This Ramadan, Muslim women are reconnecting with their faith on their own terms
For the two billion Muslims worldwide, Ramadan is a time to reconnect with both your internal and external self. To reexamine your year so far and what you need to metaphorically water.
The New Arab spoke to seven Muslim women on how Ramadan has evolved over the years as they uncover the faith on their own terms and what they may be taking away from Ramadan this year.
Identity, solitude and nature: Mehlaqa Khan, nutritionist and writer
Ramadan is always really special but also a personal time for me. Growing up in Dublin, Ireland, where there was such a small community, we all clung to each other during the four weeks. Then when I moved to Hungary for university, where I was one of the only Muslims, and sometimes I experienced it on my own.
During this period, my non-Muslims provided support and community. But it was also when I began to look inwards, using it to reflect on the year and forecast the coming year — a tradition I have carried forward into adulthood.
Being in the UK after graduating from university, I noticed the stark difference between here and other countries in Europe. Muslims can be visually Muslim here, especially in the cities. Adding social media to the mix, it really is life-changing because it brought me the peace and belonging that I was craving while growing up during this beautiful time of the year.
On the one hand, I enjoy the visibility and community, but on the other, I do use this month to spend more time in my own company. So my social calendar is sparse.
I also use it to be more analogue, using my phone and computer less and eating most of my meals at home and trying to use up what I have left in the kitchen. This began in 2020 when there was no option but to live like this, and I felt it restored me more and fed my creativity. So I’ve incorporated this way of Ramadan living for myself.
"Ramadan is a time for resetting the soul. Our human souls cannot be separated from nature"
I also started a tradition in 2021 of retreating into nature during the week of my period Ramadan. I went to the sea in Norfolk, then the hill in Devon last year and this year to the Dolomites, the Italian Alps.
Ramadan is a time for resetting the soul. Our human souls cannot be separated from nature. So I have been spending a non-fasting week replenishing, walking, resting and eating simply. And Our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also used to retreat to the hills and caves, which brought him peace.
Taking the training wheels off and learning how to observe Ramadan both with the community and alone: Ayesha Erkin, architectural designer, founder of @browngirlsfoodclub and author of Date Of The Day
I moved out of my parent's home when I was 18 and I lived independently for ten years due to college and work — and what this actually did was strengthen my faith.
When I moved out there was always the excitement about being by myself and doing whatever I wanted. Yet what I learned in the first year of the process was that there was some feeling inside myself that made me guide myself back to faith and this made my imaan, my faith, stronger.
Living by myself and observing Ramadan alone meant becoming more intentional about the way I practice my religion, like actively going for jummah or doing the things that I had taken for granted, such as bakhoor in the house on Fridays like my mum used to do. I realised that I have to carry this on.
Taking the training wheels off made me understand Islam better and my relationship with it instead of what it was like growing up where you learn about it and do what your parents and family tell you by default.
"The discipline of fasting is more for the soul than the body"
For my first Ramadan, I had to fast by myself when I studied abroad in the Czech Republic. I found that there are not a lot of Muslims there and I didn't know of any masjids (mosques) so that summer I learned I truly had to observe Ramadan on my own. Although having a community is important, I realised that the most important part of the month is the spiritual connection to God and the mental well-being that comes along with it.
The discipline of fasting is more for the soul than the body and I don't think I would have learned that if I was just community-focused.
And then there was a role reversal – the pandemic came about and I moved back home so that meant my entire family was home and we were fasting together for Ramadan. Yes, fasting independently is important but there's also so much beauty in gathering and breaking fast with loved ones.
All of these experiences brought me to appreciate the solitude of Ramadan as well as the community aspect of it.
Playing around with dates and food respectfully became a vehicle to bring people together – of course, we would break our fast together but it was on autopilot so this was also a way to have fun.
Islam isn't a religion where you can't laugh and enjoy life.
Experiencing the mosque as a place of joy: Shahed Ezaydi, writer and author of The Othered Woman
Islam has always played a huge role in my life but when I was younger (throughout school and some years at university), I found myself doing what I needed to do, like praying five times a day and fasting but not much else.
I didn’t have that drive to learn more about my faith and I think it was because I was still coming to terms with who I was and where I fit into the world, especially with the Western world becoming increasingly hostile towards our communities.
But over the past few years, the need to know more about Islam and my own relationship with Allah has changed so much.
I can’t really pinpoint why or how this happened but I just felt it and followed that feeling. My prayers feel much deeper and I regularly turn to God in dua, whereas that wasn’t a regular part of my life a few years ago.
