This year Ramadhan watched the world hurt itself over and over again. Ramadhan started with violence in Orlando that scoured throughout the globe, with explosions near an airport in Istanbul, in a cafe in Dhaka, in a shopping district in Shi’a-majority Baghdad, near a Shi’a mosque in Qatif, and by the masjid of Prophet Muhammed in Medina. Now continuous murders of Muslims near American masjids, on their way to and from prayer, in a month where going to and from the mosque to pray used to feel like reflex. Habit, even a right. And then, the end of the month with the killing of Alton Sterling, a black man, by Baton Rouge police.
I tried to make a playlist for Eid but it seemed like a joke to celebrate this year’s Ramadhan. I know that Muslim communities, still, are trying to find ways to find joy and celebrate Eid with their families and friends, and many have been trying to stick to old methods of doing so. This year, like every year, my mom sent boxes of mithai to neighbors and friends, and received identical boxes from the same neighbors and friends. Like every year, I drew a geometric flower on my left palm with mehndi from my aunt. Like every year, the masjid had salah and we prayed and rejoiced and ate the right things — but this year, after a month of ignoring the hurting, I end the month with letting myself feel it.
Many Muslims were surprised that ISIL, who self-identified as Muslims, would even commit this much violence in the holiest month of the Islamic calendar. Ramadhan is a month for community, for finding it and maintaining it and for those who don’t have it, providing it. It’s about habit and routine, praying a certain number of times, eating at certain times, and going to mosque for communal practicing. And, finally, it’s about patience and strengthening willpower, by abstaining from food, water, and “other worldly pleasures” for the day. At least, this is what I learned in Sunday School.
The eruptions of violence this month attacked these features of Ramadhan, and that’s why it doesn’t surprise me that ISIL, committers of violence who use the label “Muslim” to do so, used Ramadhan as a blueprint to understand people’s behavior this month. The airport in Istanbul, a hub of coming or going home, targeted because so many of us come home to spend this month with our families. In a cafe in Dhaka at a time when people are about to break their fasts. In Baghdad, a shopping district bombed days before Eid when young Iraqis, primarily Shi’as, were shopping for Eid. A mosque in a Shi’a city in Saudi Arabia, and Medina, one of the most important cities for Muslims and Shi’a Muslims in particular, near the Holy Prophet’s mosque. The routines of Ramadhan became prone to violence this year, and I felt so vividly, this year, the personal as political and the political as violent.
I know that violence this month did not occur only against Muslims. I know that the beginning of this month, with Orlando, was an example in which my community had failed to drive out hatred, but it is still my community. When two young Muslim teenagers were attacked on Monday outside Brooklyn’s Muslim Community Center, that was an attack on Islamic identity. The kids were told “You Muslims are the cause of all the problems of the world” I thought back to Huda’s article. It’s not true that Muslims are the cause of all the problems of the world, nor am I going to let a bigot who beat up two kids change my perception of my own community. But in a month packed with hatred and violence against Muslims, Orlando was an example of hatred and violence against queer people of color, particularly Latinx queers.
So Ramadhan this year taught me that fighting Islamophobia also means fighting homophobia, also means grieving when your community hurts and has hurt others. It taught me that there is little safety in the routine of Ramadhan I took so much comfort in, growing up, that if going to masjid isn’t safe I don’t know what is. It taught me that the world’s problems continue to exist, and Black life is still under attack, and that, a day before Eid, if Alton Sterling can be murdered then non-Black Muslims and Muslim communities can’t continue to only talk about racism when it manifests itself in the form of anti-brown Islamophobia.
I know many Muslims want to leave this month with optimism, and I think we should find a way to celebrate this Eid. But for those of us who can’t, who can’t see this year’s Ramadhan as positively as those of past years, Eid can be about grief. It can be about pausing.