Connect with us

#Islam

8 Ramadan Nibbles for New Muslims

Avatar
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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.

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.

 

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Olivia has been married for over a decade, homeschools, and writes. She graduated from Arees Institute with a Bachelor's in Islamic Sciences and is a Certified Screamfree leader (screamfree.com). Originally from Chicago, she's been Muslim for 14 years.

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Avatar

    rowena

    July 15, 2014 at 4:17 AM

    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.

    • Avatar

      Olivia

      July 15, 2014 at 1:11 PM

      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. Avatar

    June

    July 15, 2014 at 9:27 AM

    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. Avatar

    Sarah

    July 15, 2014 at 11:02 AM

    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.

    • Avatar

      Olivia

      July 15, 2014 at 1:17 PM

      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 ;)

      • Avatar

        Sarah

        July 15, 2014 at 4:56 PM

        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.

      • Avatar

        olivia

        July 16, 2014 at 12:33 PM

        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 :)

        • Avatar

          Sarah

          July 17, 2014 at 6:04 AM

          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.

      • Avatar

        olivia

        July 16, 2014 at 12:36 PM

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

  4. WAJiD

    WAJiD

    July 15, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    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. Avatar

    Manna

    July 15, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    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. Avatar

    Hyde

    July 15, 2014 at 2:29 PM

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

  7. Avatar

    Muttaqi Ismail

    July 15, 2014 at 4:15 PM

    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?

    • Avatar

      olivia

      July 16, 2014 at 11:50 AM

      Love the analogy :) lol

  8. Avatar

    Aasiya Umar

    July 16, 2014 at 7:33 AM

    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.

    • Avatar

      olivia

      July 16, 2014 at 11:57 AM

      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.

    • Avatar

      olivia

      July 16, 2014 at 11:59 AM

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

  9. Avatar

    Mohammed

    July 16, 2014 at 8:52 AM

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

  10. Avatar

    Zaheer

    July 17, 2014 at 8:20 AM

    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. Pingback: 8 RAMADAN NIBBLES FOR NEW MUSLIMS | PASS THE KNOWLEDGE (LIGHT & LIFE)

  12. Avatar

    Katie

    May 25, 2015 at 12:19 PM

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

    • Avatar

      Maryam

      June 2, 2015 at 3:58 PM

      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. Avatar

    Maryam

    June 2, 2015 at 3:56 PM

    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. Avatar

    Noor

    June 23, 2017 at 9:22 PM

    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! ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Civil Rights

Podcast: Lessons from the Life of Malcolm X | Abdul-Malik Ryan

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

One of the things that happens with historical figures who continue to remain well-known and influential years after they can continue to speak for themselves is that others seek to speak for them.  Attempts are made to co-opt their legacy, either in sincere efforts for good or in selfish efforts for ideological or even commercial gain.  This is especially true of Malcolm X, who is not only a historical and political icon but in many ways a “celebrity” remembered by many primarily for his style and attitude.

The only real and meaningful tribute we can pay to Malcolm X is to follow his example. Click To Tweet

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

Audio

Podcast: We Are All Slaves of Allah | Hakeemah Cummings

Guests
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Once, while in class at college, an Arab girl I was sitting next to said quite loudly to another, “Hey, give this paper to the ‘abdah” referring to a black girl in the class. I wondered if she was even aware of what she was saying in English. Did she think that ‘abdah translates to “black girl” and never thought of its true meaning? Did she think that I didn’t understand?

 

Read by Zeba Khan, originally posted here on Muslimmatters.org.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

#Current Affairs

When Racism Goes Viral: The Coronavirus And Modern Muslim Orientalism

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Lumping an entire people together for collective punishment, reveling in their suffering, and sniggering at their food choices isn’t an exercise in science, Sunnah, or compassion. It’s good, old-fashioned orientalism.

In the eight weeks since it was identified, the 2019 novel coronavirus has infected nearly 12,000 people in China alone, 200 of whom did not survive. Symptoms are flu-like in nature, and global side effects include acute, apparently contagious… racism.

Online, in Muslim as well as non-Muslim spaces, social media feeds are sniggering “Eww, you eat gross things! Of course you’ll get gross diseases!” In the midst of this human tragedy, orientalist tropes about the Chinese are being sloppily repackaged as health concerns over the coronavirus, and served with a side of bat soup.

Yes, bat soup.

