Disclaimer: This article doesn’t reflect my family, but rather gathered stories from various people (consensually) put together.
I’ve been fully fasting since I was ten years old, I’m twenty today and in the last ten years, I’ve learned some good and equally awful things about Ramadan. While everyone is posting duaas and prayers in preparation for Ramadan, quitting coffee or cigarettes a week ahead, catching up on their last ta’weed days, or sinning as much as they could so they can – maybe – hold off during this holy month, I’m weighed down by dread. I’m a faithful practicing Sunni Muslim and I am so undoubtedly blekh about the whole thing. I’m shayla hamm so many things and I can’t think past them, my anxiety is already broiling 3 whole days before Ramadan raps on our doors. Oh, and by the way, my dreading of Ramadan doesn’t make me any less faithful or pious or religious or spiritual.
Firstly, I’m so unprepared to deal with large family gatherings, not like I ever am, but dammit we haven’t seen them in a year because of COVID and I just. don’t. want. to. I’m not ready for tante Hekmat to give me unsolicited advice about the (my) career she knows nothing about while in her gaudy pink tailleur, gesturing with arms laden with tennis bracelets and thick gold bangles (she hasn’t worked a day in her life). Oh, and don’t get me started on pedo uncle Essmat who leers at me creepily while he spit-talks, looking down my shirt or brushing against my ass when I’m forced to hug him because eib. Let’s also not mention fatphobe khalto Passant (not Bassant, P te’eela, ha?) to comment about my weight loss or gain and casually comparing me to her daughter and sighing over my ‘poor chances in marriage’ while she herself is a blow-up doll divorcee. And our ‘Sheikh’ ammo Salah – who is always running his hand through his beard and tapping his fingers against zebeebet el salah – to ask my dad “heyya leh lessa mathagebetsh?” (why isn’t she veiled yet?). Oh crap, there’s also tante Baheega who’ll come in with her husband uncle Mokhtar – who keeps cracking the “sayem/sayma walla zai kol sana” ‘joke’ – while she makes sure that el banat clean up the sofra (table) after eating because ‘men should never’. I’m especially not ready for all the conversations I’ll be forced to sit through while setat el eila (the women of the family) lecture me about where I should go, what I should do, how I should change, what I should wear and other things to land a husband as if they wrote kayf tastadeen a’reesan (how to fish/catch/trap a suitor) themselves and I’m poor, old, me’anesa (spinster) Ola.
I want to eat my wara’ enab, go for a second plate of kunafa, or grab the last samboosak without being nudged into giving it to uncle Bahaa when he’s eaten half the platter of samboosak himself uslan. I want to eat in peace without judgement, yaani even the food I could be looking forward to is tainted by diet culture preaching and body dysmorphia encouraging vultures – oops, sorry – I meant, members of the family.
Speaking of food and fetar, I am too exhausted to think about dealing with those same family members giving me looks when I quietly ignore them gathering to pray maghrib jama’a because I’m menstruating. Honestly. For the love of God. I do not need or want your judgement. I am a woman, I have a uterus, I menstruate – what is there for me to be ashamed of? My period is not dirty. Anyway, if you want to know why I immensely dislike my period in Ramadan, I wrote about it – oh shit – 2 years ago, link is right here.
There is definitely the family gatherings crap, but there’s also the parental crap. There’s being forced to deal with baba being extremely irritable (thus aggravating our relationship and my daddy issues further) because he’s off cigarettes for the month, or at least during the day. There’s also mama being nitpicky (well, more so than usual) about my eating habits. Mama will often let out snide comments and take food off my plate in the comfort of our at-home fetar. She’ll say things like: “Ramadan is your chance to lose weight” and thus, Ramadan goes from a month where we (as they’d say, ‘nehes b el foqara’) worship Allah and get in touch with our spirituality to – in true Egyptian mama fashion – a fad diet. There’s also that one conversation I’m sure y’all hear too, the one where your parents agree for the first time in forever on something, but that something is bashing people who are trying to get closer to God or be more spiritually inclined during Ramadan but not any other time of the year. As if, somehow, they have the ability to see inside the hearts of all Muslims or performing-Muslims to judge when they’re ‘honest’ in their quest for salvation or not.
