrating this blessed month that is full of peace, love, and happiness.
During the month of Ramadan, it is believed that the Shaytaan (devil/evil) are far away, the gates of hell are locked up and the gates of heaven are open. During this month Muslims create a bond and relationship with Allah (God), repenting for any sins and constantly asking for forgiveness.
Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, beginning on the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. During this month, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. In the Virgin Islands, that means we take our last sip of water or bite of food around 4:30ish and take our first sip of water and bite of food around 6:30ish. As the days pass, the time changes by a few minutes. The fast is usually broken with a piece of date and some water. There are also additional prayers, called tawarih, that are usually done at the masjid/mosque in a congregation. In St. Thomas, we would all go to Masjid Nur, located on Eighth Street.
Muslims know that praying by oneself is a blessing, but praying in groups, or especially at the masjid/mosque, which is the Muslim house of prayer, is of higher “token” in Gods’ eyes. My brothers always try to put time aside to go to their Friday prayers at the Mosque, as well as their evening prayers during the month of Ramadan. One of my brothers told me how proud he was when he saw the local Muslims of different races come together under one roof to praise God. It was personal to him to stand in the mosque, toe-to-toe with his local brothers, when giving prayers. After the prayer, the Muslims would shake each other’s hands, give hugs, congregate, and give “Salama” (peace) to one another.
Ramadan is the holiest month because Allah (SWT), in that specific month, sent his Messenger Jabreil (alayheee salaam) to Prophet Sayedina Mohammad (peace be upon him) to teach him to recite the Quran. The prophet was not educated so he could not read or write, but instead memorize the Holy Quran; and later, Prophet Sayedina Mohammad (peace be upon him) went to some of “ the Sahabaa” or companions to recite the Quran for them to write down.
Ramadan is more than just fasting; it is also the month during which Muslims abstain from any and all sinful behavior. Sinful behavior includes but is not limited to lying, smoking, cursing, gossiping, fighting, disrespecting others – basically anything negative. When a Muslim fasts during this month, he or she creates and develops a healthier lifestyle, self-purification, giving more charity and showing more compassion toward humankind.
During Ramadan, Muslims purify the body, mind and heart. So, for all those Muslims fasting for this blessed month, may it be a month filled with purity. Remember to forgive one another, share with each other, show love and respect to each other, help the poor and needy, practice any other good deeds daily, etc. May Allah shower you, your families, and friends with blessings. May all your prayers be answered.
And to my community, do not be shocked if a Muslim brother or sister says “Selamalakum” (may peace be upon you) to you. It is a Muslim wishing you blessings and peace.
Nour Suid was born and raised in the Virgin Islands. She recently received a doctorate in clinical psychology and is working on a doctorate in naturopathic medicine. She works locally as a therapist with individuals of all ages to help those with mental illness.