It’s only after moving to the Middle East that I realised how little, as a whole, the Western world knows about Ramadan. Even though I had Middle Eastern friends who observed Ramadan when I was living in the United States, there wasn’t much that was commonly known about the Holy Month and its traditions within Western culture. While the West amalgamates many cultures that celebrate different holidays, knowledge about these traditions is often limited. And while that is definitely changing, it takes time for cultures to connect with others. In fact, it wasn’t until 2007 that the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution recognising the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan. And while New York City now recognises Eid al-Fitr as a holiday, there are so many other cities and states that still do not — although I am hoping more will follow the Big Apple’s example.
As is often the case with many cultural observances, Ramadan is celebrated a bit differently in the United States. Not all traditions are practised the same way, but have to adapt to a different way of life, as well as work constraints. Some of the pillars are more difficult to uphold than others, given the differences in both society and daily life. However, it is admirable as to how many are upheld regardless. For example, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2017, throughout Ramadan, nearly 50 per cent of U.S. Muslims pray five times a day or attend mosque on a weekly basis, and approximately 80 per fast during the Holy Month. It is inspiring to see cultural traditions kept alive, because with them, come the values and teachings that are essential to both the health of a community and the well-being of the individual.
While the specifics of how Ramadan is practised may differ slightly in various parts of the world, the power of connection is one crucial aspect that is a constant. It is a unifying theme, from connecting a person to his or her own spirituality, culture, and identity — to bringing people together and nurturing a sense of community. It is a beautiful and powerful practice that allows reflection and renewal on every level.
''My wish is that more non-Muslims are able to learn and see first-hand the significance of such a meaningful month'' Carla DiBello
As an American, witnessing Ramadan in the Middle East has been a true honour and it has become a special time for me. I’ve experienced the significance of what the holiday teaches people to remember, have seen first-hand how it brings people together, and have been humbled by the warmth and generosity of being welcomed into so many people’s homes. I’ve celebrated Iftar with friends and business associates alike, and have developed closer, deeper relationships as a result.
Even as an outsider, there is so much to learn and take away from Ramadan. The core values are something that anyone can benefit from. When I first moved to the Middle East, I would often leave during Ramadan to go back to the U.S., thinking that because I wasn’t Muslim, I didn’t belong. But after living here for a few years, I came to embrace it. Although I am not Muslim, I identify with the cultural occasion and its traditions on a personal level, seeing it as a time to reconnect with people in a truly genuine way, but also as a time to reconnect and reflect personally. It reminds me to think outside of myself, and to return to core values.
Just as Muslims in the Western world may come from different backgrounds, the observance of Ramadan has the ability to connect and tie people together.
After my own experiences, my wish is that more non-Muslims are able to learn and see first-hand the significance of such a meaningful month, its teachings and its traditions. With the Middle East opening up and becoming more and more accessible, I am hoping that soon Ramadan will become a much more familiar holiday in the Western world. After all, it is through opening doors and sharing our traditions that we can truly become a global community.
From the May 2019 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia