Ramadan in the U.S. is not a Hallmark holiday, with gifts and greeting cards flying off shelves at your local Target each year. You won't get time off work for "Ramadan Break," and Bing Crosby's Ramadan Carols is not in heavy rotation on Spotify.
Nevertheless, Ramadan — which commemorates the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad — is a sacred and remarkably personal month of reflection and renewal for Muslims around the world. It is also, famously, a time marked by abstinence from food, drink, sex and all kinds of other fun activities (as long as the sun is out), which inevitably raises a symphony of questions from non-Muslims and curious observers alike.
These are not answers to those questions. They are, however, responses to:
"What do you, as a Muslim, want people to know about Ramadan that they probably don't know?"
The answers range from short to long, funny to serious to narratively engaging. The sheer variety of individual experiences presented below highlight just how diverse people's experiences with Ramadan really are.
Read them all here:
"Only after fasting can a person have a truly genuine appreciation for the taste of water. Water tastes better during Ramadan." — Jihad, 28
"Most people don't know that one of the primary purposes of fasting the month of Ramadan is to teach us to have self-control and to detox our bodies physiologically and spiritually." — Amira, 31
"We can't have sex while we fast." — Lara, 26
"Ramadan isn't just a month of physical fasting, it's spiritual fasting too. Muslims aren't just abstaining from food and drink, but their entire body fasts. Their eyes fast from seeing bad and inappropriate images; their mouths fast from hateful and curse-filled speech; their ears fast from listening to degrading and disrespectful music.
"Of course, the point is to gain self-control and continue to abstain from things that are considered sinful even after Ramadan is over." — Manar, 27
"Only shitty thing is waking up mad early to eat and pray. And now since Ramadan is in the summer, the days are long as fuck."
"People eating in front of me while I fast do not have to apologize. And I'd actually prefer if they didn't. They also sometimes refrain from, or feel bad for, inviting me to daytime events and lunches because they don't want me to have to sit through that.
"But they don't realize that that's kinda the point. You're supposed to go about your normal daily life. It's all about resisting temptation. So [you] eating in front of me is challenging me to do exactly what I'm supposed to be doing: resisting temptation." — Nabeer, 21
"I would like people to appreciate that the monthlong fast of Ramadan is a very complex experience. It is an opportunity to go within one's spiritual core while bypassing the animal elements of the soul. When you are disconnected from food, water and sex during the hours from dawn until dusk, you are given a new view into your human motivations.
"[And] the things that break one's fast are telling: loud, angry speech, telling a lie and using profane language. Those are the behaviors that nullify your fast in addition to the obvious ones: having sex, eating food or drinking water." — Rasheed, 61
"First thing I always think of is, [no], I don't drink water either. But yo, I love fasting. People think we crazy, but it's fun. Only shitty thing is waking up mad early to eat and pray. And now since Ramadan is in the summer, the days are long as fuck." — Rohan, 24
"I always feel like it's a reset: back to the basics for a month."
"Another thing people ask is if I'm fasting for a whole month [laughs], like day and night. Always gotta tell 'em it's only dawn to dusk. When you tell people you're fasting in general, they think it's whack, but I mean, it's a choice. Sick people, pregnant ladies, etcetera aren't expected to.
"[And] for me, I always feel like it's a reset: back to the basics for a month. You have a lot of focus." — Kareem, 26
"I started by celebrating Ramadan at a very young age. I have early memories of my mother having me 'play fast' during Ramadan when I was 4 or 5. She wouldn't have me actually fast all day or all month, but would get me to fast for maybe a few hours just so that I could have a feeling for what was going on.
"[But] I started not fasting around my teenage years, when I became critical of Islam, and religion generally (also because teenagers are insatiably hungry). I hid it from my family, though, and even from the larger public, that I wasn't fasting. I felt ashamed about [not] fasting, like I wasn't disciplined enough to go through with it. I hid it from non-Muslims as well, as a way of resisting their Islamophobia.
"This was after 9/11, and although I realized that I didn't identify with Islam as a religious institution from early on, I always felt some type of way that people around me seemed to use my criticism of religion as a justification for their ignorance and prejudice. That feeling evolved into actually really wanting to fast in my late teens [and] early 20s. It came from a non-religious viewpoint, but one which appreciated what Ramadan was about.
"I always loved the idea of it being a practice in empathy."
"When I was growing up, going to Muslim/Arabic school, they would always tell us that Ramadan was a month for us feeling for the poor. I later realized that wasn't the whole truth, that the major reason has to do with the scribes who were supposedly day-and-night recording the Quran for about a month or so (and pagan roots, which obviously none of my Muslim teachers brought up). But I always loved the idea of it being a practice in empathy. And of course the circumstances are absolutely different from someone experiencing abject poverty and hunger — much of Ramadan is marked by unbelievable spreads when the sun goes down — but it is a beautiful reason.
"I also love the idea of training my body and my mind for a month straight, pushing myself, reminding myself what the mind is capable of. I fast on and off these days, to be honest. Last Ramadan I fasted some, but not all of it. It sucks that I am alienated from other Muslims and my family, as I live with roommates and am mostly surrounded by non-Muslims, so it makes fasting alienating, and one of the beautiful parts of Ramadan is the sense of community.
"It's my hope that one year in the near future, I will be able to go to a Muslim country and experience Ramadan as a vast collective. It must be an amazing feeling." — Sarah, 23