For the last three years, Ramadan has shaped my experience at Williams. Freshman year, when I didn’t know anyone beyond my entry, iftaars (post-sunset dinners) were my first opportunities to meet other classmates. I came from a high school where I was the first girl to wear a hijab and a middle school where I was the first one who asked to not exercise while fasting. Then I came to a college where a support system existed for me, where the Dining Services staff knew of Ramadan and were patient with the Muslims who came to eat at the last minute, a place where there were other Muslims fasting was a pleasant new experience. Even when we had to trek all the way to Greylock from Mission/Currier Quad, it was nice because we did it together and because the staff always welcomed us with a smile. It was nice to hang out at Paresky until 2 a.m., eating fattening foods and getting to know the campus as the curious dropped by to say hi.
How does that compare to Ramadan in other countries? As a child in Bangladesh, Ramadan was special because it was a holiday– time off from school and work. Once Ramadan ended, Eid began, the Christmas of the Muslim world. My whole family – 40 or so of us – would get together in our village to celebrate. The festivities of those days compare to nothing else in my life.
As I have gotten older and my family more scattered, Ramadan has taken on a new meaning. This year, I was in Bangladesh when the holy month began. Waking up at 4:30 a.m. to eat is no fun task, but, I remember being happy as I stood in prayer. It amazes me that during Ramadan, more than a billion people across the globe voluntarily abstain from food and water and control their tongues and emotions. The “hardships” of Ramadan turn it into a month of solidarity because we share them together. Ramadan makes me happy for the same reason Christmas season makes me happy: people are more grateful for what they have and generous to those who don’t. It is a time when the world is a little bit nicer.
I was also fortunate enough to spend 10 days of Ramadan in Istanbul. You would think that being in a different culture would change my experience of Ramadan. However, aside from small variations in diet, there was little difference in how Ramadan felt. As it got closer to iftaar, the traffic got worse, people more hurried and buses more packed – situations seen all over the Muslim world during this month. Even when stuck in traffic or squished in a bus, it was gratifying knowing that we were united in our urgency – that we were rushing towards the same cause.
Then, I came back to the U.S. It is harder to feel that sense of solidarity in America simply because there are fewer Muslims. I was also overwhelmed by the rising wave of Islamophobia stemming from the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero. I was shocked by the arguments I heard and the rationales some of my friends put forward: “We’re not saying it’s wrong, but it’s just insensitive.” Insensitive how? Why must over a billion people answer for the actions of 19? It didn’t make sense to me. On top of that, there was Terry Jones who planned to burn the Book that I had chosen to center my life around, the words that had comforted me and strengthened me in a new culture after my sudden move to the U.S. when I was 12. It was those words that spoke of the humanity of all mankind and the sanctity of life that makes me condemn the acts of terrorism in the name of Islam and in the name of Democracy. It was heartbreaking to see the message of love and peace that I have tried to live my life be degraded in that manner. Still, it was Ramadan, and I had to control my emotions. When emotions don’t get in the way, it is easier to believe in God and have faith that things will work out for the best. And they did.
On 9/11 this year I went to the Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams during their Shabbat Shuva service where they read the Qur’an side by side with the Torah. On Sept. 10, students from the MSU read the Qur’an aloud to the students in the Jewish Religious Center during their Shabbat service. The Congregational Church used the Qur’an during their service on Sept. 12. The words that Terry Jones had hoped to destroy through fire were embraced by people of many faiths, proving to me that the love and peace that the Qur’an made me believe in do exist. This year, even those outside Islam got to feel some of the peace that those words brought to me when I went through the most difficult time of my life. So, thank you, Terry Jones, for letting me share my faith and the joys of the Qur’an.