I have never been especially devoted towards religion. However, even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Jersey and the rest of the United States, the one time of year I had always looked forward to was Ramadan.
Some people might ask, “Why do you look forward to a whole month of depriving yourself of food and water?” Before COVID-19 struck, my answer would’ve been, “To see how much I can challenge myself and feel the satisfaction of completing a fast.” Although I still enjoy those aspects of the month, my outlook on its observance has changed. How I see it, Ramadan is not simply just fasting and seeing how many days can be completed without indulgent. It’s about self-control and self-reflection. Ramadan 2020 helped me come to this realization. Here’s why.
When the pandemic hit, I had not envisioned time off from school being a relief. It was nearing the end of eighth grade, and long awaited “end-of-the-year” activities I had been looking forward to were cut short. Among everything else, Ramadan was right around the corner, meaning iftar (the time to break fast) parties, late-night mosque festivities, and Eid was coming up. My doubts about the rest of the school year coupled with parents’ worries of the spread of the virus had lessened my expectations of participating in a normal Ramadan.
Nonetheless, Ramadan began amid a state-wide lockdown during late April. As per usual, I was excited to test my endurance while fasting. However, after the first few days, I couldn’t seem to distract myself from food, making my hunger feel unbearable. You would think fasting at home would be easier than fasting at school, but at least at school I was too busy with classes or socializing with my peers and teachers to think too much about my fast. Within a year, what was once one of the most exciting times of the year became a burden.
The nature of the month of Ramadan prompted me to become invested in my self-care. Hours spent on meal time and scrolling through social media were replaced with study and review sessions and quality time that I previously lacked with my sisters. In the afternoons, I found myself going down to the gym in my basement to workout, spending time in my backyard, and going on walks just to admire the trees and flowers. I noticed a dramatic decrease in the screentime hours on my phone. Nine hours spent on TikTok and Instagram lessened to less than five hours a day. My nights consisted of more reading, and I found myself rediscovering genres of books that I used to love when I was younger. There was even a time where I’d vowed to read the classics — Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, Wuthering Heights.
Over the course of the month, my mom and I would sit and talk about stories from the Quran and listen to podcasts about Islamic prophets. While we were unable to visit our mosque, we found comfort in tuning in to elaborate broadcast sessions led by imams. While I didn’t understand most of these pieces that used complex language and obscure Arabic references, the morals they depicted resonated with me. I felt that it was a nice way to remind me of basic values and the importance of gratitude that we so often forget in our everyday lives. Occasionally, my parents found a fun and safe way to keep in touch with friends and relatives. Zoom was always an option to socialize with all of our loved ones at once, just like we were able to do in our old in-person iftar parties. On some nights, we would break our fast and sit in a friend’s backyard, catch up, and trade the special dishes we’d made at home and brought over.
Despite my low expectations for the celebration, Ramadan 2020 had not turned out to be as disappointing as I thought it would be. Many of the beneficial habits I started last year I have maintained throughout my current lifestyle. I’ve learned to eat healthier, put more effort into my schoolwork, and be more aware and appreciative of my family and friends. Unlike before, I used this time to absorb more of the simple gifts of life rather than living through superficial forms of happiness, forcing myself to enjoy Ramadan more than ever and mature from that experience. It was as if I had finally taken the time to truly understand what the month was about rather than making it a competition with myself over how long I could hold a fast for. Sometimes you need to take a step back from the chaos of life and be bored in order to truly understand where you want to be and what you need to do to get there.