Observing Ramadan as an interculturalist: Community, connectedness, and Islamophobia

I began fasting during Ramadan in 2010 and observed the month again this year. The first time, I was completely unaware of the deep sense of fortitude that is involved in observing Ramadan. As each day passed, I gained a greater respect for the sheer level of commitment needed. Both times, I felt a deep, almost unexplainable sense of connectedness to millions of people whom I have never even met.
At times of prayer each day I engaged in positive thoughts, and deep meditative states. Knowing so many others were in the same state, brought such a profound sense of connection—one that is hard to articulate.

For the majority of both Ramadan experiences, I have fasted alone. I have few Muslim friends and none of my non-Muslim friends observe Ramadan that I know of. Thus, in many ways I have continued to be by and large an outsider to the religion and related cultural practice. Ramadan, I speculate, is even more meaningful when it is a shared experience. Thus, my goal for the next Ramadan is to interact more with the community. I plan to do this by attending nightly prayer services at a local mosque, and participate in the communal breaking of the fast–iftar. I think my interculturalist experiences and perspective of Ramadan can be further elevated through such observing within the community.

During both experiences, some of my peers, who are Muslim, have been very supportive. They have answered questions, showed interest in my experiences, and encouraged me. This has been so touching and rewarding. In contrast, some of my non-Muslim acquaintances, have at times been Islamaphobic. They have said unkind things about Islam and its practitioners, and they have shared stereotypic generalizations about all people who are Muslim. Their words have been so hurtful that I refuse to share them. Ramadan in 2010 overlapped at the same time as the proposed construction of a Muslim Cultural Center, labeled the “ground-zero” mosque in New York City. I remember the hurtful news stories and related comments people made, particularly in social media. I would have been upset about these ignorant comments without being in the midst of Ramadan, however, I believe I was more attuned to their hurtfulness because I was observing Ramadan for the first time.

If I, as a non-Muslim, feel hurt by these ignorant comments, I can only imagine what it is like for people who are Muslim to experience such Islamaphobia daily, particularly during Ramadan. I received more support this time from non-Muslim peers than last. I hope that this is a sign that non-Muslim folks are becoming more supportive of Muslim practices in general, but maybe it is just a sign that I have different people in my life now.

This Ramadan, my child, Leif, was old enough to observe many of the calls to prayer with me, which was comforting and calming to us both. Leif has affectionately referred to my observing as “Mom’s Buddhism stuff.” I find the merging in his five-year-old mind of this Muslim holiday with the teachings of Buddhism that we have already shared somewhat humorous, and of course meaningful from an interculturalist perspective. When teachable moments like this arise through interculuralist practices, it presents an opportunity for dialogue. Ultimately, I am trying to teach my child (and myself) about the ways that practices of various faith backgrounds are both different from and similar to each other. My hope is that he will grow into an adult who has global knowledge of people from various walks of life, as well as a deep sense of connectedness to these many paths, and ultimately demonstrates compassion towards all kinds of people he comes into contact with during his life journey.

I recognize that some people may find the observing of such holy times as a non-practicing person to be sacrilegious. While this is certainly not my intent I believe these feelings are valid and it is not my place to attempt to change these feelings. I only ask that people recognize interculturalist practices for what they are, at least to me—attempts to foster greater shared experiences and dialogues leading to increased empathy, understanding, knowledge, and support between people of differing cultural backgrounds. I can only speak from my experiences of interculturalist practices and hope for fruitful dialogue around these experiences.
Markie L. C. Blumer, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Wisconsin, Stout location. She is also a Clinical Fellow and Approved Supervisor with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
Photo credit: Larry Ewing

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