Growing up the son of a protestant pastor and valuing the role that
my Christian faith plays in my own life, it often comes as a surprise to
my friends when I tell them that Ramadan is among one of my favorite
religious holidays. While Christmas and Easter are seminal to my faith
tradition and represent some of my fondest memories growing up, they are
one-day celebrations that in the American modern era sometimes lack the
communal feel that the holy month of Ramadan offers in the Muslim
My first real experience came during "Ramazan" in Turkey which
happened to overlap with the American Thanksgiving tradition during my
Fulbright year in Ankara. Living in a Turkish university dormitory, my
roommates invited me to join in for my very first iftar, or
breaking of the fast. After that first night or seeing how everyone else
was fasting and having the tenants explained to me, I decided to join
in and experienced my first sahur at 3am the next morning before dawn when I was barely hungry.
Over the course of the month I fasted 18 of the 30 days of Ramadan in
Turkey and experienced a holiday like I never had before. Celebrations
always involve feasts regardless of the religion or occasion, therefore
the dichotomy between fasting during the day and feasting at night was
truly exhilarating. Trying to remind oneself of the virtues like
charity, compassion, and forgiveness while avoiding vices of selfishness
and dishonesty listed in the Quran is best achieved when
focused on one's life given the need to keep the mind pre-occupied from
the hunger pangs experienced during the first few days of fasting.
Unlike the Christian tradition of fasting which tends to allow drinking
water, the strict observance of not allowing anything to pass one's lips
was particularly difficult for me. However I experienced and learned
more about Turkish culture and hospitality that month than any other
time in Turkey.
Since leaving Turkey over a decade ago, I've continued to celebrate Ramadan with my Muslim friends through invitations to iftars
here in the United States and many other places around the world. I've
always been amazed how Muslims in America can fast while everyone around
them drinks and eats. This year in particular I've been blessed to be a
part of several iftar celebrations that have reminded me once
again of the joys of Ramadan. The simple act of sharing a meal and
traditions such as meditating on the call to prayer may seem natural to
Muslims, but to most Americans like myself it represents rare acts of
genuine hospitality where nothing is expected in return.
Even to this day I can remember the final days of "Ramazan Bayram" in
Turkey which are official holidays where families visit one another
similar to the American tradition of Thanksgiving. The strength of
communal and familial bonds I experienced with my Turkish roommates as
they took me back to their homes and we shared in feast after feast,
made me realize the true value of holy days and months throughout the
year that allow us to contemplate the supernatural that can transcend
the mundane worries of life all around us.
As the world continues around us and we come to the end of Ramadan, I
hope we each can reach back to our own moments of calm reflection and
serenity to contemplate the broader connections we share as human beings
first and foremost. Whether we are Christian, Jews, Muslims or any
other religion, we can celebrate the spirit of Ramadan by sharing
fellowship with those around us.
I'm grateful to Turkey and my Turkish friends for first introducing
me to Ramadan and to my many Muslim friends for continuing the
traditions that I have come to love dearly. Ramadan Kareem!