I hadn’t been to a mosque in a long time but I went for an Iftar meal last week and it was such a moving and joyful experience.
I want to make sure my visits to the mosque become more regular. This Ramadan, I’m prioritising my own rest but also actively practising gratitude for my loved ones and all the things I have.
Setting own goals and focusing on the quality of worship over the quantity: Sara Gulamali, co-founder of Muslim Sisterhood
My journey with faith through adulthood became much more about taking ownership and accountability and a process of discovery.
It was about re-learning and exploring my own traditions and absorbing my own information, rather than just trusting the guidance that my parents offered me to the best of their ability.
"Islam is a complex and deep religion and if I can take the time to try and reflect and understand even the smallest portion of its gravity, as opposed to hours of listening to something I don’t understand, I feel this is more productive for me to fully appreciate our beautiful religion"
This Ramadan I made a point to set my own goals and find ways to connect spiritually in ways that work for me.
In my mind, it’s not about how much you do but the intention with which you do it.
Islam is a complex and deep religion and if I can take the time to try and reflect and understand even the smallest portion of its gravity, as opposed to hours of listening to something I don’t understand, I feel this is more productive for me to fully appreciate our beautiful religion.
Using Ramadan as a time to reset and create sustainable habits for the rest of the year: Fahima Jilani, founder of Bangladeshi food platform @mosamosauk
Throughout my 20s, Ramadan has always come at a perfect time. I’ve always used Ramadan as a time to repent for my sins and start afresh.
As the year goes by, by the time Ramadan comes back around my imaan (faith) is either at its lowest or I’ve fallen back into unhelpful habits and sins.
Ramadan provides me with the opportunity to get back on track.
Last Ramadan, although I was working part-time I still felt that I couldn’t participate fully and was distracted, thinking about deadlines and actions, lists, goals and so on.
This Ramadan has been the first one without my Dad and it has been very different and quiet. There is one less cup of tea to make and one less plate to set on the table which actually makes both me and my mum feel a little heavier this month.
I’ve taken the last 10 days off work so I can really focus on the spiritual side, pray for my father and control my nafs — Arabic for 'self.'
This year has been more about taking things slowly but making sure I’m putting habits in place I can sustain throughout the whole year.
Finding solace and connection through Passover, Easter and Eid: Numra Siddiqui, founder of Modern South Asian Kitchen in London, Empress Market
When I was a kid, the girls at school would compete about the number of rozas (fasts) we could keep. At the time I was playing along, joining in the daily starving and binging at dusk.
For me, religion had been reduced to a communal eating disorder of who can perform bigger grander gestures than the other. It never sat well with me and I began to resent it as I pushed it further and further away.
"Ramadan asks us to pause and show gratitude for what we’ve been given in life. It encourages us to show conscious kindness. And most importantly, it tells us we should show mercy on ourselves as well as others"
The discomfort has never left me. I still scoff at the grand gestures.
But I suppose the stepping away has also been an opportunity to reflect on how I connect with faith, with believing that there is a 'greater good.'
In a year when Passover, Easter and Eid fall within the same month, I think about how faith connects us.
Ramadan asks us to pause and show gratitude for what we’ve been given in life. It encourages us to show conscious kindness. And most importantly, it tells us we should show mercy on ourselves as well as others.
My faith is important to me but not in the way others may think.
Being delusional in your duas: Hafsa Issa-Salwe, co-founder of @botanicalmission and host of @mindprettysoul podcast
The last few years have been tough for everyone, given what we went through with the pandemic and I’m no exception.
I had a lot of challenges thrown my way and this is where I found my faith to strengthen. I can attribute it to spending time learning about who Allah truly is and understanding Him.
In Ramadan 2021, I came across the concept of writing your duas (prayers) and the specific names of Allah that these names could pertain to.
For instance, if you’d like to pray for a stable income, you call on the following names whilst doing so: Ar Razzaq (The Total Provider), Al Wahab (The Bestower), Al Kareem (The Generous) or Al Abadir (The Extender).
I had several things I prayed for that Ramadan, and so in turn I got to understand Allah’s attributes and it made me so grateful to have a God like this.
Speaking of dua, this Ramadan what I’m taking away with me is to never be shy when asking Allah for what I want.
I’ve had so many signs, from an incredibly touching episode of The Digital Sisterhood called Had I Known which is about the host’s journey to Umrah which began with a dua and a step in the right direction.
I also saw a tweet about being delusional in your duas. After all, Allah is Al Wakeel, the One who can be trusted with all of your affairs.
Tahmina Begum is a freelance journalist and editor.
Follow her on Twitter @tahminaxbegum