Dammit, wait. There’s also the forced Quraan reading session. God. Baba, if I wanted to read Quraan, I would. Mama, what is the point of reading Quraan when you refuse to explain any of it to me? It’s not wahy, understanding won’t enter my heart on its own. I refuse to read something or practice something when I don’t understand it! This is me asking for a gateway to exploring my religion that you are continuously shutting in my face. So, sorry, but I’m not reading Quraan out of some performative or misplaced idea as to what piety or ebada is – my deen says ‘eqra’, my deen is about knowledge being power, my deen is for the curious. I won’t pander to your performative ebada, if you won’t help me, so be it I’ll find my own way. Ramadan, to me, is about faith. It’s not about performing meaningless religious tasks. I won’t pray taraweeh at the masjid you like because the way the sheikh speaks aggravates me. I won’t read Quraan because you want me to, I will read it and look for ways to understand what it says so I can explore what my God has to say to me. I won’t fast out of duty, I’ll fast because I feel more spiritually inclined. Your deen may be about duty for you, but I am choosing my deen to be about faith and love, and I’m absolutely done allowing your performative religiosity to push me away from loving and learning and believing in something I am genuinely yearning to be part of.
That being said, I’m also calling out all the people I know (and don’t know) – especially the men, my god – who are sheikhs in the morning and judgemental oath-breakers at night. This dude legit shamed one of my friends for wearing makeup while fasting when he himself was spitting out curses like k**omek and ya bint el me**aka. No one – and I mean no one – will be allowed to shame me for speaking of so-called ‘taboo’ topics while fasting. I will speak of sex positivity and education, I will speak of menstruation, I will speak of war, I will speak of revolution, I will speak of gender, sexuality and I will certainly speak to and see friends from the community. The minute you treat Ramadan like a race or competition to see who is more ‘religious’, it loses meaning, and darling? Your hypocrisy and performativity are showing. You’re completely missing the point of this month and purposely opposing differently practicing Muslims and their ways of getting in touch with Allah, and subsequently, you’re stifling their spirituality (thus, definitely not collecting hasanat).
You know what? I won’t allow your cultural and performative shite to take away from my excitement for Ramadan. You see, every ebada we do is for ourselves, our hasanat/saye’at balance, but fasting? That’s for Allah. It’s unexplainable, how much love do you have for Him to do something simply for Him, with no personal gain and no ego? Do you know how hard it is? When he created us full of kibr (pride), and there’s the hadith that says: “He who has in his heart the weight of a mustard seed of pride shall not enter Paradise” [rawah Muslim] Here I am, a young woman who is Muslim but not a hijabi. A young woman who is not a perfect Muslim but a Muslim who tries. A Muslim who believes in spirituality and knowledge as the pillars of her faith, and by extension, her deen. Fasting is something I choose to do this Ramadan for Allah, because I love Him enough to ajahed nafsi. I love Him enough to do something that I can’t quite explain, because I don’t quite know why we do it (fasting, Ramadan, etc). This holy month, I’m choosing to ajahed against my ego, against my kibr – and so, against yours too – to truly seek Truth. I’m choosing Ramadan to be a quest for me, one where I let go of all your cultural stigmas and hypocrisy, I will cherish my time with Allah, I will seek Him out, I will love Him – in ways that feel comfortable and safe and hopeful and loving – to me. I don’t know what your deen is based on, but my deen? My Islam? Is led by a love-ethic and is saturated in hope and compassion and mercy and revolution. This Ramadan, young friends, choose kindness, hope, mercy, and love towards yourselves and towards Allah. Choose forgiveness, so it may be granted to you. I hope to all of you who are seeking Him that you find your way.
With light and love,
P.S to my non-performing and non-believing Muslims in nothing but name, it’s a lot to ask but I hope this month is easy on you. Sending so much support and love your way.