Teen Voice: Celebrating Ramadan as a Palestinian Muslim Teenager in Canada

Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month in the Islamic calendar. In this month, we Muslims fast (not eat or drink) from sunrise to sunset for the sake of Allah (God) and increase our offering of prayers, Quran recitation, good deeds, and charity. The purpose of fasting is to redirect our hearts away from the distractions around us and to cleanse the soul. Ramadan also teaches us self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate. And yes, you’re probably like “gurl food is bae [Editor’s Note: Slang for ‘before all else], how do you survive for 14 hours without it?” It actually isn’t that hard and even when it is tiring, we’ll get rewarded in the afterlife inshallah [Editor’s Note: Allah willing] which is what matters.

To me, Ramadan is the month of cleansing our souls and redirecting our hearts back to our main focus and purpose. It is the month of gratitude, forgiveness, and just being our best selves. You feel it in you through your fasting, prayers, and family gatherings. I, personally, feel much more relaxed, patient and satisfied during Ramadan. It teaches inner strength as well as outer strength. Who knew we could actually stay strong for 17 hours without food and water? Ramadan is not just about fasting from sunrise to sunset, it’s about reviving yourself from sins and bad habits throughout the year, becoming a better person and hoping to stay that way after Ramadan. I’ll definitely miss the Ramadan gatherings, amazing suhoors (pre-fasting meals) and the immense closeness to God during this month of blessings.

Although Ramadan is a great month, I definitely enjoyed it more back in my hometown. I live in Canada but I’m originally from Palestine. My grandparents left Palestine when the war broke out in the 1900s and started a new life in UAE. My parents were family friends so they knew each other pre-marriage. I was born and raised there until the age of 7 after which we moved to Canada for a better life. We didn’t have any relatives here until a few years back so the Ramadan spirit wasn’t too high. Back in UAE, we had family gatherings very often and don’t even get me started on the food!

Photo by: rudy0help via Flickr

So many traditional appetizers such as Fatoosh and Kubba were served and the dinner table was very lively. Our grandma would go overboard with the meals probably forgetting the fact that we’ll get full after the first bite. Here, it’s kind of like normal dinner everyday in terms of family spirits. And to top everything off, our relatives back in UAE always need to send family photos on the WhatsApp group.

Ramadan is much harder in Canada in terms of social interactions. In countries with a Muslim majority, schools end early and some even close during Ramadan. But of course, our teachers will give us like 5 pop quizzes on the first day of Ramadan here. It’s much easier back in the UAE because we can also stay inside during hot weather and everyone’s fasting so no one really asks about it. Here we get so much pity and everyone’s like “why can’t you eat?”, “how are you not dying?”, “not even water?!”. It’s fine when they ask once, twice, maybe three times but when it gets to daily curiosity – it’s really frustrating. We had this health and nutrition project where we make food and bring it into class to share the nutritional value and I kid you not, teachers checked on us every second to ask if we were dying. Like it really isn’t that bad and your stomach gets used to it after the first few days.

Photo by: Abhinay Omkar
Iftar at Russell Market, Bangalore
During the time of Iftar near Russell Market, Shivaji Nagar, Bangalore

We also have to be super discreet when it comes to periods. During one’s menstrual cycle, you cannot fast, read Quran, or pray. In Arab countries, everyone understands why you’re eating when you do during Ramadan. However, not only is it awkward in itself but when people in Western countries ask and thenunderstand, it’s awkward on another level. “Wait, why aren’t you fasting?” “Did Ramadan end?” “Are you cheating today?” I was in 6th grade when I first got my period and I remember this guy just blurting out, “Why aren’t you fasting today?! You’re disobeying God!” Social interactions are pretty awkward but it’s funny to look back at it all with Muslim peers.

A typical day in Ramadan and Iftar

A typical day in Ramadan starts out with me being woken up at 3 am and wanting to go back to bed. Eventually, I realize my mom made my favourite suhoor meal (either hot tomatoes with chilli or potato and egg omelette) and gather enough strength to go eat. After suhoor, I’m super full and sleepy but my family and I pray the dawn prayer (Fajr) before going back to bed. I can’t really say specifically how my day goes because it really just depends on how I’m feeling. For example, the second day of Ramadan is always the hardest because your eating and sleeping schedule shifts drastically so you’re left with headaches and fatigue.

