When I was a child, my family and I would visit Karachi, Pakistan every other year during November or December and spend a month there (I guess it wasn’t such a big deal if an elementary school kid started winter vacation a few weeks early). Back in those days, Ramadan fell during winter, so we would spend majority of Ramadan in Pakistan and celebrate Eid there as well.
As I think back to those times, I can’t remember exactly what we ate at suhoor or iftar, or even on Eid. Instead, what stands out the most in my memories is the sense of community in a place where almost the entire population enters the Holy month of fasting together.
When waking up for suhoor, I felt delighted at the idea that all the other families around my neighborhood were also awake with me at this dark and early hour. And although I can’t remember what meals my grandmother prepared for suhoor, I do remember chugging a whole glass of water in that last minute before the man with the drum would announce to our neighborhood, with the reverberating beats of his instrument, the start of imsak and our fast.
Towards the end of the day, around an hour before sunset, we would begin preparing the iftar meal in extra quantities to share with our neighbors. About 15-20 minutes before sunset, a child would be given a tray with some snack items to send over to a neighbor. After chatting for a few minutes, we would return home with the tray refilled with new food given in return by the neighbor. To me, this ‘iftar exchange’, an act of sharing, embodied the generous quality associated with this month.
Ramadan in the Bay Area is much different. While in Pakistan we never went to the mosque even for the night prayers, my Ramadan in the Bay seems to revolve around the mosque. The juma’ and taraweeh prayers along with weekly events and the occasional community iftars are what brings the Muslim community from the area together. With the exception of Eid prayers, Ramadan is the only time when you will see the mosque the most crowded as hundreds and sometimes even thousands of Muslims flock to answer the call of prayer.
And this is what makes Ramadan special to me. While it is a month of spiritual development and purification, it is also a month when my community stands shoulder-to-shoulder to reap the rewards of this month together.
*Al-Talib has asked its staff and readers to share their Ramadan traditions, experiences or memories with us. If you would also like to share what makes Ramadan special to you, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ramadan Mubarak!