Ramadan and Community
It was always a tough time of year but one we looked forward to. It started late in the evening, with many of our friends and neighbors heading up to their roofs to see if they could spot the moon, signaling the beginning of Ramadan, a holy month of fasting for Muslims. This was then followed by phone calls to loved ones to confirm the news and hearty greetings of ‘Ramadan Kareem’ or ‘Ramadan Mubarak’, wishing our community a blessed month of fasting.
Eating, drinking water, smoking, chewing gum, essentially letting anything pass your lips is forbidden between sunrise and sunset during this month. We’d wake up bleary eyed and dazed before sunrise to take our morning meal, known as suhoor, and often not bother going back to bed. Us kids would head off to school and our parents to work. Everyone would skip their lunch hour and head home early in the evening to get fried sweets, savory treats, and food for sunset. When the sun finally set, the call to prayer let us know it was time to break fast and have iftar. We’d start with a glass of water, followed by a date, saying a silent prayer of thanks for having made it through another day of fasting. We would then dig into a table full of our favorite foods, often inviting family, neighbors, and friends to join us.
Every family practices fasting slightly different, all with the same goal of dedicating the month to their faith. In my family, my parents told me we fasted to understand not only how lucky we were to have everything in life, but as a reminder of what the poor and the hungry face every single day of their lives. It was a way for us to stay grounded in a word of immense privilege. Thirty-odd years later, the lesson has stuck.
Ramadan is also a time of community. We are reminded of who our brothers and sisters are, even if we do not know them. Our duty is to each other and withholding food and water is a stark reminder of this. In my childhood this was especially significant because even my non-Muslim friends fasted because we were such a tightknit community. At iftar there was a collective beat in which we all gave thanks for our good fortune together, young and old, rich and poor. We gave more generously to those less fortunate than ourselves and took to heart their delight in being remembered.
We also looked forward to seeing each other after long and tiring days, sharing a bond that was both physical from the thirst and hunger, and spiritual because we were giving ourselves over to what felt like the best part of our faith. And then, of course, came the sighting of the full moon again to signify the end of fasting and the start of Eid, where children receive new clothes, money, and celebrations go on for days.
It’s in these memories that I feel the most pained when I think of the plight of Palestinian refugees. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam and as such, Muslims will not give up the opportunity to practice this critical aspect of their faith, no matter how deprived they may be or how desperate their situation is. I imagine Palestinian mothers trying to make a suhoormeal nutritious enough to keep their families full all day. I imagine Palestinian fathers and brothers trying to find delicious and hearty foods for iftar. I imagine refugee parents trying to explain to their children the meaning of Ramadan, when these families have nothing in the first place. I imagine families trying to cobble together enough food to host neighbors and friends. And then I imagine that moment when Eid comes and these parents don’t have enough money to buy their children new clothes or give them money, as is tradition. Even in this tenet of Islam, Palestinian refugees face indignity.
We fasted for people like the Palestinian refugees Beirut and Beyond works tirelessly to support. We fasted to understand their hunger and their deprivation. But I know these families, who have nothing, will be doing the same. They too will be fasting to remember those less fortunate than themselves and they too will be doing their best to keep the sense of community and tradition alive.
That’s how Ramadan connects our communites together.
Faseeha Khan-Jensen is on the board of directors of Beirut and Beyond. She is a strategic leader with expertise in operations, fundraising, and international development, with a focus on public health. While living and working in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Faseeha executed successful development projects for the Government of Bangladesh and international NGOs. Prior to working at Velocity Global, Faseeha was the Co-Founder of The Level Market and worked with nonprofits in the UK and US, bringing years of experience in operations, communications, and relationship management. Faseeha has an MA in International Development: Poverty, Conflict, and Reconstruction from IDPM at the University of Manchester and an MPH Certificate from the University of Colorado. Having grown up in a diverse and international community with people from all walks of life, she is passionate about bringing diversity into the lives of her own children in Denver, Colorado.