Since ancient times, poverty and starvation have been blots of ink on the seemingly well-written manuscript of human society. Although many organizations and societies work hard to eradicate poverty and ensure that everybody enjoys their right to the basic necessities of life, the dream of a well-fed, poverty-free society is yet to be realized. Day-in and day-out, children see the sun rise and set without a crumb of bread gracing their tongues. Parents have no choice but to stand by and watch while their families are torn apart for want of enough food in the household. Friends become enemies when all reason is lost and the basic instinct for survival takes over. In the midst of all the confusion and injustice, a silent storm brews. Every year the world over, people of different cultures, different races and different realities stand together and pay homage to the poor and needy in society, who in most cases, have to live in starvation daily through no fault of theirs.
The holy month of Ramadan holds different meanings for different people. For some, it is a period of meditation and reflection. For others, it is a grand opportunity to worship and draw closer to Allah (The Arabic name for ‘God’). Others regard Ramadan as a form of homage to the poor in society. For me, Ramadan imbibes all of the aforementioned. In addition, it offers me a sense of peace and of hope, not only for myself and my fellow Muslims, but for mankind in general. I have participated in the holy month of fasting since I was about twelve years old. Although I still wake up at dawn to participate in Suhoor – the early morning meal- break my fast at sunset and follow the other practices of Ramadan, there is a vast difference in my appreciation of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar then and my appreciation for it now.
At twelve years, Ramadan represented the unexplained. It didn’t make sense to me why I would deliberately choose not to eat when I had food available to me. Although I was excited to participate in something I regarded as grown-up, I did not envy my parents when they had to continue fasting while I took a delicious and heartily welcomed meal break around midday. Two years later, my sister started fasting as well and the era of competition was ushered in as we tried to ‘out-fast’ each other. My true appreciation for Ramadan began shortly after I left home for high school and consequently, for college.
Ramadan started a few weeks after my arrival in Mount Holyoke, and as a result, I not only had to deal with trying to adapt to a new environment, but also had to deal with being responsible for myself and ensuring that I observed the holy month in the right manner. Although I had to stomach the pangs of hunger that gnawed at my insides during one class or another, I found that there was more to Ramadan than I perceived. With the bouts of hunger and homesickness came a sense of belonging, a lineage of friendships and more importantly, an element of hope.
More often than not, I would smile to myself whenever I encountered a member of UMMA – the Muslim community – somewhere on campus. Throughout the month of Ramadan, I found a solace amongst the community of young Muslim women like myself who, although miles away from home, were still part of a family. Like our families back at home, we partook in the dawn meal together, broke our fast together, prayed together, and kept each other strong when it seemed like we had no energy left to go on. Although I am unable to participate in the Ramadan activities organized on campus this year by UMMA, I smile inwardly whenever I read an email giving the details of one activity or another.
The hope that Ramadan represents for me lies in the fact that even in hard times, people can come together for a cause they believe in and excel at it. It stems from the knowledge that regardless of the differences that span generational and cultural extremes, the development and nurturing of self-restraint and tolerance for one another still prevails. My hope for the future of mankind manifests itself in the thought that all the roadblocks that seem to persist in our fight against poverty and global injustice cannot rob us of the very essence of who we are. We are still human enough to care for the less fortunate in society and invite them to share in what can only be Allah’s mercy upon us. Ironic as it may seem to some people, I have never felt more happy, blessed or at peace, than during the month of Ramadan.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.