8 Ramadan Nibbles for New Muslims

I’ve had some awkward Ramadans as a new Muslim. When I converted it was the holiday season here in America, and I’ll never forget the look my cousin gave me when I told her at Thanksgiving dinner that I wasn’t going to eat because I was fasting. Seriously, it was meme-worthy.

I also fasted while attending an American high school, where you have to go the cafeteria at lunch, so I found myself doing a lot of sitting and staring at food and generally feeling hungry while my friends made wisecracks. Because at sixteen, I was way too lazy to get up for suhoor.

“Aren’t you hungry, Liv?” they’d ask while I tried very hard not to salivate onto the laminate tabletop in confirmation.

Ramadan can be a weird thing to explain to family and friends. The concept of fasting, though it once existed in Judeo-Christian teachings, has mostly been abandoned to the point of forgotten. I was Catholic and the closest I ever got to “fasting” was giving up something of my choice for Lent, which was usually something both trivial and an indulgence to begin with, like giving up candy bars.

I have found in my own situation that to my non-Muslim family and friends, Ramadan seems extreme, like something you would associate with ascetic monks or starving people in third-world countries.

Ramadan can be a lot to take in for a new Muslim, a strained time with not-Muslim family, friends, and co-workers/peers as you explain your extreme worship (yes fasting seems extreme to non-Muslims) while simultaneously not trying to feel like an awkward loner around community iftars and Taraweeh.

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After all, it is a kind of “holiday” wherein we see an abundance of various traditions, some faith-based and others cultural, like the foods people eat and how they take their meals. Sitting on the floor and eating communally can be odd for many new Muslims, as can some of the menu items.

I never even tasted a date until my first Ramadan and let me tell you, I was a little intimidated by the brown squishy thing EVERYONE was eating. Like I had to eat this thing or I’m doing something very unramadan-ish.

At no other time of year, except maybe for Eid, can feelings of sadness or loneliness become more apparent to a convert; feelings like you don’t fit in, missing your own family holidays or wishing you had your own Muslim family, and feeling like for all the hard work you’re putting in, you aren’t really feeling the joy coming back to you.

You have no loved ones to share iftar with; you have no one to attend Taraweeh with, no one to feel groggy with at suhoor. While it’s easy to say it shouldn’t matter if you have anyone with you, you’re doing it for the sake of Allah, I highly suggest that person spend a Ramadan alone and s/he will then see just how important camaraderie is during this blessed month.

If you’ve been raised around the “hubbub” of Ramadan, you may take it for granted. I will admit that even though I abhor shirk as much as the next Muslim, I still get a warm, fuzzy nostalgic feeling at Christmas time which I shove aside, and it’s taken me years to cultivate an equally warm, fuzzy one about Ramadan with my own family traditions.

Here are a few things to think about doing to make fasting be a little easier:

1. It’s okay to feel sad

You may go to the masjid during iftar or Taraweeh, and feel like a ghost. You may see all these smiling faces, people hugging and greeting each other, and feel a sad empty pit in your stomach. You may feel bitter Muslim friends are suddenly too busy with family affairs to remember you exist. Ramadan may feel really hard physically and equally so emotionally. It’s okay to feel sad, it doesn’t make you a bad Muslim. It’s normal to think about Thanksgiving or Christmas and your non-Muslim family holidays and feel a pang of longing. Don’t feel guilty and it doesn’t say anything about what kind of Muslim you are. It’s normal and inshallah your reward will be increased for the sacrifices you’ve made to follow the haqq.

2. Put suhoor next to your bed

This is advice from the teenager who missed it every day, but at least got to eat iftar in the early winter hours. Put it next to your bed, the water or juice, and when the alarm goes off, eat it right there and brush off the crumbs. There is blessing in taking suhoor and not doing so can make dehydration a real concern.

