Celebrating Ramadan at Booth

Celebrating Ramadan at Booth

“Not even water?!” When thinking of Ramadan, most people, including Muslims themselves, consider only the visible part of the iceberg: fasting from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, for 30 days. In reality, this month is about so much more. 

During this time, those who observe Ramadan fast on their vices, be it anger, confrontation, gossip, and yes, excessive consumption, and indulge in whatever they think makes them a better person, be it piety, forgiveness, charity, or family connection. At the risk of sounding too poetic, I honestly believe this month is about self reflection, identifying the few things that really matter and cherishing them, then acknowledging the many things that are unnecessary burdens and letting them go. Many people have told me Ramadan was the month in which they developed habits that have informed their lives, and which they maintained long after that specific Ramadan ended. 

Back home, Ramadan is always a special time of year. During the day, people are generally calmer, they are more empathetic and treat each other better. In Beirut, normally a very noisy and busy city year round, shops start closing around 4 pm as people head home to spend time with their families, and things quiet down. The streets of the city are decorated with lanterns and crescents, and charity food drives pop up around every other corner. 

Iftar, the time when we break our fast, is particularly unique. In my own family, it is the only time of year when we all make it a point to gather around the table on the balcony to share a meal, and it is the only time when there is almost total silence on the street below, as everyone has also gone home. It was always my favorite setting. 

Ramadan is a time when you learn that people really don’t need as much food as they normally consume; at Iftar, a salad and one serving of a main course are enough to fill you up. I have been fasting since I was 8 years old. It still surprises me how full I am after one plate, and I wonder why I normally eat 3 full meals a day, with about 10 snack breaks in between. 

At night, Beirut comes alive. People go out to pray Taraweeh and then gather with friends. After midnight, shisha cafes are in full swing, while bakeries pump out Manakeesh to feed those hungry souls before dawn comes, and the new fasting day starts. Curfews no longer exist for anyone; you can feel a new community being created every night for a month.

This year, in Chicago, is the first year I fast without any family members around. I find that without the street decorations, the Iftar gatherings, or the evening activities, Ramadan does not feel the same. And that’s fine; it just means more effort is needed from our part. In fact, some special non-observant Boothies (you know who you are) have gone above and beyond to recreate an authentic Ramadan experience for us. They have gathered us in their homes, cooked amazing meals and Arabic desserts, and stayed up late with us, because they wanted us to feel at home, and wanted to experience this month with us. I am very grateful to them.

Fasting in Chicago also reminds me of what is truly important during this month. Much of what we did in Beirut was superfluous and extravagant. This year, I have had to be more intentional and thoughtful about the select few things that give meaning to this month, namely gathering with friends, sharing a good meal, and trying (sometimes failing) to be a more considerate person. 

Ramadan is many things. It holds different meanings to different people. Some remember the disenfranchised who are forced to fast everyday due to a lack of food, others make it a point to lose as much weight as possible, and some spend it praying. For me, it is an annual opportunity to hit the reset button. And it passes by very quickly. That’s what we are always told; Ramadan comes and goes in a flash so if you want to make the most of it, start early, be intentional, and drink lots of water!

Perspectives from observant Muslims at Booth

“Gathering at the mosque with my best friends each Ramadan, nearly every night for thirty nights, was something I would look forward to each year in the suburbs of Detroit. The camaraderie of fasting together, at our separate high schools, texting each other during the day, lending emotional support, and then coming together in the evening was a bonding experience that I didn’t get to experience with my non-Muslim friends. When I would line up for prayer with them, shoulder to shoulder, leaving no gaps, and praying for hours into the night on school nights, I felt a sense of purpose that was hard for me to find in any other part of my teenage life. During the part of prayer when we would collectively kneel to the ground and lay our heads on the carpet, my mind would wander from prayers for my grandparents, to my dreams for my future, to random thoughts about my friends beside me. It was my space for deep reflection and calm peace, and, sometimes, stifled giggles. I still go back to that mosque today to find that feeling now and then, missing those Ramadan nights with my closest friends.”

Shazia Ijaz

“To me, Ramadan represents a month of reflection as well as self and health improvement through creating new habits that last for the rest of the year. Also, Ramadan represents a time of community gathering and appreciation through spending more time with family, friends and loved ones.”

Mohammad Alawawdeh

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