Beef sausages sizzle on the stovetop skillet as I slice apples and avocados for breakfast. It’s 5 a.m. and still pitch-black outside. But in a few moments, I’ll wake up my husband and kids to join me for our morning meal.
It’s a typical day for our family during Ramadan, a month where Muslims around the world observe a daily fast from sunrise to sunset. Although I am the only one in my interfaith family who is actually Muslim, my husband and kids join me in solidarity most mornings for sahur, the breakfast meal that kicks off the day’s fast. We sit together around the table, partaking in a tradition that Muslim families have practiced for centuries.
A special time of year
Ramadan has always been a special time of year for me. The ninth month of the lunar-based Islamic calendar, Ramadan signifies the month that the Quran, Islam’s sacred book, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims fast for the duration of the month, starting from the new moon at the beginning of Ramadan to the next new moon at the start of the month of Shawwal.
For Muslims, fasting involves abstaining from food and drink all day. Since the Islamic calendar is roughly eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, Ramadan falls at a different time each year. For 2021, Ramadan lasts from sunset on April 12 to sunset on May 12.
As a child, I remember early mornings stumbling into the kitchen sleepy-eyed to eat breakfast with my family. Despite the hardship of fasting from dawn to dusk, I still enjoyed sharing this experience with them. My mom rarely made anything special for sahur. But the act of sitting together in those wee hours of the morning still felt special to me.
For iftar, the meal to break the fast, my mother would make sweet tea for us. Sometimes she would make kolak, an Indonesian dessert made of sweet potatoes and bananas stewed in coconut milk. Other times, she would make bubur kacang hijau, another Indonesian dessert of stewed mung beans in coconut milk, sweetened with brown sugar.
Before the month’s end, my family would donate money to a food bank as part of our zakat, the alms-giving obligation that all Muslims must do during Ramadan. Participating in the fast helped me empathize with those who experience hunger as their daily reality.
Discovering diversity in traditions
I didn’t grow up within a Muslim community. Instead, like my kids, I was raised in an interfaith family. We celebrated Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. But we also celebrated Ramadan and learned about Islam.
When I moved to Seattle as an adult, I met other Muslims. I participated in community iftar meals. I attended the public prayers for Eid al-Fitr, the three-day long celebration marking the end of Ramadan. And I learned about the different foods that families eat during Ramadan, like Turkish pidesi (a special bread served during Ramadan) or Moroccan harira (a hearty stew of meat, beans and lentils).
Seeing the different ways families observe Ramadan helped me appreciate the diversity of the Muslim world, which encompasses more than 50 different cultures. While Islam is often associated with countries in the Middle East, countries like Kosovo, Senegal and Indonesia also make up the Muslim world.
The vast diversity of Islamic traditions around the world is what I appreciate most about this religion. Yet despite the cultural variations, the tradition of fasting during Ramadan remains constant.
Passing down my own traditions
Now that I’m a mother, I often think about what Ramadan traditions I want to pass on to my own children. Since my husband and I don’t share the same religion, we like giving our kids opportunities to experience different religious practices. In this way, they can make their own decisions about what they believe.
I enjoy sharing aspects of my faith with my kids and husband, including fasting. Eating sahur together as a family reminds me of the breakfasts I shared with my mother growing up. And while my kids are still too young to do full day fasts, they can still experience the other parts of Ramadan, like giving alms or celebrating Eid.
In past years, my daughter and I attended the large community Eid prayers at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS). But this year, much like last year, our Eid celebration and prayers will be virtual due to the pandemic.
For Muslims, Ramadan is a time for reflection and self-improvement. By sharing this tradition with my kids, I hope to teach them valuable lessons in self-discipline and empathy for others. But I also hope that this experience will create memories for them that will last for years to come.