The Muslim holiday of Ramadan begins this week, and the first
thing that many non-Muslims envision is a month of fasting under
blazing desert suns.
Ramadan isnt as simple as that, even for Muslims who practice
the holiday in the West. Muslims who observe Ramadan in majority
non-Muslim countries face unique challenges. While many Muslims
live in climates more hospitable than the Middle East, fasting
hours at extreme latitudes, such as in Norway or Russia, can last
more than 18
Being Muslim in the West also means having to intentionally
create the space for the faith when immersed in a culture that does
not celebrate the holiday month.
Its easier to fast in the Middle East, says Imam Omar Suleiman,
president of the Yaqeen Institute for
Islamic Research in Irving, Texas. But when youre a
minority community you appreciate togetherness a lot more.
Born and raised in New Orleans to Palestinian parents, Suleiman
has gained national attention as a civil rights leader for his
messages of inclusiveness. He says that the goal of Ramadan, as
described in the Quran, goes beyond fasting to create God
If Im more conscious of my food consumption and my physical
activity, then certainly Ill be more conscious of my spiritual
activity as well, Suleiman says.
Along with fasting, prayer and charity are also emphasized
during this month. Muslims are reminded to rediscover the meaning
of mercy and compassion, reflect on lifes meaning, and transcend
superficial desires and consumerist addictions. It is the time to
review life in a holistic way, a practice Muslims and non-Muslims
alike can benefit from, and which isnt tied to any geographical
Youre essentially teaching yourself how to limit your
consumption of something that is ordinarily permissible so that
youre more conscious of other elements, Suleiman says.
Makkah Ali and Ikhlas Saleem, co-hosts of the Identity
Politics podcast, use Ramadan as a time to control
physical impulses, such a backbiting or anger, and renew their
For me, to not eat or drink is the easiest part, Saleem says.
The much more difficult part is remembering my character throughout
We all express our faith differently.
Fasting during Ramadan is encouraged to go beyond abstaining
from food and drink to include refraining from habits preventing
people from being compassionate, healthy, and intellectual members
Its about me and my own discipline, says Ali, its something I do
because I believe that there are benefits in it and I believe that
it draws me closer to the creator and the creation.