The holy month of Ramadan is that month in which practicing Muslims around the world fast (by abstaining from food, drink, sex) from sunrise to sunset. It is that month of spiritual cleansing, of giving in charity and increasing in acts of worship. Since I was going to be in a foreign land studying at a university, I asked myself many times if I could optimize my worship within the time. I wondered if I’d get the kind of food I wanted for iftar (breaking fasts), if there was special provision for sahur (prescribed eating at dawn before the fast began) at my institution which was Morgan State University (MSU) in Baltimore, Maryland. I couldn’t get the answers in Nigeria although I asked at every opportunity. At the pre-departure orientation at the U.S. Embassy, we were told even before we asked to remind our various institutions about Ramadan.
I smile at memories of the first day of Ramadan at Morgan State. There were six of us “fasters” as Adelle, our writing teacher, fondly called us. Well, five actually as one “faster” abstained. We decided to meet at Andrew’s flat to break our fast. I remember the flat filled to capacity and there was so much food. From omelets to rice, Farouk’s macaroons, bread, tea, fruits… Sadikie (Liberia) loved rice, he wouldn’t eat anything but rice and there was enough cooked rice, but he was nowhere to be found at the time the sun had set. Halima (Niger) ate sparingly for someone who had fasted for nineteen hours. Andrew (South Africa), our host, ate “fruits.” He can survive on fruits and sweets alone. Farouk hoarded all the macaroons, including mine. The “fasters” and “non-fasters” all met for iftar on the first day of Ramadan. It was a meal to remember, a time to bond, and a memory I will always treasure.
Qimmah and Tiolu, both staff of MSU, were always there to provide information on anything and everything that concerned Ramadan. Tiolu actually volunteered to cook for us on occasion. Provisions were made for the fellows to cook their meals if they preferred, and it was preferred. Imam Derrick and others made us feel so welcome. When I look back, I feel a little sad that I wasn’t able to engage more with the Muslim community there, the time just wasn’t enough but I’m glad I met them anyway.
Because of the nature of the program and how busy it became towards the end, it was a bit of a challenge to find the time for long recitations of the Holy Qur’an. There were just nine hours at night and the days were filled with activities I didn’t want to miss. I learned to utilize my times on the bus when traveling, going for excursions or paying courtesy calls. Bus rides were mostly fun and noisy. I’d sit at the farthest seat at the back of the bus and do the needful.
Eid was special. It marked the end of Ramadan and we celebrated it while in DC for the Presidential Summit. All 500 of the Fellows were under one roof at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. It was the day we met President Barrack Obama.
Some things are not easy, adapting to change can be challenging, but I only have fond memories of my first Ramadan in the United States, especially since I was surrounded by the most brilliant collection of Africans and Baltimoreans.
Maryam Shehu Mohammed (Mandela Washington Fellow; Associate Fellow, National Leadership Institute NLI)