Community Connection, Personal Growth During Ramadan

14 June, 2018

Muslims around the world are preparing for Eid al-Fitr, a religious holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

Many Muslims have been fasting for all or part of the past four weeks. During Islam's holy month, they are required to avoid food and drink between sunrise and sunset.

An important part of Ramadan is for believers to spend time with members of their community.

Attendees mingling at the first Black Iftar event, held in Chicago and hosted by Samira Abderahman.
Attendees mingling at the first Black Iftar event, held in Chicago and hosted by Samira Abderahman.

Connecting Communities

As Eid nears, many Muslims in the United States look back on the goals they had and what they learned this month. For Samira Abderahman, a goal for her this Ramadan was bringing communities together.

Abderahman lives in Chicago, Illinois, where she works for a technology company. She told VOA her most satisfying experiences have always been connected to African-American or Muslim culture. This understanding gave her the idea for Black Iftar, an event where members of the Black Muslim community and their friends could come together and celebrate Iftar.

Iftar is a daily tradition during Ramadan. After the sun goes down, Muslims break their fast and have dinner.

"I knew that if we'd all gather together for one night, it would just be a wonderful good time...the goal of this was just to do this for one night just so people would feel like they had a safe space to eat together and that they didn't have to leave an identity at the door, that they didn't have to choose to be black or Muslim."

Black Iftar was not just for Black Muslims, however. Abderahman wanted to invite others to experience Muslim and Black culture in a way they may not have before.

The event was a big success. A total of 70 people attended. Many of them were Muslim or African-American, but others were not. They ate and prayed together, and discussed issues affecting the community.

After Abderahman announced plans for the Black Iftar, Muslims in other cities told her they wanted to hold similar events. She soon found herself helping others organize Black Iftars in Los Angeles, California; Houston, Texas, and other cities across the country.

Looking inward and quality connections

Makkah Ali lives in Washington, D.C. She serves as executive producer of a podcast called Identity Politics. The show examines stories and opinions about race, gender, and Muslim life in America.

During Ramadan, Ali and her co-host Ikhlas Saleem produced a podcast that explored different parts of Islam and how people observing Ramadan could follow them.

For Ali, her goals for this Ramadan were more related to prayer and making quality connections with the important people in her life.

"I think we live in a very isolationist society, where individualism and doing what you want, when you want how you want... is such a strong American value. But I think what that can often leads to is...being isolated from other people."

During Ramadan, Ali set aside time to spend with her friends and family. She said this helped her develop deeper connections.

"Human beings want connection", she said, adding that part of what makes us human is our ability to connect with each other.

Makkah Ali and Ikhlas Saleem, co-hosts of the podcast
Makkah Ali and Ikhlas Saleem, co-hosts of the podcast "Identity Politics."

Beyond what you think is possible

Nada Zahody, another Washingtonian, is the director of Open Gov Hub, an alliance of 40 mostly non-governmental 40 groups.. She told VOA that this was the first year she played a soccer game while fasting. "It wasn't my strongest game, but I survived," she said.

Soccer, or football, was not Zahody's goal for Ramadan. For her, the month is a time of self-improvement. She said her experience helps to show how people can rise up and do more than they think they are able to.

Holding a mirror to my heart

Noreen Nasir works as a reporter in Washington. She said, "This year I was a little more free-flowing with how I approached the month." But she said, she did make a change over the month in her way of thinking. She said she worked on improving her behavior.

"Really trying to hold a mirror up to my heart and my soul and seeing how I could change."

Nasir added that she developed a better sense of confidence in her identity. In the past, Nasir said, she often felt the need to explain why she was fasting or doing things differently during Ramadan. But this year she was able to, in her words, "let go and not worry about the messages I was giving."

For Nasir, the community plays a very large part in the Ramadan experience. "I don't think I would be able to get through the long days of not eating or drinking and being low on sleep without the support network around me."

She also said that many non-Muslim friends were supportive of her experience during Ramadan this year. She added, "The focus on spiritual connectivity and community and connection with other people is what makes Ramadan so great.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Phil Dierking reported this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Do you have any friends who observe Ramadan? How was their experience? Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

approach - n. to begin to deal with or think about

confidence - n. a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something

fasting - n. abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance.

gender - n. the state of being male or female

isolationist - n. emaining apart from the affairs or interests of other groups

mirror - n. a piece of glass that reflects images

soul - n. the spiritual part of a person that is believed to give life to the body and in many religions is believed to live forever