3. Have suhoor and iftar your way

Go Ramadan grocery shopping and buy some tasty things that you like and bring in suhoor and iftar your way, whether its some of those trendy vitamin waters, Doritos, or a king size candy bar. Do not feel like you need to eat ethnic Muslim foods, and if you don’t like dates, no big deal. Eat what you want to at suhoor and iftar, even if it looks like you just raided Nabisco, Little Debbie, and the Coca Cola Company.

After a long day of fasting, grab a Frappuccino or order a pizza. Don’t eat some lame, boring meal just because you don’t have a family to eat biryani with. To this day, even though I have a Muslim husband and four kids, my kids know its Ramadan not by a special rosewater drink or samosas, but because I have mini-cans of Coke and Fanta in the fridge and chips in the pantry.

And don’t worry about suddenly having to cook/eat zabihah meat (if you don’t eat it already) because it’s Ramadan (go ahead and crucify me for saying it) but just eat whatever you chicken/beef/lamb you’ve been eating the rest of the year (I’m not going to say goat because most of us converts keep goats as pets before we’d eat them for dinner).

Don’t make Ramadan twice as hard for yourself by suddenly going vegetarian either.

Which brings me to this point. Honestly, when I was seventeen someone gave me a bag of meat and while it’s the thought that counts, someone didn’t think that one through. (Just a note to all Muslims: giving a gift of raw meat is something totally unheard of in several non-Muslim societies, you may even insult someone by giving them a bag of bloody, raw animal. Nothing says, “I don’t fit here” like receiving one for many a new Muslim, and to make it worse its usually just a plastic baggie that doesn’t even have an expiration date on it).

4. Give family simple explanations

Explaining fasting is awkward because it sounds extreme; “You starve yourself from sunrise to sunset?”

“Isn’t dehydration bad for you body?”

When I said I fasted for the month many people thought I meant I didn’t eat at all for thirty days! Non-Muslims understand concepts like prayer, modesty, or the mosque, but fasting seems really out there. Have a generic explanation ready to go, and keep it as simple and relatable as possible. There are lots of reasons and benefits of fasting, so consider your audience. If I say, “I fast because Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed” there is a connection-gap there.

So, you’re celebrating the Quran…by starving yourself?”

If I say “We fast to experience the plight of the poor” or “we fast to learn self-control” or “we fast to experience delayed gratification, to remind us that if we’re patient we will be rewarded” those are reasons that non-Muslims can understand and won’t leave you explaining why dehydration is generally bad but for Ramadan you’re willing to make an exception to commemorate your holy book.

5. Don’t Avoid your Non-Muslim family

Not only can you feel alienated at Ramadan from the Muslim community, your family may feel alienated by you when you no longer join them for dinner or sit uncomfortably at the table with your nose in a book.

As someone who will be Alhamdulillah, celebrating fourteen years as a Muslim this Ramadan, I am familiar with the urge to be as silent and avoidant as possible when it comes to non-Muslim family and the tension that can arise from awkward situations. Your family may feel like Ramadan proves just how much you’ve changed or drifted away, especially because the dinner table is considered the means by which families connect after a long day.

While it can be unnerving to attempt to dissolve tension with your family, you will thank yourself in the long run if you are. Instead of hiding out at dinner, let Ramadan be a special time that you make dessert for your family while they eat dinner. Be cheerful and smiling, ask them what they’d like. Show your family you still love them and want to be close to them and you want to compensate for missed meal time. Be proactive in spending quality time with them.

6. Read the Quran in English or read what you can in Arabic.

Let me tell you, last year was the first Ramadan I finished the entire Quran after fourteen years of trying. I’m still happy I tried, and the reward for one who struggles is more than one for whom it is easy, but I was left with a sense of un-accomplishment many times.

Finishing the Qur’an in Arabic just wasn’t a realistic goal for me, but it is the one good deed, besides Taraweeh, that we focus on to the exclusion of all else and you feel lame if you’re not doing it (and you may not even be able to read in Arabic at all). Reading the Quran and understanding it is very valuable.

