A New Yorker's
It was an honour, for all the Muslims in the United States this year, as President Barack Obama hosted the Iftar Dinner at the White House. He praised Islam, and promised to build a better relationship between the United States and the Muslim World. He said, "Together, we have a responsibility to foster engagement grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect. And that's one of my fundamental commitments as President, both at home and abroad...That is central to the new beginning that I've sought between the United States and Muslims around the world. And that is a commitment that we can renew once again during this holy season." All Muslims were heartened by President Obama's words as it showed respect for Islam.
Ramadan in New York city is very much alike yet very different from Bangladesh. Muslim New Yorkers maintain regular routines as students attend long lectures, while others finish 8-10 hours work-day and fast. There is no other option. There is no escape from school or work. After many years of experience, I have a feeling that it is quite difficult to fast here. The days are much longer and can be hectic.
What New Yorkers miss the most during the month of Ramadan, is the wakeup call for sehri with the beautiful sound of azaan. Despite being surrounded by many mosques, we are unfortunate and miss azaan. Instead, we set an alarm at the appropriate time which is 4 am, and prepare for sehri. We follow an Islamic calendar that notifies us about the timings of sunrise and sunset, and helps us mark the timing to stop eating at sehri, and also the time to break our fast. The five times a day prayer timings are also listed there.
Living among people from a different culture we are sometimes faced with awkward questions. People often make statements like, "Oh my God! Not even water, what if you fall sick?" "A month is too long, if it was 2 or 3 days then it is fine." "Why do you fast?" "Do you find satisfaction when you fast?" I often find myself explaining Islam and the holy month of Ramadan to people. They think it is extremely difficult, and I explain that maybe it is, but its not impossible and that we are used to it. On the other hand, Muslims live in every corner of New York and many people are aware of Ramadan.
It is a different surrounding of course. I still recall that in Bangladesh, ninety percent of people who are around you do not eat or drink until iftar, most of them are fasting. In New York the sleepyhead is drinking their morning cup of coffee, or the co-worker is trying the fresh salad from the new place. Yet, it was a beautiful sight when I saw one of my neighbour's seven-year-old son at my work place, offer his maghrib prayers outside his store, on the sidewalk. They are of African descent. People walking by stared at them. Some were blank stares, while some were built with confusion and strange thoughts, as the little boy cared less about the world, but paid more attention to his faith. Living miles and miles away from Bangladesh, this is what brings me closer to home and religion. I was so proud of the little boy, that I couldn't but speake to him and his father for the first time. His name is Ibrahim.
The last hour before Iftar is a beauty wherever it is. The hour no doubt, has something to do with taste buds, delicious aromas wafting in through nostrils, intoxicating the senses. Busy people from work or school sometimes rush to Bengali restaurants, as they sell Iftar boxes costing 5-6 dollars. The convenience in finding everything from samosas, to puris, and even muri in the menu delights me. Usually, I break my fast with a cup of water and a bagel, and then rush home from work for a delicious home-made Iftar by the best cook in the world, my mother.
Despite everything the holy month of Ramadan remains the same. It is the time of intense devotion and reflection. The month where we hope and may learn to be better human beings and be respectful to one another and that may Allah shower us all with patience and humility.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009