Ramadan is a beautiful month. I think you have to experience it to see what it’s like. If you do Ramadan right, there’s really nothing like it. You connect with your innermost self and find peace and goodness, and hopefully spread it. It’s a time when the best parts of people come out – everyone works hard to unite, and put aside their differences.
This year is incredibly different for all of us. Everyone is missing the mosque. Even though a lot of young people have mixed feelings about the mosque, because they feel it’s dominated by older people, and younger people don’t feel like they can express themselves there, I still can’t imagine life without it. Usually people who live alone, or are new converts to Islam, have the mosque to help them through Ramadan. But this year they are more alone, although the spirit of neighborliness still exists, with people checking in on each other.
Ramadan has its difficult moments. Going without water all day is hard – harder than going without food. Restraining yourself from doing things you usually enjoy doing is also hard – and because youth have friends who are non-Muslim, we get the brunt of questions about Ramadan. It’s hard on students at college. They can’t indulge like non-Muslims do. And sometimes you’d rather be watching a movie and staying up until 4 in the morning than observing Ramadan. And I love coffee. I crave Starbucks. Sometimes all I can think about is coffee!
During Ramadan we try not getting into arguments, not gossiping, and being unkind. The physical things you can refrain from more easily because you can see them – changing behavior is harder. And you’d think we’d have more time, since we’re not going to the mosque, but we still have family responsibilities, work, and we are supposed to spend a lot of time praying. There are only 24 hours in a day!
Maine Youth Network (MYN ) is hosting two classes weekly about Islam via Zoom. We aren’t a religious organization, but we wanted to help youth learn about their faith, so we are collaborating with the imam at the Portland mosque. The numbers are growing every day. People join us to talk about faith and have conversations about Islam. We have had Friday classes for a while, but people asked us to add Monday classes as well, so we did. We talk about different topics on Fridays. We’ve talked about gender equality, patience, where justice and equality meet in Islam, how to pray. We choose the topics through a WhatsApp group. Monday classes are scripture based. The imam tries to connect Islam with the world we live in right now. Being Muslim is our identity. It’s a really big part of who we are. MYN also works to raise funds to help mosques that might be in trouble financially during the COVID-19 crisis. We also raise money for young people who might be in financial trouble.
This year we are just muddling through, and finding out what Ramadan is like during a pandemic as we go. There will be no Eid. We will just wake up without a closing Eid, which will be strange. You have to experience Ramadan to see what it’s like. Even if people fasted for a day or two it would help people to understand the peace we feel.