Another great idea is to listen to recordings of the tafseer, or explanation, of the Quran (I would recommend Nouman Ali Khan). Don’t feel demotivated because you can’t do what everyone else seems to be doing.

7. Taraweeh is great but its not fard

Yes, mashallah, it is great to go to Taraweeh, but it’s not obligatory and the sunnah is actually to pray by your own at home sometimes too. Once again, you may have to go to work every day or school and fasting plus staying out and praying late is burning you out. No, you’re not weak, and in fact in many Muslim countries people accomplish Taraweeh every night by sleeping through the majority of the fast or having adjusted work hours. Do what you can do, but remember that Taraweeh is optional while fasting isn’t, so its better to skip Taraweeh if it enables you to maintain your fast.

8. Fasting is Hard

I’m here to validate you; fasting is hard, especially in long, summer days. As a new Muslim, you may be intimidated and wondering if you can even do it. I’m here to tell you you can do it, but if for some reason you make a mistake, or cave in to a moment of weakness, all is not lost. (Note: I’m not *justifying* doing this, as it’s not allowed; I’m merely saying that *if* you fall into this sin, don’t give up hope and repent and move on).

Ask Allah to forgive you and make you stronger and keep going; finish the rest of the day’s fast. Do not fall into the trap of thinking, “now my fast doesn’t count” or “now I have to make the day up” or “now I ruined the fast” so the day is lost. Allah rewards you for every moment you are in a fasted state— your reward is continuous. If you cave in and take that drink of water, continue your fast and inshallah you will get rewarded for setting things back to right and persevering. Allah knows what is more difficult for some than others, and Allah created us so that we would sin and then turn back to Him in repentance. Don’t give up.

Fiqh for new Muslims is a sensitive issue and should be handled with a personal approach.

May Allah accept all our good deeds during this blessed month and enable us all to grow firmer in our faith.

 

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25 responses to “8 Ramadan Nibbles for New Muslims”

  1. rowena says:

    As a Christ follower, I appreciate your explanation but want to point out that fasting is still very prevalent in Christian community. I am not catholic, but based on the example of Jesus Christ Who fasted for 40 days without food or drink, we as Christians do fast – just not publicly as it is a very personal matter between me and God. As I fast my walk with God is deepened but it is never a means of acceptance. When I accepted Christ as my Saviour, I was accepted by Father God even though He always loved me, I needed to choose Him first. that is free choice. He always loved me, but untill I wanted Him and accepted His love in my life, I was alone. Now I love Him in my freedom and His grace keeps me in His will. GOD BLESS YOU.

    • Olivia says:

      That is interesting; what denomination are you? Perhaps it would have been more accurate to say that it is not longer practiced in mainstream Christianity though I am aware it is mentioned in the bible that Jesus fasted.

  2. June says:

    Assalamu alaykum,
    A very enjoyable article. I smiled a bit when you mentioned the king size candy bar because I TOTALLY do that. I think it’s great dense calories. 4 pieces and you’re already at 100 calories. Eat half the bar and your at 300! I also make green smoothies to make sure I get all my vitamins and minerals.

  3. Sarah says:

    Assalamu alaykum.

    You’ve given some useful advice for all Muslims in America, masha’Allah.

    Islam is a flexible religion that is applicable to all peoples and all times; therefore, “ethnic Muslim food” should be any permissible (Halal) foods that Muslims eat.

    Yes, certain foods, such as dates, are Sunnah (or the habit of our dear Prophet, peace be upon him). Although those foods are recommended to eat, they are not required (Fard).

    By presumably referring to the Arab diet as “ethnic Muslim” you’re putting two words together that do not make sense.

    Your posts on MuslimMatters urge Muslims to be accepting of new comers and strangers. Your effort to do so is extremely important and I admire your dedicated. Using terms like “ethnic Muslim,” especially when used as an opposite to “American” food, undermines these efforts.

