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A Non-Muslim's Journey through her First Ramadan

posted on: Jul 8, 2016

 

A Non-Muslim's Journey through her First Ramadan
Aminata, Myself, and Maryam, on Eid al-Fitr

BY: Clara Ana Ruplinger/Contributing writer

This year, I decided to embark on a challenging journey: My first Ramadan. I am a 21-year-old woman, born to a Catholic family, but decided to explore faith through fasting.

A culmination of all the learning that I have done about Islam in the past few years guided me in the process, but to be clear, I have not said the Shahada, and technically I am not Muslim. As part of my self-discovery, I have chosen Islam as the vehicle through which I may find a thorough, spiritual side. This is my story.

I first learned about Islam in a high school history class. Simple enough. I was always an eager learner and immediately wanted to know more about the religion. I continued my learning outside of school, and it was in my research that I stumbled across a recitation of the Quran. I cannot even begin to describe the feelings that came over me when I heard it. I was entranced and fixated. It was so beautiful that I cried. For the entire day, I did nothing but listen to those beautiful words that I did not even understand at the time.

For some time after that, I continued learning about Islam. I considered conversion for some time, but as soon as I started to talk about Islam to anyone around me in my home state of Kentucky, whether they are friends or family, the reactions were always negative.

“They believe in beating women and child marriage.”

“They kill gays.

“They are terrorists.”

“Women shouldn’t be allowed to wear those scarves.”

“This is a Christian country, Muslims don’t have a place here.”

After being surrounded by so much negativity, is it any wonder I gave up on the possibility of conversion?

I have only returned to learning in the past year or so. As I began to endure obstacles and pain unlike any other in my past, I began suffering from loneliness and depression. I came to a place in my life where I needed more support than ever, but received as little support as ever from the people in my life.

However, my journey through and towards Islam has given me the support that I have longed for, as well as the connections and friendships that would not have been attained without such exploration. This Ramadan has only been one small piece of that journey, and it is one that I wish to share.

Throughout this month, I have met and fostered connections with a group of girls that have truly become family to me. They offered me guidance at every turn of the holy month. They did not judge me, or deny my feelings. They supported my newly budding faith in a way that the toxic rhetoric of my family and friends before did not allow.

Every morning during Ramadan, my suitemates, Aminata and Halima, and I woke up for Suhoor. Groggy-eyed and tired, we would arise at 3:30 AM every day, gulp down water and food, and take turns making Wudoo before praying together.

Here at Arab America, my co-worker Ezzah and I endured long days without food and water together. On Fridays, we went to the prayer held at Epiphany, and listened to the Imam and his words of wisdom. By having daily companions in this new journey, I found solace in my decision.

A Non-Muslim's Journey through her First Ramadan
Ezzah takes a picture of me at Epiphany after the prayer.

Each week I looked forward to the Sunday picnic Iftars, filled with delicious food and Maghrib prayer. At these dinners, I would talk with a very kind and intelligent Jordanian woman about my brief time in the Arab world. On the last Sunday Iftar, she invited me out to coffee, and our group went to an Arab restaurant drinking coffee and smoking hookah until two in the morning, discussing politics, philosophy, and business.

I remember the Suhoor when my Muslims friends and I went to IHOP at two in the morning. The place was packed full of Muslim men and women, and waitresses rushing to get orders in before dawn. This late night sight was both thrilling and beautiful.

At my first masjid visit, the Quranic recitations echoed in the air, reminding me of that night many years ago when I had first heard these verses.

At each introduction in an Iftar or prayer event, one of the first questions people ask is, “where are you from?” The table would be filled with answers, such as “Pakistan,” “Jordan,” and “Bangladesh,” while I was the only to say “Kentucky.” The faces of people around me often showed the question, “Are you a Muslim?” Despite initial intrigue, I was always welcomed.

Aminata and Halima transliterated the Surat Al-Fatiha for me so that I could have it memorized and fully participate in prayers. They were patient in teaching me the etiquette of prayer.

The pain I endured during this month in the name of Ramadan was nothing compared to what was gained. Halitosis, hunger pains, and a dry throat are nothing compared to the immense lessons of gratitude, humility, and humanity that I learned.

Once Eid al-Fitr began, it felt like Ramadan’s hard work paid off when Ezzah and her roommate danced into our room with chocolate and rice pudding.

The Eid prayer, filled with both joy and unspeakable grief, as the tragedies of Orlando, Ankara, Badgdad, Dhaka, and Medina hung over our heads, was a symbol of unity and perseverance. As the Imam reminded us of our faith, he said to stay strong and resilient, as well as humble and kind, during these trying times.

Maryam and I spent the first day of Eid al-Fitr with Aminata and her family. The celebrations included listening to African music, drinking Baobao juice and traditional tea, eating roasted lamb rice, and fruits of all kinds, sitting on the ground, and eating from the same silver plate.

A Non-Muslim's Journey through her First Ramadan

Enjoying Eid Lunch with Aminata’s family.

Throughout Ramadan, I have learned about myself, and found connection and belonging. I have escaped a plague of loneliness and sadness that has trailed me for a long time now and feel part of a larger community. I feel I have become a better and stronger person. I have found closeness to God, to Allah, which I have not ever achieved before.

I am not sure where this current path will lead me in the future, but Inshallah, I will only continue to grow and become a better person.