Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the third year in a row, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
For so many of us, the experience of Ramadan is enhanced due to the high level of fellowship that takes place throughout it. We are pushed that much more in our pursuit of spiritual growth by breaking fast and standing in prayer on, at times, a nightly basis with so many familiar faces. Our consciousness, however, at times forgets the faces that are not present.
Islam places a high emphasis on the maintenance of ties of kinship and friendship. There are many who don't show up to break fast, not because they are not fasting or they are not religious or practicing. It's not because they are busy or having something else going on or any other justification we can come up with as to why we haven't reached out to them. Mostly they are not showing up because life is life and they have to deal with life whether it is Ramadan or not.
Self-isolation becomes a sign of depression or that life is becoming too overwhelming. It's something that is very different from solitude. When one is self-isolating because of negative emotion or experience, they tend to avoid others for long periods of time. They feel that the best way to deal with the circumstance at hand is simply to avoid people, and sometimes strengthen this notion by telling themselves that no one will understand what they are going through. Self-esteem starts to potentially drop and continues to as the world around them seems to be moving forward and they alone are stuck where they are. It can start with something very simple and build itself into something devastating. But it can also be fixed with something very simple, an acknowledgement that you remember me when I feel alone and forgotten.
Ask yourself honestly, when was the last time you reached out to a person that you hadn't seen in a few days or weeks or even last Ramadan but not this one? When we fail to check in on or include each other, we are potentially hurting one another more than we realize.
A few instances to reflect on that people have reached out to me on so far this Ramadan:
- A young man reached out who finds himself stuck in an office till late hours of the night and found himself feeling low as it was his second Ramadan not being able to break fast with friends or family, but instead alone at an office desk. He sees pictures online daily of people he thought were close to him enjoying their Ramadan experience while the only indication he has that he's not forgotten is a mass text message he received at the beginning of the month saying "Ramadan Mubarak" but nothing since. Even when he had time on Sunday to go break fast with others, he decided to do so on his own since he now knew the real place he holds with his friends. He said it was his worst Ramadan ever.
- Another young man reached out saying that as in year's past, he has continued to not be invited to iftars and other programs and events. He attributes this to being a convert and his living in a community that has no other converts. His days are spent with his family telling him that he is going to get sick if he keeps fasting and what kind of religion would expect someone to do that while his nights are spent breaking fast alone. He tried going to pray in the mosque in the evenings, but started to not see the point in that. He now finds himself feeling more alone than ever and building a resentment towards Muslims who are not converts. He already anticipates spending Eid by himself and going to work. Since no one really acknowledges him during Ramadan, why would anyone think of inviting him to celebrate the holiday afterwards? At least this way he would still get a day's pay.
- A young woman reached out who hasn't been able to fast due to a chronic illness. She felt initially left out because everyone was fasting and she wasn't, and soon noticed that her friends were not inviting her to dinner when they all went out, saying, "We realized you weren't fasting and didn't want to make it awkward for you" or "Sorry, I didn't think it was a big deal since you're not fasting." She wishes someone would understand how difficult it is to not fast during Ramadan and even jokingly suggested starting a group for people not fasting so she would have people to relate to.
- A community imam/scholar reached out feeling the pressures of catering to the needs of his community while balancing out his responsibilities as home, opting usually to forgo the latter rather than the former. His pay is low and emotional support from both ends quite minimal. He says it is ironic how alone he feels even though he is surrounded by people always and wishes that there was some type of gratitude expressed from either his community or family members. His anxiety is building and he says at times it doesn't even feel like he's fasting or that it's Ramadan. He wishes he had someone to talk to and that the world sometimes remember that he has to deal with life as well.
- A young man who had been dating a non-Muslim woman and focused his time for the last few months only on her finds himself in a predicament of being alone in his fasting. As he developed his relationship with his girlfriend, he began to lose touch with others, including Muslims he would usually break fast with, and now is at a loss as he realizes the challenges of an interfaith relationship. His girlfriend is not supportive and he is embarrassed to reach out to anyone, and finds himself feel more alone each night and not wanting to do anything.
A few others have reached out as well and I hope to be able to share their experiences at some point as I feel it's important to give voice to those who feel their voices aren't heard. For the rest of us, though, we should really think of how we're doing what we can to reach out and check in on others and then actually go and reach out and check in, instead of only just thinking about it.
Don't let time be a factor -- it's ok if the first week of Ramadan or months or even years have passed so long as you don't let another day go by. If you haven't seen someone for some time, a simple text message, email, or phone call can go a long way. If you see someone new, introduce yourself with a smile and let them know you as the familiar face that they can look forward to seeing, even if it's just for a moment. Help me find my place so that I can gain and grow as you are.
For those of you who in NYC and looking for a place to break fast, feel free to join us on weeknights at the Islamic Center at NYU. We would love to have you with us.