    I know that is not your intention and that you’re simply employing commonly used descriptors. “Ethnic Muslim” and “Third World” are words commonly used in American discourse. I myself struggle to avoid them.

    Just because something is prevalent doesn’t mean it is right. If we really think about the meaning or semantics, these terms do not make any sense.

    For instance, our Prophet, peace be upon him, said in his last Khutbah (sermon): No Arab is better than a non-Arab, and no non-Arab is better than an Arab. If we truly want to exemplify that in our lives (and I recognize your efforts to do so, masha’Allah), we have to stop using terms like “Ethnic Muslim” to refer to Arabs (or Desi or Persian or Turks or …if you keep extrapolating then the term really doesn’t make sense) and especially must stop using this term to set apart “American” Muslims from the rest. That’s not what Allah SWT intended.

    A Muslim is “one who submits to Allah SWT.” An ethnic Muslim should be anyone from any ethnicity or culture that submits to Allah SWT.

    It does seem like a small consideration, but language has a BIG effect. Allah SWT chose Arabic, a rich and potent language, to reveal the message to mankind. Each word in the Quran has special, carefully chosen meaning. We should try our best to use our words in the same way, insha’Allah.

    • Olivia says:

      My articles on MM always seem to be riddled with dumb white people borderline WASP language (thanks, Dad!), unfortunately to the point of derailing the message I’m trying to deliver bc I guess it’s just too much pass up. Really, I can’t believe on the on-staff brown editor missed “ethnic Muslim” and didn’t change it to “ethnic foods from majority Muslim countries”!! :P MM staffers, we really need to put up a disclaimer on all my articles so the point doesn’t get lost. I knew someone was going to jump on “third world” but my point is made; that is exactly what non-Muslim Americans often think. As a matter of fact the precise wording that I have heard directly is “You’re like a starving Ethiopian!!” Once again just trying to write an article that converts can relate to. Guess it can never be win-win ;)

      • Sarah says:

        Your message isn’t derailed. Rather, I admire your work and I read all your posts. Muslims need to hear your voice because you do represent so many. The upwards of 100 replies to each of your posts are testament to the necessary dialogue you’ve created.

        I decided to comment because I recognize myself in you. Part of living in this world is getting to know others, from different nations, tribes, languages, etc. (As it says in the Quran: 49:13). This is our responsibility and it is not an easy task . It takes patience and investment to truly get to know others. I’ve non-intentionally said offensive or uninformed things plenty of times. I’ve had to learn from those experiences but often times such innocent mistakes have drawn me closer to a community, masha’Allah. Allah SWT specifically created mankind fallible, to learn from such experiences so that we could be the highest of creations.

        My purpose was not to discourage you, but to enter an open dialogue so we can learn from one another. I have certainly learned from reading your posts and sincerely appreciate your time and attention to sharing your perspective.

      • olivia says:

        Jzk for your input :) tbh I’m not exactly one of those white hippy globetrotting types, nor has life giving me the chance to travel much, but I am very welcoming of different cultures and I think i have spent more time submerged in other people’s culture than my own since I accepted Islam, or so it feels when you’re constantly surrounded by it at the masjid and your in laws are from overseas :) I certainly do not intend to shut out other cultures and when I was single in college and was one of the first converts in the area, spent all my time around desis, malaysians, egyptians, and khaleejis. I guess I feel like I’ve done a lot of learning, tried on a few different cultures even, and am content with who I am and will take ownership of that even I’d it has its flaws that seep through the cracks bc I can’t erase my formative years and how I speak, tho I intend to be benign, reflects that. I try my best to correct it but I don’t think it has anything to with underexposure to other cultures. I realize there are aspects of understanding i lack from not travelling overseas, but until opportunity arises its not something i can do, so i will have to bleed ignorance a little i suppsose :) (My Cowife wants to take me overseas and film me as the female follow up to “An Idiot Abroad” :p) people on here sometimes feel offended by what I say, but it’s also not easy being who I am and trying to offer something and have it nitpicked when I really feel like for all that I was raised my American bedus and it shows innocently, I do also think pepole have a habit of NOT giving me the benefit of the doubt or willing to accept it as an ignorant mistake or even something I intended to say and for good reason, like the third world commentry because that has literally been said to me. It’s hard to try to write an article that “americans” can relate to without stepping on other people’s toes for not being PC :)

