I was on the subway heading to an iftar ― the break-the-fast-dinner ― when my friend Natasha texted me that she was also on her way. We decided to meet at the next mutual stop and go together. After a series of delays, transfers, and unannounced route changes, we somehow ended up at a stop way beyond our destination. As we stood confused about what to do next, the notification that it was time for Maghrib, the sunset prayer, popped up on our phones and signified the end to our 16-hour fast. We decided to escape the inefficiencies of the underground weekend transit system and call a car.
After another ten minutes of miscommunications with our driver, we cancelled the uber and shifted our focus to breaking our fast. On the street corner stood a halal cart, brightly lit among the dimming surroundings. We asked the man in the cart if he had any dates, the dried fruit that we traditionally open our fasts with.
He nodded and gestured to give him a few minutes. He rummaged throughout his cart, and then heartily whipped out the dates with a handful of chole and freshly fried pakoray ―- classic South-Asian appetizers that were not on the halal cart menu. He had graciously taken from his own personal iftar plate to feed us, and our hearts melted at his kindness ― even more so when he chased us down to return the money we quietly left for him.
Natasha and I finally hailed down a taxi, and broke our fast together in the backseat of the cab, with our fortuitous first course placed between us on a napkin. It was a quintessential NYC Ramadan moment that was as lovely as the food in our mouths, and made all the unexpected circumstances worth it.
Ramadan is full of moments like these. It’s a month that brings out the best in everyone, as the daytime fast conditions us to be more mindful of God’s presence. Even when we aren’t directly performing an act of worship, so much of what we do is indirectly for the sake of God, and this adds a sort of blessing to all of those typical Ramadan stories. It’s these times that I love and will miss now that the month is over. It’s these moments that Nabra must have also loved.
I will miss how our group chats became increasingly active during the day to help us pass the hours that were normally spent eating. More often than not, we discussed our hypersensitivity to all things edible ― how the free pizza at work never smelled as delicious before, or how it felt like all of the pedestrians were taunting us as they nonchalantly sipped their iced coffees. Our facetious misery loved company, but we also shared stories of how we dealt with everyday frustrations and situations with more patience. We motivated each other to do justice to our fast, which is not only about abstaining from our food but also our flaws.
I will miss being at home during Ramadan, as I am lucky enough to be so close to home that I went often. Nothing beat filling up on my mother’s homemade appetizers to the point where I didn’t even have room for the entrees. And it was always entertaining to observe the portrait of dysfunction that is suhoor, the pre-sunrise meal. There’s usually one family member who is chirpy and happy, one who is half asleep, one who is cranky, and another who stressfully polices the time we have left until we must stop eating. I once lived with four roommates, and our suhoors were a parallel picture of chaos. Little did I know that I would take after my father’s role and be dubbed the Suhoor Patrol by my roommates. I woke them up from their deepest sleep every morning ― per their request, but they would still mumble grumpily to me in their half-awaken stupor.
I will miss the times when we congregated for prayer in so many different settings. Sometimes we were on our hands and knees on a rooftop amidst the illuminating city skyscrapers. Other mornings there were ten of us cramped in an NYC apartment bedroom to pray Fajr, the dawn prayer, together. And sometimes I was just in my living room at home with my immediate family. Each setting had it’s own charm to it, and was left with a sweet poignancy from God’s presence.
I will miss the times when we were at the mosque for Taraweeh, the nightly Ramadan prayers, and lost ourselves in beauty of the recitation. There was also that night at the Islamic Center at NYU when a faulty speaker system served as a blessing in disguise. As the voice of the Sheikh leading the prayer cut out, it inadvertently allowed us to hear the 600-member congregation softly reciting the poetic Quranic phrases out loud in unison ― and it was the most powerful kind of peace.
I will miss the times when my friends and I did everything in our power to avoid fits of laughter during Taraweeh, when our prostration suddenly turned into acrobatics as we tried to circumvent a huge insect crawling in our direction. Similarly, we stifled giggles weeks later when our heads were bowed down as we silently prayed, and out of nowhere we heard Siri say “I don’t follow. Can you repeat that?” The giggles were contagious, and it seemed to take an even greater willpower not to burst out laughing during prayer than it did to fast all day.
I will miss the weekends, when during that 3-hour window between taraweeh and suhoor, it made more sense to stay up rather than wake up. Some people resorted to playing midnight basketball, while others went for post-prayer chai and dessert. In the wee hours of the night, we usually wasted at least an hour debating what food craving we wanted to fulfill and which diner or restaurant to go to. We often ended up at the closest, most convenient location after we realized it was already 3 am.
Throughout all of these moments, we had the deepest of talks and formed some of the most meaningful of friendships. Our conversations ran the gamut from religion and politics to celebrities and sports. We shared ways to better ourselves spiritually, and found avenues to help, donate, and give to others less fortunate than ourselves.
And now, as we return to our mundane routine of morning coffee and go back to our weekend brunching, I hope that we all hold on to that best version of ourselves for as long as we can. I hope that we continue to share our love, our prayers, and our warmth with others, and act in a way that embodies Islam and keeps God in our hearts ― the way that inspires us to feed others, even when it means we must take from our own plates.