Reflections of Ramadan from childhood

August 29, 2011

Arsalan Iftikhar

International rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar says Ramadan gives him a sense of appreciation for life.
Rabiah Ahmed and her children during Ramadan.

For the past month, Muslims around the world have been fasting in observance of Ramadan, abstaining from food and water during daylight hours. International rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar and his friend, Rabiah Ahmed, board member of an online platform for American Muslims called My Faith My Voice, recall childhood memories of how their families observed the fast.

IFTIKHAR: I remember my mom was like a short-order cook. She would take orders from all the kids. I would order an omelet, my sister would order pancakes, and my brother would always order spaghetti or something really weird. We'd have like a full four-course meal at 4 a.m. growing up in Chicago.

I remember my grandfather — when he used to have his pre-dawn meal in Pakistan, he was building a hospital for women and a school for girls in the rural parts of the desert there. In 126-degree weather, he would just have one date and a glass of water to last him the entire day. He was 84 years old at the time. It really, really makes me appreciate everything we have here in the United States and how much harder it is for a lot of people to fast during the month of Ramadan all around the world.

What was it like for you growing up in Detroit during the month of Ramadan?

AHMED: It was a lot like what you're describing in your home, where your mom would wake up, and my mom would wake up and make us a huge feast. But an hour before that, what I remember is ... when we had our grandparents with us during the month of Ramadan, I remember him [grandfather] waking up an hour earlier and reciting the Quran very softly. He had memorized the Quran by heart. He would pace back and forth down the hallway right outside my room, just reciting very softly. It was a very beautiful thing to wake up to. It was one of my most memorable moments with my grandparents.

IFTIKHAR: What's interesting is we had the predawn meal, and then of course we had the time when we break your fast at sunset. And everybody always asked, "Aren't you starving? Aren't you thirsty?" Realistically, for those who fasted all day, you know that your stomach literally shrinks to the size of a baseball, and you could basically have a chicken drumstick and fill yourself. But psychologically, you're not [full]. You want to order like three pizzas, you want to have two calzones, and you want to eat all this food. At the end of it, you're like, "Oh my god, what did I do?!"

But it's always interesting because of the fact that Ramadan teaches us to appreciate the psychological impact of that. So to appreciate a glass of water or a chicken wing — that we would normally scarf down without even thinking about — is something that I think is one of the major lessons of Ramadan.

AHMED: For me, it's also a time to isolate yourself in your room at nighttime in the dark and have a conversation with God. There's a huge spiritual element of Ramadan that is very profound for me and many, many Muslims. It's about reflecting, controlling your ego, your temper. And It's just about breaking away from those things and having a conversation with your creator.

IFTIKHAR: And to be honest, one of the things that my wife and I both liked about Ramadan the most was actually coming to your house for iftar dinner (a celebratory meal to break the fast each day), and having some of that good basil chicken that you made. She makes great Thai food — she can't really make much else. It was really good.

AHMED: Thank you, I think.

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