The coronavirus in question is found in bats, and thanks to the scientific expertise of social media, videos of Chinese people consuming anything from bat soup to baby mice and rats are popping up as “proof” of the disease’s cause.

However the coronavirus made the jump from bats to humans, the initial source of the outbreak seems to have originated from the Wuhan Seafood market, where a number of employees and a few shoppers were the first casualties to the infection. The 2019-nCoV is moving from person to person the same way the flu does, and what a person eats – or doesn’t eat – has no bearing on whether they contract the virus or not.

In an article titled, No, Coronavirus Was Not Caused by ‘Bat Soup’–But Here’s What Researchers Think May Be to Blame, Health.com writes:

“Coronaviruses in general are large family of viruses that can affect many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In rare cases, those viruses are also zoonotic, which means they can pass between humans and animals—as was the case with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory system (SARS), two severe coronaviruses in people.

Initially, this novel coronavirus was believed to have started in a large seafood or wet market, suggesting animal-to-person spread, according to the CDC. But a large number of people diagnosed with the virus reportedly didn’t have exposure to the wet markets, indicating that person-to-person spread of the virus is also occurring. However, it’s still possible that the novel coronavirus began with an infected animal at the market—and then went on to person-to-person transmission once people were infected.”

Being uncomfortable with things you’ve never considered edible before isn’t necessarily a racist reaction. When my husband told me he ate a chocolate-covered cricket once, I hid my toothbrush for a week, but that’s not what’s happening right now. There is a deadly virus threatening a group of people, and the internet sees fit to make fun of them. Why? Because orientalism.

Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.

Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.Click To Tweet

The inferiorizing feature is step one, because in order to position yourself as a winner, the other guy has to be a loser in some way.

The otherizing is the step 2, and both steps are important because if you say that your little brother is a loser, in the end you’re still family and you’ve got his back. This would be inferiorizing, but not otherizing.

But if you say that other kind of guy is a loser, then you have no common ground. And when the other kind of guy is in trouble, you need only gloat and make nasty comments on Twitter. That’s inferiorizing with otherizing. Orientalism can be loosely translated as US vs THEM, normal versus weird, and local versus invasive foreign, or exotic.

The otherizing of orientalism is so subconsciously embedded in people that it even creates auditory illusions to maintain the “otherization” of the subject being viewed. As crazy as that sounds, everyone has their own experience. Mine for just last month played out as follows. A homeless man approached my window and said “Ma’am, do you have two dollars?”

I smiled and responded to him, “I have exactly two dollars!”

As I dug around for my wallet, he cocked his head and said, “Your accent. There’s something different about it. Something… foreign, exotic?”

“It’s Chicago,” I said, handing him two dollars.

He blinked a few times. “What’s Chicago?”

“My accent. It’s Chicagoan. English is my first language. My accent is from Chicago.”

He narrowed his eyes at me suspiciously, this gatekeeper of Chicagoness. “What part of Chicago?”

“North side, Lincolnwood area,” I said. “I grew up on Devon Ave.”

“Pulaski Park!” he beamed, pointing to himself. “I’m from Chicago too!”

We smiled at each other, basking for a moment in our mutual Chicagoness. Then I waved and drove away, adding his insistence of my  exotic“otherness” to the dozens of other peoples’ who have heard my perfectly flat, perfectly blandly midwestern accent and perceived something foreign. I call that one “hearing with your eyes.”

I have lost track of people who have tried to insist that I have an accent. One woman even went so far as to imply that I was lying about being a native English speaker, that I must have some other first language, because there’s “Something else in there, I can hear something foreign! But you’re very articulate though.”

(To form your own opinion on my exotic accent or the lack thereof, visit the MuslimMatters podcast here!)

Compliments like “You’re so articulate!” or “You’re so different!” give you partial credit for your exceptionality, while still discrediting every other member of your general race, religion, region, or hemisphere. The left-handed compliment has a long history, and follows a predictable pattern. Take, for example, this excerpt from The Talisman, a crusade-genre fiction published in 1825.

In this scene, our gallant, invading knight finds himself unable to defeat the enemy “Saracen,” aka – Muslim defender of the Holy Land. In grudging admiration, the knight concedes:

“I well thought…that your blinded race had their descent from the foul fiend, without whose aid you would never have been able to maintain this blessed land of Palestine against so many valiant soldiers of God. I speak not thus of thee in particular, Saracen, but generally of thy people and religion. Strange it is to me, however, not that you should have the descent from the Evil One, but that you should boast of it.”

Translation: “Your people and your religion are the spawn of satan, but not you. I speak not thus of thee in particular. You’re so cool for Muslim!” Spoiler alert: turns out it’s Salahuddin.

From the crusades to colonialism to America’s chronic invasion of Muslim lands, the misrepresentation of people from Over There is both a cause and effect of policy decisions. Orientalism creates the “bad guys” necessary to justify the “good guy” response by “proving” the bad guys to be so weird, inferior, and intrinsically bad that it becomes necessary to call for the good guy cavalry. That gives the good guys permission to take over the resources that the bad guys are too incompetent to manage anyway, and overthrow the governments they’re too stupid to run, and free the women that they’re too barbaric to appreciate.

One excellent reference on this is Dr. Jack Shaheen’s brilliant documentary Reel Bad Arabs, which summarizes a hundred years of Hollywood’s orientalist portrayal of “Arab Land,” a mythical, exotic, treacherous, incompetent, and seductive place, whose capital city is apparently Agrabah which, in 2015, a public policy poll found that 30% of GOP voters were in favor of bombing.

Another side effect of orientalism is the refusal to allow for individual accountability and the insistence on collective blame. “Western” men who harm and oppress women are rightly labeled as jerks and abusers who don’t represent Western morals, ethics, or ideals through their individual actions. Same for white racists, extremists, and criminals in general.

However, Muslims jerks who do the same are awarded representative status of the entire Muslim population (1.9 billion) and Islamic tradition (1441 years). The perception as all Muslim men based on only the worst of them seems ludicrous on paper, and such generalizations are no longer acceptable to make about race, but are still perfectly popular to make about minority religious groups.

Orientalism enables the belief that Muslims are terrible terrorists who are terrible to their women. If they say otherwise, it’s because their religion is terrible and lying about it is part of the religion too. They don’t deserve their own lands or resources, they’ll just use them for more terribleness. We should go in there and save them from themselves! And also, make lots of predictable, idiotic romance novels and movies in which a poor, beautiful Oriental Female is rescued through the power of Love and Freedom. Because just as violence is the natural state of the Muslim man, oppression is the natural state of the Muslim woman. Miskeena. Habibti.

Human beings can be horrible to each other. No ethnic, religious, or racial group is any exception. The problem arises when individual horribleness is elevated to collective attribution, and that collective attribution is used to justify collective punishment, as well as collective suffering.

When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)?Click To Tweet

When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)? What about snails, frog legs, crawfish, chocolate covered ants, and those tequila-inspired lollipops with an actual worm candied in the center?

The filtering effect of orientalism means that our weird foods – be it maghz masala and katakat– are quirky and fun, but their weird foods are disgusting and totally cause to celebrate infectious disease.

If the tables were turned and a deadly coronavirus originated from say, Saudi Arabia, would it be alright to ridicule Muslims for what they ate, or how they lived? What if that specific coronavirus actually originated in camels.

Yes, camels. The Islamophobic internet would have a field day with that one. Yes, we ride camels and prize camels and even eat camels – and they’re delicious I might add – but if a deadly virus originated from camels, found its way into humans in the Middle East, and from there caused death and destruction in other countries- would it be our fault? Would we deserve scorn? Would the suffering and death of our people be justified by how “gross” it is that we eat camels, even if only a few us actually do, and the rest of us prefer shawarma?

Pause for dramatic emphasis. Open the Lancet. Read.

“Human coronavirus is one of the main pathogens of respiratory infection. The two highly pathogenic viruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, cause severe respiratory syndrome in humans and four other human coronaviruses induce mild upper respiratory disease. The major SARS-CoV outbreak involving 8422 patients occurred during 2002–03 and spread to 29 countries globally.

MERS-CoV emerged in Middle Eastern countries in 2012 but was imported into China.

The sequence of 2019-nCoV is relatively different from the six other coronavirus subtypes but can be classified as betacoronavirus. SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV can be transmitted directly to humans from civets and dromedary camels, respectively, and both viruses originate in bats, but the origin of 2019-nCoV needs further investigation.

The mortality of SARS-CoV has been reported as more than 10% and MERS-CoV at more than 35%.”

MERS-CoV, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome –Coronavirus emerged in 2012, traveling from bats to camels to humans, killing 35% of the people who contracted it. It originated in Saudi Arabia and found its way across the continent all the way to China. So could the Chinese internet have been justified in ridiculing our deaths because we ate camels?