Other days, I feel super productive and I actually get enough sleep for once (trust me, it’s rare) but some days I end up procrastinating and going directly to sleep after coming back from school. An hour before Iftar, I help my mom prep by cutting up the salad and setting the table. And finally, we break our fast with 3 dates and a glass of milk. Most muslims drink water with their dates but I don’t know, we always did it the “milk way” plus it tastes better. Iftar usually consists of soup, appetizers and the main course (which is just normal dinner). At 10:30, we pray Taraweeh (a voluntarily prayer in Ramadan) and eat Katayef afterwards (a traditional Ramadan dessert).

Eid Iftar food
Photo by: Sabrin Farooqui via Flickr

One tradition my family often does in Ramadan is swapping traditional foods with neighbors. It’s really cool trying out the different foods others cook in Ramadan. On the last ten nights of Ramadan, Muslims make sure to worship and do good deeds as much as they can because on one of those nights, called Laylatul Qadr (Night Of Power), the Quran was first revealed to prophet Mohammed and all good deeds are multiplied by a thousand months (of doing that action). Some people stay up until dawn whereas others take a short nap. Then, we eat suhoor and the cycle repeats again.

The first time I fasted was probably when I was 7 I believe. I think I did a couple days here and there because fasting is not obligatory for kids and it’s tough even to practice in the long summer days here in Canada. When I was 9, I fasted one day And when I was 10, I fasted all of Ramadan and was really proud of myself! When I was 11, I fasted the majority but there were some days where there were field trips and don’t forget about the last day of school parties – I had valid excuses for a kid, okay?

I started my period at 12 so the week that I didn’t fast, I fasted throughout the year. And from there, fasting becomes obligatory and the cycle repeats until now. I prayed every now and then when I was a kid but only started consistently praying when I was 12. I remember one time going to Taraweeh when I was 10 and getting so claustrophobic and dizzy because it was so packed that I was about to throw up. My house was close to the mosque so I just walked back home and prayed Taraweeh home ever since. As of now, I like going to the Bosnian mosque (I don’t speak their language but their reciting is beautiful and fast) to avoid feeling sick or just pray at home. Every year, the mosque hosts a Ramadan Quran Contest where you’re told the Surah (chapter) needed to memorize 2 months in advance and you recite sections of it to the judges. The first time I joined that was when I was 10 and I got 2nd place. It’s definitely a great experience plus it encourages people to memorize new chapters in Ramadan so I love that they’re hosting that. When I was younger, instead of praying and worshipping at night, I’d stay up binge-watching Victorious and Icarly with my brothers. Ugh, bad habits!

We used to watch Khawater while eating Iftar, which was a show following a male activist and media figure called Ahmad Alshugairi around the world and getting to learn the different cultures. He sheds light on great inventions, improvements, business ideas, and so much more by adding a tasteful pinch of religion into it. It was like the best show that came on during Ramadan but unfortunately ended in 2015.

Ramadan brought the best memories and is still the best month today. I hope we stay the patient, kind and open-minded people we have become in this month all year round. And for those who don’t celebrate, I hope this post brought you a new perspective on why this month is so special to me and many Muslims worldwide. Soon, we need to wave goodbye to Ramadan but we’ll welcome it again next year with open hearts. As for now, we can look forward to the special occasion coming afterwards – Eid Al Fitr.

Ramadan Kareem and soon, Eid Mubarak!

Bayance is a Middle-Eastern Muslim teenager living in Canada. She is a lazy potato that is obsessed with Turkish dramas, Riverdale, photography, reading, writing and food. She started her anonymous blog in 2017 in hopes to share her experiences, tutorials, opinions, rants, recipes and much more with the world. Regardless of being a living meme, Bayance loves helping others and hopes to be a rights activist in the future. You can read more from her here and follow her on Instagram

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