Sugar stares at me from the window as I light my last cigarette before Ramadan starts. I can tell she is judging me just looking at her angry furry face. All over social media people are wishing each other Ramadan Mubarak and Ramadan Karim. Some have made a pledge to fast from social media. Some others worry about being unable to drink coffee or tea in the morning and as per their routine. As for myself, I came to terms a long time ago with the fact that Ramadan just does not bring me any happiness or peace; it is rather a time of anxiety.
I know, I know. It sounds like blasphemy. In fact, one of the things I find the hardest is that people think that I should be feeling certain things and submitting to Allah in certain ways. As if life was that simple, as if healing was linear, and as if Allah and I had a straightforward relationship.
Almost a decade ago, I celebrated my first Ramadan. Back then, I was just a new convert, in a conservative community, with a conservative partner, hiding from my very secular family in my conversion to Islam. As a new convert, I was very focused on the fasting itself. I dragged my feet across campus half way through the day since I had not managed the science of keeping hydrated, and I almost fainted from low-blood sugar ten minutes before breaking fast. But other than that, I did well. Muslims – born Muslims – patted me on the back, surprised that I would go through Ramadan without complaining.
As time went by, I experienced Ramadan in many different ways. I did taraweeh prayers, I experimented with hijab, I volunteered in mosques, I prepared meals for the homeless, I attended Eid festivals, I wore henna on my hands, I did Quiyaam Al-Layl, I read the whole Qur’an, I told my conversion story at events, I told born Muslims about how I gave up drinking, smoking and pork, I ran charity events… you name it! And of course, as a new convert getting a lot of attention, I took all the space that was not for me to take. In other words, I did not know how to stay in my lane. This is what I now recall as my “token convert days.” If I had to describe the experience, it was like my very shameful sorority days (shhh, don’t tell anyone). Some of us, converts, pretended to be wonderful people and active members of society in ways approved by mosque members and without antagonizing the broader (mostly white) community, while claiming to be “unique,” “special” and kind of like the “future of Islam.”
Ew. Just remembering those days make me want to barf. Ew. But I still see these attitudes with a lot of converts in a lot of different spaces.
Do not get me wrong, there is nothing inherently bad about doing the activities themselves. But taking all the space, not knowing where your lane is and not recognizing your privilege, is an exercise of violence. As a convert, it is very easy to see yourself as “special” rather than identifying not only the privilege a lot of us carry, but also the ways in which we disturb Muslim and mosque spaces, and not always in good ways. And because sometimes we think of ourselves as wonderful, faithful and special, we do not always have to truly think about Ramadan, sometimes it is enough with “performing” the convert role.
I performed well until a few years ago, when things started getting tough. When push comes to shove, Ramadan can be a real struggle, an outward expression of a very personal jihad. While I had been struggling in previous years, it was not until my partner passed away during Ramadan that I was really faced with the fact that grief and anger cannot be addressed through any kind of convert performance. No matter how well I wanted to play the convert role, I just did not have it in me. What is more, I felt ashamed of even wanting to be happy and peaceful on Ramadan, knowing that I was so angry with Allah and so hurt due to the circumstances.
And the more I did Ramadan after that, the harder it got. The fasting has never been a problem. It is the actual reflection… the actual one-on-one time with Al-Basir and Al-Hakam, where I have to stop performing as a “wonderful” and “special” human being, and start accounting not only for what I do, but also for how I feel. It is the quiet time, the time where I am not “playing Muslim,” where I really need to look at my surroundings, count my blessings, question my entitlement and break down my anger.
Sometimes I feel this process would be much easier with a cigarette in my hand, those tiny and dangerously relaxing little things. But I am sure, I will have to account for that too… Just watching my cat stare me down from the window reminds me that Allah is watching. Allah is also awaiting explanations from all those many years of “convert performances;” even more, Allah wants to know what’s up with the most recent broken me in constant state of jihad.