In spite of a tiresome and humid Southern day, a stop at fast-food joint and endless questions about the holy month, my friend Samar peacefully and patiently honored Ramadan.
I respected her for it and reflected upon my own spiritual experiences.
In the seventh grade I gave up soda for Lent, and I felt pretty special during a party in my geography class when I declined the bubbly beverages my teacher poured in everyone else’s clear cups.
But that seemed minute in comparison to Samar’s choice to not eat before sundown, even after a long day of travel and football watching at a rival HBCU.
As our peers spoke of growling stomachs after the game, Samar’s tiny, energy-conserving steps, requests for only water and message of Allah’s mercy intrigued me.
She was an Egyptian exchange student at Grambling State University’s mass communication department, where we crossed paths.
“What if you are about to pass out,” I asked, “can you eat then?” She smiled and told me that she would drink water, but that God is merciful and if she needed to break fast she could.
I asked her if God would get angry if she ate. She repeated that God is merciful and said that she would do everything in her power not to break fast.
Her slow and deliberate movements highlighted this as other students made a mad dash to snacks and the bus back to campus.
During Ramadan it is believed that the Quran was sent from heaven. The holy month, which is celebrated in August, is an opportunity for Muslims who are typically at least 12 years old to purify themselves by fasting. It is a time to refocus on God and appreciate God’s revealing verses of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad.
August, a month that is often noted for students returning to school and preparing for autumn, is also an exciting time of spiritual sacrifice and connectivity within Muslim communities.
Although Ramadan does not show up on many Americans’ radar with the same consistency as other religious holidays, it is something that the mostly Christian United States should learn more about, and in the face of global diversity, be mindful of.
We have a lot to learn. The Pew Research Center’s U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey found that only 52 percent of Americans know that August is the Islamic holy month.
The United States is a nation of nearly 80 percent self-identified adult Christians, according to Pew Center Research, but the number of Muslims in the world is increasing.
More than 1 billion Muslims currently observe Ramadan. By 2030 it is expected that one in four people in the world will be Muslim.
Whether Ramadan is one’s practice or not, religious similarities highlight cross-cultural connections. A Muslim attorney and political activist reporting from Abu Dhabi, Cassie Williams wrote about the links to diverse cultures.
“I believe sometimes we are so consumed with what is familiar to us that we often lose sight of the fact that other people, other cultures, have traditions and holidays and festivities that, while different from the ones we may celebrate ourselves at home, are the same in so many ways,” Williams wrote for the Huffington Post.
Ramadan is centered on fasting, self-sacrifice and prayers, which are pillars of Islam.