“So water isn’t allowed during Ramadan, but sushi is?” my boss asked me with a bemused look on his face just as I was about to pop a spicy tuna roll in my mouth.
For the past three weeks, thanks to the sighting of the crescent moon of Ramadan, I had become a one-woman dawah center at my office. Even more than donning the hijab, there’s something about fasting that suddenly transforms every Muslim into a mufti at the work place.
All month, I found myself fielding my co-workers questions about, not just Ramadan, but modesty, dietary restrictions, marriage and every other subject under the sun.
“It is Ramadan. Muslims cannot eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. And no, water isn’t allowed” should have been tattooed on my forehead. It certainly would have made me less self-conscious about repelling my colleagues with my less than fragrant Ramadan breath.
Photo Source: easyday.snydle.com
The 30 days are a difficult test of will, yet when I discovered I had started my period in the fourth and final week of Ramadan, I was far from relieved. As a menstruating female, I was exempt from fasting, but I feared the explanation I would invariably have to give to my co-workers when they saw me eating. If I erred on the side of discretion, I might be mistaken for a “bad Muslim” — unable to uphold my religious duties, or worse, doubtful of my faith. After all, how many times had I been asked whether I secretly eat pork or drink alcohol? Of course, erring on the side of disclosure would open a whole new can of worms regarding menstruation, purity and everyone’s favorite topic—“the status of women in Islam.”
I must have looked visibly anxious as I left the ladies room, because one of my co-workers concernedly asked me if I was alright. I reassured her I was and confessed that I had started my period and while I would be happy to join her for lunch, I was reluctant to explain to the entire office why I wasn’t fasting.
She replied with a laugh, “Girl! You do not have to explain yourself to anyone! Religion is personal. They need to keep their questions to themselves.”
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I looked at her, stupefied. Of course! She had pointed out the obvious, yet all month– nay, all my life–my faith had been on full display and under scrutiny. Given the post-9/11 suspicious cultural climate, Muslim Americans have become accustomed to the idea that a large portion of the day-to-day practice of our faith is about good PR. “Sport an extra wide smile so you don’t look oppressed, sisters. And brothers, trim the beards and try not to look too terrorist-y.” The concept of religion as a deeply personal facet of one’s life seemed only to apply to those whose faith didn’t make it on the nightly news. That I do not have to answer anyone’s questions had completely escaped me. I don’t have to answer any probing questions if I don’t want to, I thought with both with relief and resolve. And I certainly didn’t need to announce my bodily functions to everyone in the name of being a good “ambassador of Islam.”
So when my boss caught me eating sushi for lunch during Ramadan, I debated for a split second whether to give in to the reflexive desire to explain myself. Instead, I laughed, said “yes,” and popped that delicious spicy tuna roll in my mouth
Monsura Sirajee is a J.D. candidate at UC Berkeley School of Law.
Photo Credit: theguardian.com