coronavirus chronicles #8.5

Ramadan Mubarak!

This evening commences the holy month of Ramadan, a month unlike others, inshAllah. More than a billion people will fast from dawn until sunset, abstaining from food or drink. Somewhat of a reset for our souls, Ramadan serves as a reminder of our spirituality, the need for kind actions — volunteering, Zakat/charity, forgiveness (of ourselves and others), and patience. For many of us, it’s a blessed month of community: to embark on a taxing but empowering shared experience, to share meals at the end of our daily fast at iftar, and to celebrate in the finale of Eid in community.

I remember the months of Ramadan as cold mornings of winter, when my mother knocked on my and Manal’s bedroom door, just before dawn opened the night sky, asking us to come downstairs for dates, omelet, milk, and water. Of lazy Saturdays, reading books, counting hours until mealtime, and then standing for hours in congregation, in Taraweeh prayers, listening to the Imam recite the entirety of the Qur’an in a language I could read but not understand, ayah by ayah each night, revealing a way of life that bound billions.

I remember those hour-long evening walks in Kigali, with Gal, from our office, past the Simba grocery store, to our home in RDB. Silent with hunger. And other years, I remember breaking fast with my cousin in the U.K. or my friend in Rochester, sitting in a sushi or Indian restaurant and waiting awkwardly for the sun to set and the waiter asking if we disliked our food. Of a hot, rocking bus ride near Essaouira when I almost fainted from nausea. Of summer day in the lab: the only days when I didn’t wish I could drink coffee and make nanoparticles at the same time. I remember years of Ramadan juxtaposed, superimposed: memories all so different in place and time, but connected by the same feeling of hunger, thirst, and reflection. Billions of people connected, and many months lived by the act of fasting.

The act of fasting, I think, is a reminder to self-reflect on our resiliency and spirituality. Ramadan is also a reminder to feel for and advocate on behalf of the need of others. That while each day, many of us have the privilege of iftar food or even companionship waiting for us, such a reality is not possible for others. That while we may have the luxury of shelter, others work long, grueling days on little sustenance.

This Ramadan, thinking of the needs of others, feels even more urgent. We won’t be able to assemble at the masjid or in other people’s homes so we can protect our loved ones and neighbors from contracting COVID-19 disease. Instead, our days may be filled with self-reflection, afforded by solitude, and punctuated by Zoom iftars and online connection. The act of fasting will still connect us. Existing inequities, like hunger and poverty, will always demand our attention. And I think of the month ahead, inshAllah, yearning for our traditions that will go unobserved this year, but also imagining new ones and ways to experience this month of fast and reflection. That next year, this month, too will be interwoven into my experience of Ramadan, speaking to the strength of my body, the love for all of creation.

And on a different note, as part of my tradition, I want to thank you for being apart of my life. I am also sorry if I have done you wrong in my words or actions. I ask for your forgiveness. I understand blanket apologies are often vague and insufficient, so please feel free to reach out to me so that I can apologize to you. If you know of someone I may have hurt, please let them know as I’d like to be responsible for any pain I may have inflicted.

May peace be upon you and yours. Ramadan Mubarak!

I wonder if part of the point of fasting is this: keeping the body enamored of the particular delights of nourishment. It is so wild, so unimaginably lucky, to live in a world where rhubarb grows, and in a world where I can eat it with ease. It could so easily be otherwise. For many people, it is. What responsibility does my luck, my ease, imply?

Or maybe the point of fasting is the way these wonders recede from my view the more I imagine them. The taste of the citrus is there, then it’s gone. It’s like a theological exercise. Take a second: picture a bladeless knife with no handle. Where’d it go? Now, with that same clumsy brain, imagine God.

“On Fasting” by Kaveh Akbar, The Paris Review

Thank you for reading!


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