Could they legitimize posting “gross” videos of whole, pit-roasted camels? Could they say it was science, not racism, as they moved on to our other “gross” foods, like locusts and the dhab lizard?

Read more about the Sunnah of the Dhab Lizard.

Locusts and lizards have as much to do with MERS-CoV as mice and rats have to do with 2019 novel coronavirus, but doesn’t our grossness in general mean we deserve our fate?

No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.

No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.Click To Tweet

Orientalism is alive and kicking both of our communities in the teeth — Chinese and Muslim – but to further complicate the matter, there’s the ongoing genocide of the Uighur Muslims in China, and that’s rooted in orientalism too.

The Chinese government has imprisoned 3 million Muslims in concentration camps, a number equal to the entire Muslim population in America. It is not unexpected that some people wishfully assume the 2019 novel coronavirus epidemic to be the comeuppance that the Chinese government deserves for its cruelty, but that’s sad and wrong on many, many levels.

People cheering the coronavirus on fail to understand a few very big, very important things about the situation. I will list them, because the internet is no place for subtlety and these points have to stand out for those who would sail over the entire article so they can trash it in the comments. They are as follows:


  1. The entire population of China is no more responsible for the actions of its government than you are for yours. If you hate Donald Trump, his border wall, the separation of families, the Muslim Ban, cuts to medical benefits, and corruption in general but STILL live in America, then you understand that a great, frustrated, and powerless mass of citizens can have little to no effect on its government’s choices. Such is politics. Such is life. Such is China too.

    This guy is all our fault specifically. So I hope we all die of the flu.

  2. The coronavirus’s lethality is exponentially higher in people with poor health and weak immune systems. Like the flu, the coronavirus is overwhelmingly most lethal to children and elderly. The coronavirus is not targeted at, nor limited to the Chinese leadership for its crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, that is not how epidemics work.
  3.  The spread of Coronavirus – like all respiratory infections – is greatly accelerated through close living quarters as well as poor sanitation and hygiene. The 3 million Uighur Muslims interred by the Chinese government are imprisoned in distressingly cruel, cramped, and unhygienic conditions. Their close proximity as well as population density mean that if the virus makes it into the captive population, hundreds of thousands – if not millions of Muslims – would die. Don’t root for the coronavirus. It does not discriminate based on religion or race, even if you do.

And now we come full circle. When Muslims ridicule the Chinese for “being gross,” they are simply echoing the same racist, Orientalist talking points that labeled the Chinese – and later the Japanese – as the “Yellow Peril,” a filthy, faceless, monolithic mass deserving all of our scorn and none of the individual considerations that we insist on for ourselves.

Given the abuse that Muslims have been subject to by orientalist tropes, it should make us all the more aware of its dangerous cultural impact. We know what it’s like to be looked down on, laughed at, and blamed for our own suffering. We know what it feels like to have our foods gagged at, our accents mocked, and our cultural clothing turned into Halloween costumes.

Worse still, we know, very painfully and very currently, what it looks like for an entire people to be treated as a disease in and of themselves. China has declared Islam to be a contagious disease, an “ideological illness,” and on this very basis is it holding 3 million Muslims hostage. In an official statement loaded with situational irony, the Chinese Community Party officially stated,

“Members of the public who have been chosen for reeducation have been infected by an ideological illness. They have been infected with religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology, and therefore they must seek treatment from a hospital as an inpatient.

… There is always a risk that the illness will manifest itself at any moment, which would cause serious harm to the public. That is why they must be admitted to a reeducation hospital in time to treat and cleanse the virus from their brain and restore their normal mind … Being infected by religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology and not seeking treatment is like being infected by a disease that has not been treated in time, or like taking toxic drugs … There is no guarantee that it will not trigger and affect you in the future.” – source

The dangers of racism and orientalism are real, and the victims number the millions. Knowing how much damage orientalism causes in our community, we must commit to never, ever stooping to the same ideologies that are used to justify our own oppression. No matter how many bats people eat, or how evil their government can be, people are individual people. We stand on equal footing, equally deserving of respect, compassion, and acknowledgement of our humanity.



The Orientalist mindset that diminishes and distances us from each other strips us of our dignity, whether we are its victim, or its the perpetrator. Such racism is antithetical to the Prophetic compassion and mercy that Islam demands from us as Muslims. When Muslims celebrate the suffering of innocent people as some sort of epidemiological revenge for the suffering of innocent people, that’s not Islam.

That’s prejudice.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

Trending