When I was a child, Ramadan – like the life that stretched before me – seemed magical. Forbidden for the very young, fasting was a mark of adulthood, a rite of passage for which we were all too eager. You woke for the early morning meal with a sense of pride, keen to know what mysterious things adults got up to at this delicious hour.
As I grew older, Ramadan became a time to pause life, a time for reflection as well as a time for community. Growing up outside of our respective ethnic identities and cultures, this month provided the chance to regroup and reconnect with friends and family.
We became used to a melding of cultures where we’d reach for spices in two languages during iftar, knowing only our ethnic name for certain spices and only the English one for others (I will never call “saunf” aniseed or “dhaniya” cilantro, but “namaak” will always be just plain old salt to me). We indulge in kibbeh and kunafeh at our Arab friends’ houses, in pakoras and dahi bade at our South Asian friends’ houses. During Ramadan, we seem to make up for the things we never realized we were missing – the sound of adhan from all corners, mosques on every block, altered work hours to make the fast easy: all things available in the Muslim-majority countries from whence most of us came.
After my brother’s passing, Ramadan became a month of refuge from the chaos of my grief. It allowed me space to breathe, mourn, to build up strength for the remainder of the year. The past few years, I have been able to recharge and re-center during this holy month by finding solace in the strength of the spiritual.
But this year? This year is different.
Ed. Note: Please welcome our newest writer Luca, whose column “Halal Since 22″ will be published the third Tuesday of every month.
“You’re the nicest guy ever!”
I’ve been called a lot of things by women throughout my life. Forward thinking, a saint (after a very unsaintly evening), emotionally unavailable, a complete fucking asshole, etc. I’d prefer to be called any of those things than be called nice. Nice is mild chicken wings. Nice is clothes from Old Navy. Nice is there, but otherwise totally unremarkable. I’m not “nice,” and I cringe when I think of guys who say they are.
But a few weeks ago, for the first time since my early teens, I got called a nice guy b y a woman I was interested in. To be fair, I was being quite a bit nicer to her than I am to most people.
Poetry as dhikr.
– Warsan Shire
This past Ramadan I threw myself head over heels into poetry.
I struggled this Ramadan, with my health, with my temper, with my solitude. But the one thing that kept me grounded as I moved forward with the month was words. Writing isn’t just a form of expression – writing is how I process my spirituality, it is how I calm my chaotic thoughts, it is my way of connecting not just with other people, but with myself.
I challenged myself to writing a poem a day during Ramadan, and invited friends to join me. I created a secret online group where the only rules were that you had to introduce yourself and you had to create something daily, though sharing wasn’t compulsory. Though most people identified as Muslim, it wasn’t mandatory. Within a couple of days my group of five had turned into fifty, as friends invited friends and the connections spread. I was amazed. What had been intended as a small project for a few friends had turned into an online community space of Ramadan connection and poetic love.
When Ramadan began, the poems flowed easily, simply. They were short pieces about hunger or cravings. But as the assault on Gaza began in the first week of Ramadan, the poems began to take a turn. They became emotive and intense. People who had been hesitant to share poems out of shyness began sharing poems because they couldn’t keep silent when atrocities in the world were happening. How can you stay silent when kids are dying?
I was on a conference call one evening last week when my call waiting beeped at me. It took me a few seconds to recognize the number since I only see that area code a couple times a year. It was my dad. I let it go to voicemail.
I waited until the next day to check the message. His voice came amicably through the receiver and he chided me jokingly about turning 40 a few weeks earlier. My dad doesn’t celebrate birthdays, so I thought it was odd that he was calling me about it until I realized the real reason for his call: an annual religious celebration that is part of his church is coming up soon. He wanted to remind me about that.
I left my dad’s church for good in my early twenties, after a long struggle between the teachings I grew up with and my own personal beliefs that had gradually evolved from age, experience and study. My father’s church instructs that members should not associate with people who leave the faith, and that includes family. When I left, I did so with the knowledge that my dad would no longer be an active part of my life.
Having been through the process of losing the religion of my youth and choosing a new path (Islam), I firmly believe that there is no more fundamental or sacred right that each human being has than to explore their spirituality on their own terms. And yet, as I have experienced, it is often the people closest to us that want to control that sacred right and who feel justified in punishing us if our seeking leads us in a direction different from their own.
I am not always strong.
There are times that I experience steep slopes of sadness. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, the sorrow arrives as crude, impolite explosions.
I don’t have everything together, no matter what type of confidence seeps out of my writing. I spend most of my time struggling from paycheck-to-paycheck, too poor to actually date should anyone ever ask me out. I’m always in a suspended state of fear that this is all my life is going to be: a lonely existence with a salary that is barely livable. I feel like I’m stuck, and inertia is a type of sin in my world.
Sometimes, I feel like I should just give up and claim my rural White heritage. I will move to some small Southern town and live in a trailer park. Forget my complicated identity. Screw my vast life experience. I am nothing special.
There are days I feel like low hanging fruit.
I write this not because I want sympathy, but because I know everyone else feels powerless and hopeless at times. I need you to know that you are not alone.
Love, Inshallah presents an author interview podcast with The Faith Club author, Ranya Tabari Idliby, as she discusses her memoir, Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America.
Deonna Kelli Sayed (DKS): This is Deonna Kelli Sayed for Loveinshallah.com. Ranya Tabari Idliby is an American-Muslim writer. You’ve probably heard of her first book, the celebrated The Faith Club: A Muslim, a Christian, a Jew: Three Women Search for Understanding, which featured an interfaith group of female friends promoting common ground after the September 11th attacks. Ranya is an American-Muslim and a New Yorker who has raised her children in the city.
Ranya’s second book reveals more of her personal journey. In Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America, she focuses on her story as a Palestinian, a Muslim, and a mother negotiating her family’s Islamic identity in celebration of America. The memoir interweaves the stories of three generations: her father came to America as a Palestinian refugee when he was sixteen years old; the details of her own global childhood as a Palestinian raised in the Gulf states, and the experiences of her two American-born children.
Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie echoes the sentiments of Loveinshallah – that Muslims in America – and anywhere, for that matter — can own and celebrate personal truths.
I spoke with Ranya over Skype, where she revealed that her journey started on September 11, 2001, and why these events became a turning point for Muslims all over the world.
A huge thank you to our San Francisco readers who ventured out in the rain last night to our SOLD OUT launch party for Salaam, Love! We’re incredibly grateful for your love, support, and wonderful discussion. A special thank you to our MC for the evening, Zahra Noorbaksh, and to the California Institute of Integral Studies for hosting the event.
Check out more pictures from our event on our Facebook page, here.
Next up – Los Angeles! View our full book tour schedule, here.