We "met" on Twitter, but we MET during Ramadan.
My boyfriend and I are equally busy people, so aligning our schedules has always been a difficult task. When we first became interested in each other, it took a while for us to physically meet because of scheduling conflicts. It just so happens that when we finally did meet, it was towards the beginning of his month of fasting, which was unfamiliar to me, having been raised in the Protestant Christian tradition. I’m no longer a Christian, as I walked away from the church and its beliefs long ago. I consider myself to be spiritual, in that I definitely believe in a Higher Power, in the existence of anointed people who have been true prophets of that Higher Power, and in the idea of life after death. I’ve not subscribed to any organized religion in years, however, because I’ve been trying to find a spiritual “home”, if that makes sense.
When I think back on it, though, I accept that he and I met exactly when we were supposed to meet-- during the holy month of Ramadan.
Image: Rana Ossama via Flickr
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is a time when 1.3 billion Muslims around the world commit to fasting from food and water during the day because they believe Allah has willed them to do so. Fasting for Ramadan is many things for different people, but most people can agree it is an exercise in humility and reflection on our good fortune and the struggles of those who go without. It is a time to set personal goals and commit to doing and being better people. Ramadan also provides a great opportunity to engage in community service work designed to help those in need.
Many people who are not Muslim have also opted to participate in the fast because they want to show solidarity with Muslim loved ones and/or they want to use the time for their own personal reflections, commitments, and cleansing. Like non-Christians who give up certain indulgences during the Lenten season, non-Muslims embrace the Ramadan fast as a time to reset, renew, and refocus on their personal goals and helping others.
We set a date and I decided to travel to his city because I had more flexibility at the time. I knew he was fasting and while I'd never done it before, I decided I wanted to fast for the day to be in solidarity with him. After all, I figured it might be helpful if we start off on the same footing when we first met, face-to-face, so if he was going to be hungry, I would be too. I also recognized how important his fasting was to him, so I wanted to share in it and show him that it was important to me too. He said that I didn't have to, but I could tell he was happy that I would be joining him.
I woke up earlier that morning, before sunrise, and had a bit to eat. My research told me that loading up on a heavy meal would be counterproductive. As the day progressed, I thought to myself, "What have I gotten myself into??" I was so tempted to "cheat"; I am not Muslim so it wasn't like I'd be breaking any rules or anything. Every time I thought about giving up and just eating something, though, I thought about what kind of statement that would make about my interest in him and my respect for him and his values. Who would I be if I couldn't even abstain from eating and drinking for ONE day, knowing it was important for him to do it for a whole month?
We connected around 6 p.m. and had a few more hours before sunset. We went to the bookstore and a couple of museums, all the while chatting and enjoying each other's company in person. Prior to meeting, we'd established a comfortable rapport, and I was happy that it translated into real time. There's always that risk that meeting someone you like online or on the phone will be a disaster in person. We hit it off really well and when it came time to break our fast, we drank water and had a lovely dinner at a Mediterranean spot.
In that one day of fasting, I learned a lot about myself, particularly about my reliance upon food to fill spaces, emotionally and timely. I eat when I'm bored. I eat when I think I should. I eat things I know I shouldn't. I throw out a lot of food. I take for granted that food is always available to me. I also learned a bit about my patience and how quickly I move on from one thing to the next, especially when I grow incredibly bored or exasperatingly frustrated with it. That day tested my willpower, my patience, and my commitment to things greater than me and I learned that I have greater capacity than previously imagined.
I fasted with him again last year, though that time, it was more for me than for him. It was extremely difficult and I was unable to fast in the way that I wanted to-- I was totally unprepared and approached fasting in ways that weren't the most supportive of the challenge. I did, however, find myself connecting more with that voice inside of me that I feel had been quieted for some time. People of all faiths and spiritual inclinations choose fasting as a means of connecting to an alternative consciousness, as the deprivation alters chemical balances in the mind and body. This definitely happened for me and I embraced it, as I felt myself achieving clarity on so many issues.
This year, I'm committing to a better fast. At first I wasn't going to do it because I was concerned about the effect on my metabolism. I've been trying to lose weight and was concerned that a month of fasting would throw off my progress. Ultimately, I decided to fast and commit in a way I haven't before. Ramadan is important to him, but it has become quite important to me, too. I found myself becoming excited and prepping for our times together during the fast-- waking him up for suhoor, laughing/praying through the hunger pangs, and preparing a bountiful iftar for him.
I'm happy to share in this tradition with him, especially as I find my way and walk towards reverting to Islam myself. I've been able to connect with so many wonderful Muslim women online and they inspire me daily. I feel closer to being "home" and more connected to the love of my life than ever before.