Eid al-Fitr, which is the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, is around the corner. As Muslims gear up to celebrate Eid, they also focus in on the significance of the last 10 days. Many Muslims devote a significant amount of time praying during these days and nights.
I love the month of Ramadan for spiritual reasons that I can't explain. At the same time, I often complain about the long days of fasting; not the food aspect, just the lack of ability to sip water through out the day. So I look forward to Eid, but as Eid approaches, I start to miss Ramadan. Many of my Muslim friends share the same bittersweet feeling. I am not sure if I would feel the same bittersweet feeling if I was observing Ramadan on my own, or at least not to the same extent. A partner in crime is a must.
Growing up in a family of four, at the least two of the four of us fasted, though well through my late teenage years and early 20s, it was the three of us. Waking up for suhoor (that meal right before dawn that starts the fast) was a mixture of hustle and bustle to eat while half asleep, and often we would end up in giggles. When we were down to only two people, it was not as merry, but at least I was not alone. Similarly, iftaar (the meal at sunset that breaks the fast) with the other members of my family that were fasting felt good. It was that feeling of "we are in it together".
When I went off to York University, I began to break my fast with other Muslim students since sunset at the time was much earlier (because Ramadan fell in the cooler months). It was a wonderful experience and I really enjoyed being around so many other people having their dinner together. I then went to Ottawa for law school and I knew my Ramadan experience was going to change but I did not prepare myself for the loneliness.
The University of Ottawa Muslims Student's Association also had sponsored iftaars, which made my weekday experience still very enriching. Most of us were strangers to each other, but everyone was polite, kind and caring towards each other. Unfortunately, but understandably, the association did not organize iftaars on the weekend. All of a sudden, I was alone to break my fast. Many of my close Muslim friends in Ottawa were locals and were home with their family during the weekend. My roommate was amazing and if I asked her to sit with while having dinner, she would. But I missed the feeling of "we're breaking our fast together."
Suhoor (in the middle of the night), away from home, was the toughest. Waking up by myself to eat was not fun. I missed my mom tremendously and often wished she was there to make my eggs her style. But God has gifted me with amazing people in my life, including my four best friends, one of whom is Muslim. She knew I was struggling, so she said I could call her at suhoor and so I did. Between calling home and my friend, things were not so lonely. In my last year of law school, I got engaged to the man that is now my husband. I got to add him to the list of people I could call at suhoor, though he's not much of a talker in the mornings, so I continued to bug my best friend. I was so focused on myself that I never thought about how it must have been hard for my family to not have me there.
After law school, I got married and moved in with my in-laws and returned back to having my Ramadan meals with my family. On Saturdays, me and my husband would even go sleep over at my parents house to have both suhoor and iftaar with my family. I loved being back in Toronto. I loved being with family again.
Fast forward to today, it's just me and my husband in our household that fast. Last week, he was ill and still wanted to fast but after some scolding from me he agreed he should not. But he knows, from the years when I was pregnant or nursing, how it feels to be the only one at home fasting. So even though he had dinner at regular dinner time, he joined me again for a small meal at iftaar time. He even offered to wake up with me at suhoor, to which I said no.
Many people do not have family to observe Ramadan with. I hope these people are taking advantage of the beautiful things Toronto has to offer, including various mosques that host iftaars daily. There are lots of lectures and learning activities organized during the month of Ramadan, and even more Eid festivities.
Ramadan, like any occasion or celebration, is lonely without a partner or partners in crime. I am thankful for those who have been there by my side. It has only made my faith stronger and my heart bigger.
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