Ramadan had always been a constant in my life, with few changes year to year. I could always count on my parents waking me up for suhoor each morning, the soft humming of Quran recitation filling the house throughout the day, freshly baked foods for iftar, and nights spent standing next to my brother and father in Taraweeh. It’s a beautiful cycle that I had grown to love over the years.
Ramadan has been different for me this year though. I moved up to Santa Barbara for an internship early this summer. Not only am I farthest from home that I have ever been living on my own, but my apartment is smack-dab in the middle of Isla Vista, the legendary home of drunken college-student escapades and copious amounts of recreational botany.
I am indeed a stranger in a strange land. I wake up for suhoor to the buzzing of my phone alarm. No parents to pull me out of bed. The apartment is filled with the humming of music from the party next door. No Quran recitation within earshot. I heat-up frozen foods every evening for iftar. No smell of fresh pastries as I prepare to break my fast.
It is nothing like the Ramadan that I’m used to. Yet, despite the environment that I find myself in, I have actually been quite blessed this Ramadan.
The Muslim community in Santa Barbara can be best described by one word: welcoming. No matter their race, ethnicity, or outward appearance, there is a smile on each person’s face as you walk into the masjid. They’re a small, but growing community that is sincerely focused on bettering the surrounding area which they serve.
Families sponsor entire iftars for the community and students gather every so often put on their own potlucks. However simple these gestures may seem, it means so much more to be on the receiving end of such generosity.
I leave my apartment each night at 9:10 to pray Taraweeh at the local musalla. I do make a few stops on the way though. My first stop is to pick up Bilal, the Turkish mechanical engineering student from Germany. Next up is to pick up Hafiz and Anees, the media design PhD candidates from Malaysia.
Our conversations during the drive to the musalla are interesting mix of broken English, basic Arabic, and French. It’s an amazing experience to have such a diversity of cultures converge for the sake of commitment to the Deen.
But Taraweeh here has given me more than just a few new friends. After the conclusion of the Witr salah, the Imam gives a short lecture that is meant to induce introspection and critical self-reflection. I find these talks to be a really awesome way to end each night.
This Ramadan has been an interesting experience to say the least. I came in to a new living situation, a new workplace, and a new community. All I can say is that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by it all. Now I’m nearing the end of my stay here in Santa Barbara and despite some of the difficulties I may have faced throughout my residence here, I’m proud to have called it my home this Ramadan.