By: Asra Riaz and Nadia Ali

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. For Muslims, it is a time of spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and heightened devotion and worship. Ramadan is especially significant because the Quran, the sacred scripture of Islam, was revealed during this month. Throughout this month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset (no, not even water!). Muslims believe that Ramadan teaches self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate. Acts of generosity are encouraged.

Giving is an enormous focus during this month and is a central focus in Islam. Also known as Zakat, this form of giving is a religious duty for Muslims who have the means to give to those in need. Every year, many families will get together and engage in a variety of philanthropic activities. Families will often combine resources for Muslims across the world who are less fortunate by providing meat, rice, lentils, cooking oil, and other staples to support families during this holy month.

In our two Muslim households, to cultivate and inspire giving in youth, some of the service projects we have taken on locally in the past couple of years have included hosting toy drives benefitting local refugee children. Through our local faith communities and networks, we have organized wish lists of toys and other gifts for different age groups and interests and will often host gift wrapping and card making parties after purchasing the gifts, to have our children involved in the process. We partnered with local organizations in our respective areas to distribute the gifts.

With giving being a central component of Ramadan, we will often create food baskets or make meals for others and distribute them during this month. In New Jersey, for example, the Hunger Van is another one of our community’s traditions. The Hunger Van arrives at the home or location of your choice. Friends and communities gather, and an assembly line is formed to make brown bag meals. The van then distributes the meals to nearby homeless and local shelters.

Since the pandemic required isolation in 2020, Ramadan was more difficult to observe in the typical ways. The isolation also led to time for deeper spiritual meditation and more family focus. There was more bandwidth to devote to prayer and for reading of the scripture. Many mosques transitioned to Zoom and YouTube for virtual congregation gatherings. There were few Iftars or breaking of the fast dinners to attend. There was a deep sense of community void and a longing for missed traditions.

Happily, Ramadan 2021 occurred as we have been gradually emerging from the pandemic. Many people were vaccinated and were able to gather so that we were able to host small Iftars. At sunset, the fast traditionally opens with dates and follows with prayers and dinner. Though this was a welcome return to normal, there was a sense of missing the space that was available for self-reflection in 2020. We also felt a deep sense of solace for those continuing to suffer in India, China, Palestine and beyond.

As the month of Ramadan ended and we emerged from weeks of reflection and fasting, we as a nation were simultaneously transitioning out of the isolation of the pandemic. It seemed like the whole country was celebrating Eid with us, finally free to meet and embrace our friends and family in a post vaccination reality. Much spiritual growth was accomplished during Ramadan, just as much personal growth was achieved during the pandemic. We may miss the unexpected and rare gift of time afforded to us by both, but we will welcome back old routines just as we welcome back our morning cups of coffee – especially when that coffee is shared with friends.