What does Ramadan mean to me? Growing up in a non-religious household, I was never told I should fast or even had to. I’ve never seen my parents fast, I’m not even sure they did so in Afghanistan. Last year – my first year attempting to fast the entire month – I was driven mainly by the Israeli terrorism campaign against Gaza and an Islamophobic assault in which I was the victim; point is, I felt closer to my deen and the ummah, and so, my willingness to partake in the month was stronger.
But Ramadan has always held a special place in my heart. And that is because I feel it is a time where Muslims across the world are more sensitive to the issues that plague our mother countries – and even our situations dealing with surveillance and discrimination in the States.
I would like to reiterate I come from a non-religious background, and that the majority of my friends are Muslim by name but not necessarily by practice. Regardless of this, I understand and recognize that my religious identity was assigned to me without choice, but I take immense pride in it. And I truly believe that this is a focal point in Islamic history, wherein we Muslims must educate ourselves so that we can combat stereotypes and narratives about Islam.
This time last year, I was assaulted for being Muslim. Mind you – I was wearing a short dress, at a nightclub. I was fully “assimilated”; in a Caribbean country, where, when people asked me where I was from, I answered, “America”. Not Afghanistan. Not Central Asia or the Mideast. I identified as American.
This was not enough for the Islamophobes I met that night. And thank God for the bouncers at the club who stopped these racist sick assholes from physically hurting me, because it was quickly escalating to that level.
I mention this only to tell you that they don’t care how “much” of a Muslim you are. If that’s what you identify as, they want to hurt you. This is what the media has done to feeble-minded individuals who have nothing better to do but to hate us for our backgrounds. The onslaught on Gaza a couple weeks after only reinstilled this belief in me – people thought I sympathized with Gazans because they were Muslim, or because I was “anti-Semitic” (even though I have plenty of Jewish friends and grew up with a Jewish family) – but not because of the obvious reason that babies were getting blown to shreds in front of their parents and now Gaza is unsalvageable and we have a generation of Palestinians growing up with PTSD and a range of other psychotic disorders thanks to Islamophobia.
No one cares about the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, again, because they’re Muslim. I don’t give a shit about any geo-political excuse people will make up to cloud these issues – this is all because of one thing: ISLAMOPHOBIA.
Islamophobia desensitizes people to the suffering of Muslims. We are lesser than. Remember this: to the mass media, WE ARE LESSER THAN. Our lives DO NOT MATTER.
Knowing this, my partaking in Ramadan, be it fasting when I have the willpower, or praying, or giving charity, I am doing it for those Muslims who are kneeling in rubble instead of in prayer. For those who are starving, not because they choose to, but because they have to. For Deah, for Yusor, for Razan. For those whose charity is saving survivors from a drone attack. For those who will bury their dead this holy month.
Additionally, this is a time to reflect how we hurt each other. Expand your minds and increase your knowledge about sectarian violence, about ethnic rivalry. Muslims kill each other all the time – educate yourselves on why this is happening and how we can work against this.
My Muslim brothers and sisters – don’t waste this Ramadan telling people what they should be doing, or assigning guilt towards those who don’t fast, or criticizing your son or daughter for missing a prayer. Educate your communities. Rewrite your narratives. Learn about the accomplishments of our collective Ummah. Lets bring back our humanity, no matter how skewed the media is. I cant even count how many friends have told me I have changed their perceptions of Islam – you can too. And remember, I’m not even an ultra-conservative Muslim. But the suffering of people who look like me, speak like me, pray like me, is enough to drive me towards educating anyone I come into contact with about the faith I’ve struggled with all my life.
Because the empty eyes that peered into my soul, one year ago, who told me I should be dead, who told me I was a sand-n*gger, who told me that myself and all my people should burn in Hell, was enough to make me see that we’re all in this together, hijabi or not, Sunni or Shia, Afghan or Arab.
This Ramadan, I will reignite the fire within me, the love that I have for my Ummah, the collective feelings of love, duty, and community. Because if we don’t help each other, just know that no one else will help us.