Al Rasheed: Ramadan: a time to remember tradition and roots

Ramadan Mubarak!” read several text messages I received Tuesday. Cousins, aunts, uncles and family friends hundreds of miles apart took a moment to break the distance. With each text, despite their busy lives, they extended welcomes during this exciting time of year.

I spend little time outside of important family functions communicating with them, partly because of distance and partly because of the awkward differences in our level of religiousness — thank goodness for privacy features on Facebook. But this is the nice thing about tradition: It acts as a staple in unifying us, a concrete contradiction to the blurred cultural rules between those who strictly adhere to Islam and those who do not. 

Congratulations from the family act to remind me that while the rest of my Muslim relatives and I do not exactly share the most perfect connection to each other regarding religion, the connection we have is very strong, and just like the traditional concept of Ramadan, it has resisted change over time.

Our use of cell phones to connect with each other during this holiday is one of the nicer examples of modern life mixing with tradition. Combining the old and the new,the friendly iMessages, emojis and smilies exchanged between me and my cousins function like an inside joke that our parents certainly aren’t a part of. But for most Muslims in America, specifically those of the first generation, this modern influence comes at a confusing cost. The intermingling of western life and eastern ideals, our peers and our parents, it leaves many feeling as though we can’t give full satisfaction to anyone. Islam is a religion that boasts peace and modesty and typically embraces the past heritages, that has led us to the religion. 

The United States’ mentality is, conversely, forward thinking, constantly pushing the boundaries we currently have alongside a culture that screams anything but modesty. The problem is that, for most Muslims in the young-adult age group, being a representative for both is relatively important to us.

But this awkward pairing is not the primary reason why young Muslims feel lost in this country. Rather, it’s the defensive tone we almost automatically assume regarding our religion. This generation of Muslims had their grade-school experience marked by the memory of hearing the news of 9/11 from teachers and of watching the media with confusion as they disparaged the religion that raised us. 

Polarization within the demographic as a result of this defining event exemplifies the sense of confusion it inevitably created. Some Muslims chose to cling closer to their religion by deciding to wear hijabs or increasing participation within Islamic communities. Some sought to move away, either from a genuine loss of belief or from growing tired of the antagonizing environment, allowing only their Arabic last names to connect them to the religion. The remainder fell into a faded, in-between stance, finding little benefit from either position. In addition to feeling lost within our nation, many young Muslims became lost among each other.

Taking these factors into consideration, the title “Muslim” for Americans of this age requires you to fulfill many roles: a defender, a representation, a juggling act and a teacher. We are constantly explaining that Allah is just Arabic for the same God referred to in all Abraham-stemming religions, that terrorists are not a representation of the religion — the fact that anyone above the age of 4 needs to have this explained is infuriating —  and that women are, in fact, respected. 

While Muslims are normally eager to share what Islam can offer — for example, that every single human being in Islam is meant to be regarded equally without placement within a hierarchical system — to relentlessly defend the belief because of media-induced misconception is an entirely different task.

The act of fasting — a silent, humbling hunger — has personally acted as an escape from all these pulling angles. Fasting gives Muslims the satisfaction of peacefully practicing religion, which, believe it or not, is essentially all that we strive to do. It allows us to temporarily forget about distinguishing our complicated Muslim-American identity and simply pay attention to faith and family. It is a once-a-year experience that keeps us focused in an otherwise foggy vision of what is expected of us. 

On a more selfish note, Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, is something for only the Muslim to enjoy, almost acting as a reward for continuing to overcome the cultural and modern-day barriers that have tried to deter us from our beliefs. That internal feeling, the satisfaction at the end of a day of fast, the closeness we feel to something so much more powerful than the petty complications of the world, stems from nothing but faith that has resisted change.

During this holy month, in the midst of our individual fasts, Muslims around the world will be grounded by what truly matters in Islam. To all of you, Ramadan Mubarak.