May, and the countdown to Ramadan, came quickly this year. Much like last year, I’m hyper-aware of the days passing, becoming more and more conscious of just how many times I buy a coffee, chew gum, or snack on a chocolate chip cookie or soup. My anticipation grows, along with my nervousness. It’s a very interesting, albeit slightly stressful cycle, but it’s one I always look forward to.
This year is special for many reasons. While it is not my first year fasting, it is my first time fasting as a Muslim woman, something I am very thankful and proud of. The circumstances behind this year’s fast have a different sort of connotation — for one, I’m not fasting merely out of curious choice as I did last year, but rather out of the desire to fill a religious obligation, something I’ve never had before. It took a year of research, meeting with reverts and born Muslims, and some deep soul searching and self-evaluation to make the decision to revert to Islam.
With all these factors rolling around in my head last year, I decided to fast in order to get an idea of what life would be like as a Muslim woman who couldn’t merely choose to break fast because it was too hot. Needless to say, I was nervous. I had never purposefully given up food or drinks for entire days before. Of course, there were times in life where I had gone several hours or maybe even a day without eating, due to sickness or not really having an appetite, but I couldn’t think of a time I’d gone a whole day without drinking something, and I certainly never stayed thirsty or hungry even when I wanted food and could get it.
I’m not fasting merely out of curious choice as I did last year, but rather out of the desire to fill a religious obligation, something I’ve never had before. It took a year of research, meeting with reverts and born Muslims, and some deep soul searching and self-evaluation to make the decision to revert to Islam.
My first day fasting last year was hard because it was my sister’s sweet 16, a party which I was tasked with helping prepare the food for (of course, with my luck). I have a habit of eating as I cook, something which I was screaming at myself not to do as I tried to move through my chores as quickly as possible. I also had to help with her candy bar, a tempting assortment of chocolates; and I had to stave off my grandfather, who loved giving his children candy throughout the day. Between setting the tables, getting the food to the party hall, and getting ready myself, I had to sit down several times throughout the day to center myself with a few breaths.
I also had to calm my mother down, a Puerto Rican woman who loved to see people eat and enjoy food, and certainly wasn’t used to her daughter, who never shied away from a meal, choosing to not eat for an entire day. She was nervous I was going to pass out if I went eight hours without eating, and my spinning head wasn’t exactly the best argument against her not having anything to worry about. But, I was determined. After all, if I were already Muslim this would be a religious obligation, so I told myself there was no choice that day as well. That first day last year was definitely the hardest; I was afraid I would mess up and a part of me was scared I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I did. it. The first day of Ramadan served as one of the biggest influences in assuring me that I truly wanted to, and could be, a Muslim woman.
This time around, I will be able to pray among my brothers and sisters at a mosque. I will be able to interact with the many different kinds of Muslims that live in my community. I will be able to share the practices and traditions of Ramadan from the days of our Prophet (SAW).
This means so much to me because last year I had no connection to the ummah (Muslim community). Although there was a mosque right up the street from the house that I new would welcome me if I chose to go, I kept telling myself that I wasn’t yet a Muslim, I wasn’t wearing hijab yet, and I was far too nervous and self-conscious to even attempt to give a salaam. My biggest hindrance at that time, though, was that I didn’t know how to pray yet.
Now, almost a year later, I’m so proud of how far I’ve come. Learning to pray, choosing to wear the hijab, and reaching out and befriending other Muslim women has helped me gain confidence, both in myself and in my religion. The Qur’an tells us that Islam is not meant to be hard for us; Allah (SWT) would not want us to struggle to follow His path. The year between last Ramadan and this one has showed me just how true those words are. I am still a bit nervous, but I am so excited to celebrate my first Ramadan as a Muslim woman.
Ramadan Mubarak to all the new Muslims, all the old Muslims, and all the non-Muslims! May this month bring you happiness, health, and love.