This Thursday (May 17) will mark the onset of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar that honors the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. As he prepares to observe the holy month, Hanif Abdurraqib writes for BuzzFeed News on the current state of his relationship with Islam and why he can’t quit Ramadan.
From “Why I Still Fast During Ramadan”:
I don’t remember when I stopped praying five times a day, but it may be worth mentioning that I never really prayed five times a day. My parents, who converted to Islam well into their adult lives, often trusted us to pray on our own, save for Maghrib, a prayer which comes as the sun sets. It was the prayer we made as a family, and so I made it nearly every day of my childhood, because that is what my family did.
Once I moved out on my own, I still tried to make a prayer or two a day in good faith, before realizing I didn’t ever see myself as someone who was invested in it. And, I would think, what is worse? To pray out of obligation, or to not pray at all?
I am lucky in that as I have aged and gotten outside of the community of Muslims I was raised with, I have found others like me. Muslims who commit themselves to a few of the faith’s rigorous tenets, but largely lapse into measures of sinful living. The Muslims who drink, or stay out late and sleep through morning prayer. The Muslims who eat the meat that isn’t halal and move into apartments with the partners they aren’t married to. There is a whole section of my life reserved for these people—some of my closest friends. We know each other’s language well. The language of trying to be all parts holy, and only settling for some.
Despite his shift in his relationship with the religion he grew up with, Abdurraqib—whose first name means “true believer”—makes a point of celebrating Ramadan each year.
I know the ways in which I fail in the face of my beliefs, and yet I wish to consider myself forgiven once each year, when I wake up early to pray and have a small meal with the sun breaking over the horizon.
To go about it in solitude is my preferred mode now, when nothing else matters but the month-long journey back to some emotional center I’ve thought myself to be lacking. When the month ends, I don’t return to a dedicated spiritual practice, and my life resumes as it normally does all other 11 months of the year. But for as many days as it takes the crescent moon to unsheathe itself, I remember all of the old prayers I skipped. I remind myself how to talk to a holy entity. I don’t eat, sure, but the not eating has become the easy part, particularly as I’ve aged. To find the humility to imagine yourself as small in the face of something larger than you is the hard part, and for me, that has little to do with not eating, and more to do with the knowing that you could eat, at any time. That you have the ability and privilege to fill yourself, and you still choose not to. I do this in the name of a faith that I am uncertain of, and haven’t always felt at home in, and that makes the act both more complicated and more fulfilling.
Read the full, compelling essay over at BuzzFeed News.