By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
You are in school. At lunch, you sit in the cafeteria while everyone eats but you. During gym class, you are asked to run a mile on an empty stomach, and without drinking water. You walk down hallways papered with Easter decorations, while you are also celebrating an important holiday—Ramadan. But no one knows or understands what that is. You are at work. Depending on your shift, you don’t have time to break your fast after not eating or drinking all day, nor a place to pray, while colleagues take multiple 20-minute smoke breaks.
This is life during Ramadan for many Muslim Americans.
A resolution, SR8640, passed by the Washington State Legislature on April 4 could change all that. It recognizes and honors the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, and is a first step towards greater inclusion and understanding amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike as to what Islamic cultural and religious traditions entail, not just at Ramadan, but all year.
“I dream a lot about the type of world I want my children to grow up in,” said state Sen. Yasmin Trudeau, who brought forth SR8640. “It’s a world of profound kindness, acceptance, and peace. It’s a world free of islamophobia and where people of all faiths are represented equally. That is why I brought this resolution. Ramadan is a holy month for the Islamic faith where we reflect, empathize, and give of ourselves. As we move through the last few weeks of the legislative process, this holy time helps us ground ourselves in the power of empathy and intention as we carry out our duties as public servants.”
Ramadan takes place in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Ramadan means “Night of Power” and commemorates the night God revealed the Qur’ān, Islam’s holy book, to the Prophet Muhammad. It is comprised of 30 days of holy fasting, prayer, thankfulness, and philanthropy. Based on the Islamic calendar, Ramadan fluctuates each year, but no matter when, fasting is required from sunrise to sunset. When breaking the fast (called “iftar” in the PM), Muslims celebrate alone or with family and friends by taking some refreshment—importantly, dates.
The date, as told to us by Dr. Sadia Habib of the Redmond Overlake Clinic, “comes from a tradition that the Prophet had. That’s the main staple fruit in Medina, in Saudi Arabia, where he was from.” Habib herself breaks her fast with a date. But Ramadan is not just about these outward signs of devotion. It is an inward spiritual journey, and one of Islam’s five pillars of faith. Some Muslims spend Ramadan reading the Qur’ān from cover to cover. Prayer is taken up a notch, with additional prayers at night that many strive to perform with others at a mosque.
“Some people, I would say, clearly do not understand what exactly Ramadan is,” said Mohamad Imran bin Zohor, a college student and Rohingya immigrant. “Most people know it’s fasting…and people pray. Ramadan is way more than that…Ramadan is a time for acts of charity and kindness towards others. Muslims are encouraged to give generously to those in need and to help those less fortunate in any way…It’s not about just worshiping Allah. It’s more about love and care for his creations.” In this way, Zohor and others believe practicing Ramadan brings Muslims closer together.
“To build a successful community or a successful nation, we have to have a better understanding,” he said. “We have to have better relationships moving forward.”
The Muslim community in Washington state, while diverse, can be disconnected and low on resources. Fear of speaking up, of facing harassment, has led some in the Muslim community to feel unsupported. It’s hard for people like Zohor, far from his family, to break the fast, thinking about loved ones in refugee camps.
“Representation matters,” added state Sen. Manka Dhingra. “My friend and colleague Senator Trudeau is the first Muslim American elected to our state Legislature. I know what that means to her community because I am the first Sikh legislator elected in the U.S. Being the first always brings unique challenges. While it is an honor and a privilege, there is also the pressure to ensure you are paving the way for the future so that there can be many more. Our Legislature needs to look like the people we represent.”
“I’m very happy,” Habib said about the resolution. “I’m glad that this was a positive step towards acceptance of Muslims.” Habib, who counts herself fortunate for having a workplace that allows her flexibility to fast and pray as she requires, realizes that this is on a case-by-case basis.
“We still have a ways to go,” she said. “To recognize is the first step and then hopefully there will be…more laws and regulations that would come up to make it more standardized to provide those kinds of accommodations.”
“Ramen-what?” This was the type of response the Asian Weekly received from some in the Asian community when we asked them if they knew what Ramadan was. This lack of knowledge is curious considering that Islam is one of the top three largest religions in the world, and the fastest growing religion in the U.S., at 1.9 billion people globally and 3.45 million in the U.S. as of 2017. And there are Asian Muslims. The highest Muslim populations are not in Arabia, but in India, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Local Muslims hope the passing of SR8640 will dispel some of this lack of information—and interest—among many communities when it comes to Islamic practices.
“Our organization handles a lot of negative stories,” Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told us after recapping a positive Muslim Day at the Capitol on March 20, which Siddiqi felt provided some momentum for SR8640.
“We also deal with a rise in hate crimes and bullying, so for folks who are bullied or victimized because of their identity, for them to see that the state is trying to make an effort to embrace our diversity” makes a difference. The recognition [is] uplifting this time of the year because it is a time for community and being together. It’s a time of warmth and good feelings within the community.”
Want to know more? Just ask. Talk to co-students or colleagues that you think might be fasting. “Show that curiosity in a genuine way” and “you will learn a lot very easily,” said Habib.
The end of Ramadan is marked with the “Feast of Fast-Breaking,” or Eid al-Fitr. If that sounds like Easter after Lent, you’re not wrong. This highlights the relatable similarities that exist between Muslims and Christians. For Eid, Muslim families typically gift new clothing to the children and visit the graves of their deceased loved ones. This year, Eid will take place at sundown on April 20. It is typical in our workplaces and schools to wish each other “Happy Easter,” regardless of our cultural background or if we celebrate Easter ourselves. Imagine if you also wished your fellows “Ramadan Mubarak” or a Blessed Ramadan?
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.