        • Sarah says:

          My point is not to make judgement on wether you’ve had exposure to other cultures or traveled to another country. Based on your experience, anyone should emulate your ability to reach out and mingle with others. When I reflect on your story of embracing Islam at such a young age and in an environment without many other reverts, I am truly inspired by you and awed by the Hidaya of Allah SWT. You are one very strong sister, masha’Allah. I have no doubt your writing inspires and assists other Muslims in America.

          I myself can relate to your writing. I really love how your culture “seeps through the cracks. ” However, there are some aspects of your writing that are framed or conceptualized in a way that doesn’t make sense to me or is not reflective of my own understanding and experience, despite that demographically we may look the same (American, female, some mix of Euro ancestry, grew up in suburbs, graduated from major research university, embraced Islam at early age – albeit I did in my early twenties).

          Reading the various comments on your posts shows me that others are equally thought-provoked by your words. We’re all life long learners here and ultimately both of our ideas (all of our ideas) matter. What’s awesome is that MM is a safe space to carry out an exchange of these ideas. In that way, it is a win-win. If we didn’t accidentally step on each others toes every once in awhile, we might not be close enough to pray shoulder-to-shoulder, side-by-side (I know I’ve apologetically squashed a few toes in the mosque these days (sorry my sisters!), masha’Allah, may Allah SWT preserve the crowded enthusiasm of Ramadan : ) Despite our minor differences, we are one Ummah facing one direction, insha’Allah, on one straight path laid out by the One Creator, Allah SWT. To me that is one of the most incredible and beautiful qualities of Islam. Alhamdu’Allah.

      • olivia says:

        Sorry typos, still getting used to texting with andriod^^^ :)

  4. WAJiD says:

    Salaam alaikum

    MashaAllah- an excellent article and one that I found useful despite not being a revert. I especially like the points you made about taraweeh and reading quran in English.

    WAJiD

  5. Manna says:

    Assalamu’alaikum,

    JazakAllahu khyr for the post. It would be good to get more posts by experienced, long time reverts that give tips and guidance to new reverts so they can relate to someone who’s already gone through the experience.

    Reverts who reverted long ago will be able to know the common pitfalls for new reverts and give them general guidance accordingly. I think some of the topics that can be discussed are how to overcome any sadness, depression with going through family, friend, or coworker related difficulties after reverting to Islam.

    Does anyone know of any website(s) already catering specifically to reverts?

  6. Hyde says:

    All the above can equally apply to people who are born Muslims as well :)

  7. I was born Muslim (AA parents converted decades ago), but receiving raw meat was weird for me the first time also. It is such a strange thing. It’s like giving a Bedouin a musical Hallmark card as a gift. It’s the thought that counts, but what on earth are they going to do with it?

  8. Aasiya Umar says:

    As a convert, I connected with what you said. Mashallah, I really liked the idea of reading quran (also) in English during ramadan. But one point that made me uncomfortable was your suggestion to eat non-halal meat. I won’t crucify you for saying this, lol, but it doesn’t seem right to recommend a haram act, just because ‘they were already doing it’. For eg, if somebody tries to quit smoking during Ramadan, if we can’t help them with it, then at least we shouldn’t tell them to not even bother trying. And of course, halal-haram was prescribed by Allah and hence deserves no opinion from us.

    Jazakallah khair for a well-written article. May Allah reward you for the efforts.

