If someone looked up Ramadan in a Google search, they would probably find the words ‘family’, ‘fasting’, ‘suhoor’, ‘iftaar’, ‘late night prayers’, and ‘fasting breath’ associated with it.
For young Muslims in college today, Ramadan has come during the summer months for the last
few years. This means that many of us are home, waiting to be woken up by our mothers who
have been up since who knows when cooking suhoor (pre-dawn breakfast). However, there are
college-age Muslims around the country who have internships, jobs, or other obligations, that for
the first time in their lives, will keep them from spending the holy month with their families for
either part of, or the entirety of Ramadan. For them, Ramadan is not only intimidating but
Doing Ramadan solo for the first time is a big adulting moment.
Questions they have never thought of before come to mind. They ask themselves things like, “What will I eat for suhoor?”, “Is there a masjid close to me?”, “Where will I eat for iftaar (post-fasting meal)?”, “How will I get through the night of Laylatul Qadr?” This is one of those moments where young Muslims decide how seriously they will take a major pillar of their faith. Doing Ramadan solo for the first time is a big adulting moment.
For Sana Amin, who is a junior in college spending the summer away from her family due to an internship, this Ramadan will be filled with firsts. Suhoor is a huge piece of getting the day started off right. Amin says she’s stocked up on what she calls ‘Ramadan Food’, items such as “cereals, pancake mix and granola bars…I’ll be cooking my own suhoors and iftaars for the first time.”
Firas Ashraf is also a junior in college. He is interning in New York City and will be doing Ramadan solo for the first time. In order to prep for Ramadan, he’s been, “buying groceries and working out my summer budget to see the type of meals I can make. I have also been googling local prayer times and looking at what activities are happening around Ramadan.”
By partaking in this holy month willingly, consciously, and relatively alone, there is a responsibility to understand what exactly Ramadan means to us.
“I have been talking to some close Muslim friends of mine about the more spiritual and religious reasons around fasting in Ramadan,” noted Ashraf.
What’s interesting is that Ramadan has always been a solitary journey. No one actually knows if a person is fasting or not. Ramadan is an incredible month because it is such an individual undertaking — we must know the benefits and believe in the process in order to make the most out of the month. Doing Ramadan solo for the first time seems to put pressure on young Muslims to hold themselves accountable. They have to rely on their own willpower without the support of a fasting community around them. This sense of community is something always associated with Ramadan, but what happens when we don’t have it?
“My main concern would be [a] lack of motivation especially because I’ll be in an environment where I will be the only one fasting. Because I’ve spent every Ramadan with my family there was never the question of not fasting as everyone else was doing it. [I’m especially] worried about not waking up in time for suhoor and then not fasting all together,” said Amin.
These are concerns that Ashraf shares. “I am concerned with having to cook alone and eat alone, in all honesty, and not living with other Muslims, which may make the whole process a little bit
more difficult. I am also concerned with my willpower to keep going, keeping my fasts, and with the long work hours I will have,” says Ashraf. Although these are well-founded worries, what Ramadan always seems to do is reignite self-confidence in our ability to be disciplined, charge through, and make the most of every situation. Ashraf and Amin have plans in place to build a comfortable environment around them as they will both be in unfamiliar Muslim communities this Ramadan.
“I will find other Muslim students who are staying in NYC and see if they would like to hold iftaars together, cook together, and [do] other Ramadan activities. I will probably also try and attend the NYU Islamic Center events and call home regularly and try and ‘be’ with my family as well,” says Ashraf. Although challenging, there is probably no better time to be introduced to a new Muslim community. Iftaars and communal prayers are some of the best ways to get to know people, and Ramadan fosters a giving spirit amongst us all. Participating in the late night prayers can be a risky prospect for Muslim women who have never before had to think about staying late at the mosque without a family or male community member to accompany them. “I’m worried that I won’t be able to attend the Laylatul Qadr prayers because I won’t feel comfortable walking out in New York by myself that late at night. Back home my mosque [is] five minutes away from me,” says Amin.
Ramadan seems to take on a completely different layer of complexity and seriousness when doing it solo for the first time, but there are so many reasons to celebrate the change. Ramadan is supposed to test us in all the best ways. Even though at first it’s scary to actively choose to participate in Ramadan and all it requires alone, there is strength in making that choice. By intending to fast the whole month, engage with the community, feed the homeless, go to late night prayers, and more, Muslims will be stronger and firmer in their faith. Going solo for Ramadan is truly the growth experience every Muslim needs at least once, if only to prove it to themselves that they can do it.