I started my Ramadan routine at 13, the same year my family moved to America. I would spend the entire 12-hour fast thinking about a cool can of Pepsi and a juicy hamburger. As the years progressed, I abandoned that idea and embraced a more original approach: living vicariously through my friends.
I would stare at my friend’s lunch, which invariably contained irresistible fast food. Every day I watched spellbound as my friend unwrapped a chicken sandwich, flashing it in front of my eyes. As he lifted it, smelled it and then slowly placed it between his teeth, my mouth would water. Despite the torture, I was happy to know I could stay strong.
Being a 17-year-old Arab Muslim in San Francisco can, at times, prove difficult. When the holy month of Ramadan appears with its never-ending blessings, it’s time to face a whole new challenge. In Egypt, and all Muslim countries, there is plenty of room for non-Muslim minorities to share in the celebrations. However, since Muslims are a minority in America, it’s easy to feel segregated from their immediate world – they cannot share the same feelings and experiences they would be able to at home.
The lack of community support also affects Muslim youth in America. We have to continue all our regular activities, with the added task of fasting. In Egypt, the entire country slows down to celebrate Ramadan. Nothing slows down in the US, of course. High school can be exhausting normally; celebrating Ramadan at the same time makes it even more demanding.
There are funny moments, like when I walked with a friend to a grocery store near our school. It was not the smartest decision. We had just finished gym class and were aching for any kind of liquid to kill our thirst. As I entered, my eyes followed my friend to the soda aisle. Accidentally overlooking my fast, I pulled out a dollar, handed it to the cashier and opened my energy drink. Just as I was placing it to my bottom lip, my friend yelled at me so loud it actually caused me to drop the drink.
“What is it?” I said, shocked.
“Don’t you know? You’re fasting! Go get your head fixed or something,” Trevor said.
I recalled that I had already told Trevor about my fast. I realized then that explaining Ramadan to the people around you is essential for Muslim life in America. People know that your beliefs and traditions constitute a large part of who you are and as a result, respond to and truly respect them. Those people help you stay strong when surrounded by temptation. In a way, a Muslim does a good deed by teaching a close friend about his religion; the friend also does a good deed by respecting and learning to appreciate it.
Fasting is hard, but sometimes the breaking of it is too. Don’t the coaches know? It’s Ramadan. Everything is supposed to stop an hour before sundown. Every Tuesday and Thursday on the way home from basketball practice, it’s a ‘Drive-Thru iftar.” Bean burritos wrapped in paper, Fishwiches in cardboard cartons, sodas, and milkshakes in plastic cups – a disposable iftar.
Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays: band practice from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm. There are games on Fridays from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm and Muslim flautists and trumpeters gulp down protein bars during half-time. I try to forget about breakfast at home with friends and family, my beloved dishes of mesaqa’a and kunafa, as I strive to get enough calories into my system to make it to the end of the game.
I definitely miss the Egyptian traditions of Ramadan: the sound of the adhan (the call to prayer) announcing iftar, people smiling, and the Qur’an prominent in the hands of many. However, despite the day-to-day dealings with the cultural differences, I have learned that Ramadan affects a Muslim living in Egypt and America equally – Ramadan feeds the soul, not the stomach.