Muslim Converts and Ramadan

Ramadan Kareem - Afghanistan

Asian Lite marks Holy Month with Ramadan Musings with Masarat Daud

Sarah Ager
Sarah Ager

Through this series, it is evident that most of us growing up religiously or culturally in a Muslim country have similar memories of food and family time during Ramadan. But how is it for recent Muslim converts who have no such memories to hold on to? Is Ramadan as special for them too?

Sarah Ager is a British teacher who lives and works in Italy. She had converted to Islam five years ago after a period of soul-searching and learning about Islam. Born to parents who are Christian ministers, it was meeting two Turkish students that made her realise that she knew nothing substantial about Muslims or a Muslim culture. This experience triggered a personal quest to study, research and understand Islam. At university, she took a module on the representation of Islamic women in literature and this is when a chance meeting with two women, who were veiled but were so confident and powerful in who they were, intrigued her. They were women who wanted to be visible in their faith, and their appearance was no contradiction to their quest.

“Their positivity was infectious! It took me over the next year to bring myself to convert to Islam,” Sarah says.

“There was a period of time where I neither a Christian, nor a Muslim. It took me a few months to accept that I was converting to Islam,” she adds. Her parents were supportive and other relatives who were not happy, still did not hesitate to stand by her when others questioned or mocked her decision.

Ramadan MusingsIn Italy, there are only three official mosques, according to Sarah. The ‘unofficial’ ones are usually in small spaces of home within the diasporic communities. But she is not defined or confined by a physical community of Muslims.

“Most of these communities have a very heavy cultural baggage which I was not keen to be part of,” she adds. This made her search for a sense of community online where she interacted with Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide. She felt that it also expanded her views to accommodate plural identities, sexual orientation within the Muslim communities.

Her first Ramadan was a memorable one. She describes it as being ‘fun’ even though she had ‘cried a lot’.

“I didn’t know how could I fast and if I could keep them. But my father would stay awake with me and fast with me. My mother did the same. I did not have a Muslim community around me but that worked for me because I could learn and practice at my pace, without any peer pressure,” she explains.

The struggle in finding a community was also because the local mosque did not cater for women. At the same time, her weak Italian language skills also made it tough to communicate with others.

“But Ramadan for us is about sticking to its original meaning. We, my husband and I, control our food and try to be better people with others and with each other,” says Sarah.

Her favourite Iftar meal is a dish made with couscous and chickpeas with vegetables and yoghurt. Her regular Suhoor (pre-dawn meal) is a big bowl of watermelon and sometimes, an omelette.

“I love Ramadan. It is the foundation of community cohesion and creates a ripple effect of generosity. I love it when just before Ramadan begins, people on my social media share messages of forgiveness in the need to start afresh. Sure, not everybody succeeds in spiritual excellence but at least in Ramadan, everyone makes an extra effort. We are more conscious of using good language, doing that extra good deed because you are part of something that is divine, that is bigger than yourself,” she adds.

It is a great feeling to etch our own pathways, whether we like them to meander a bit or simply be a long stretch. The important aspect is to share this journey with many others and enjoy it while you’re at it.

(Masarat Daud is many things. A girl’s education campaigner, a TED speaker, a TEDx curator, a recent SOAS MA graduate and a politically-incorrect humourist currently based in London.)

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