    • olivia says:

      Thanks for you feedback :) let me clarify: I’m not telling anyone to eat haraam meat, I’m telling reverts that they should keep eating whatever meat they already eat all year and not over complicate things buy changing it (unless they want to) or if you were in my shoes in college, going vegetarian which is unhealthy. In my experiences there has been something of an obsession with zabiha meat and it being over prioritized to converts when practically it may not be feasible. If anyone has a legit reason to eat thr meat of the people of the book in our society, like chicken from nonmuslim companies other shuyukh have said is slaughtered correctly, it’s a newly converted muslim. Especially if you’re still living at home and rejecting all your families meals can cause a huge rift. As an example I knew of someone who grew up with a nonmuslim father and muslim mother, and the shocked question I got from the muslim I told was “how did he eat zabiha meat???” Really? First let’s talk abt the Christmas tree and proper aqeedah, lol.

    • olivia says:

      I’m not referring to pork, of course :)

  9. Mohammed says:

    Everything said is just beautifully said. Keep up with your good writing. Wonderful!!

  10. Zaheer says:

    I’m not a revert, so I can’t say how useful this article is (seems like it is, given the comments).

    However it contains some of the worst dieting advice for fasting people I’ve seen in a while – candy bars, doritos, coke? Sure, these are ok once in a while, but they should definitely not be consumed on the regular, and especially not before/after a long day of fasting. Talk about blood sugar spikes.

    Just because you don’t want to eat “ethnic” food, doesn’t mean you should eat processed junk. Normal “western” salads, soups, stews, meat/chicken dishes, etc. are good too. I know Olivia probably didn’t intend for it to be one or the other; just thought I’d put it out there.

  11. […] Source: http://muslimmatters.org/2014/07/15/8-ramadan-nibbles-for-new-muslims/ […]

  12. Katie says:

    Thank you for the great article! This year is my first Ramadan and your article is very helpful and encouraging.

    • Maryam says:

      Salaam alaikum Katie,
      May Allah bless us this Ramadan. Best of luck Sister! The first few are incredibly challenging (even when the days are short in December), but after that it will inshallah get easier and easier :)

  13. Maryam says:

    Salaam alaikum,
    Thank you for this article! I am not a convert, and as such I hadn’t really given much thought to how difficult Ramadan must be for new Muslims. I mean it’s challenging enough for those of us with Muslim families and Ramadan traditions etc. Knowing now, I’m really going to try to be kind to and interact with my Muslim sisters who don’t have Muslim families.

  14. Noor says:

    This article is boring gross and kinda racist. WtF is ethnic muslim food anyway? Food has ethnicities now. I wonder if that starving kid in Yemen cares where his food comes from. Oh yeah he doesnt have any.

    Eat healthy esp during Ramadaan and esp if you are getting on in age. Soda will dehydrate you and should be combined with lots of water if you need the caffeine. No mention of coffee btw… that makes no sense. Seriously though this article was clearly written by someone with no health issues. Irresponsible.

    Its still Ramadaan. Theres still time. Read Surah Hashr. Read Baqara. Read Ikhlas. Read or listen or watch in english or otherwise. Stop going to online Muslims for mediocre advice ( inc me) READ or LISTEN TO THE QURAN. Its much more fun Much more interesting and a lot less annoying and trite than these self aggrandizing bloggers.

    And what is this business about meat and not going veg for Ramadaan? Hard boiled eggs and vegetables are life. Dates give me a toothache but they are still good for you. Oh and Stop feeding your kids “trendy” trash because you think you’re being a cool muslim mom. You’re not.

    I wish I had my mother’s cooking and not some packaged crap to eat right now. Speaking of which; Ramadaan is a great time to look at videos and images of starving communities who have nothing to look forward to eating when the sun dips below the horizon. Try teaching yourself and your over sugared spoiled first world Muslim kids that for a change.

    Btw, I have an actual reason I can’t attend Tarawih. The mosque near my house burned down. Oh and Assad is (still) murdering Muslims while well-to-do “Muslims” are partying in Idlib but keep pretending your little Ramadaan is “challenging”.

    Ramadan Kareem bishes! ?

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