This evening, April 13, as the sun sets, Sudburians across the city will be observing the beginning of Ramadan, what Shahira Wahby, volunteer principal at the Sudbury Muslim Society school, describes as a chance “to cleanse or revitalize the soul and come closer to Allah (God). Many people see it as an opportunity to ‘restart’ and commit to making positive changes that will last past Ramadan.”
Ramadan is an opportunity to focus on one of the five pillars of Islam, the foundational practices for all Muslims. It is honoured as the time the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
The month of Ramadan, which changes every year because it follows a lunar calendar rather than a Georgian one, is the chance to focus specifically on ‘Sawm’, abstaining from the most basic needs and desires not only to gather control over their human needs, but to avoid the distractions from worship they cause.
In addition to the material aspects of fasting, like not eating food from sunrise to sunset, “we also increase our time worshipping, spending more time praying at night and reading and reflecting about the Quran,” said Wahby. “Think of people with health conditions such as diabetes, or pregnant/breastfeeding women. They can't fast from food, but they are still expected to participate in Ramadan by spending more time worshipping, praying, and fasting from bad habits, and improving their relationship with Allah.”
It is this focus on worship that forms the backbone of the month of Ramadan. But life isn’t so simple. What does the practice look like, when work, school and the world want to get in the way?
“In terms of the everyday aspects,” said Wahby, “Ramadan is, aside from the obvious changes, business as usual, and is expected to be so. We attend school and work as normal, but just add on the fact that we do not eat during the day and practice a bit more mindfulness in all of our interactions.”
The point is to build positive habits around your normal life so that the changes are more sustainable long term.
However, exam time is not the best situation to be in for Ramadan.
“My two eldest daughters are in university and my third daughter is in high school,” said Wahby. “The timing of their exams conflict with Ramadan this year. But they are pushing through and are optimistic that they will be able to balance their religion with school and work, as is the expectation for Ramadan.”
Of course, while the day is spent fasting, sunset brings the celebrations involved with breaking the fast for the day, known as ‘Iftars’. Pre-pandemic, those were big events in Sudbury.
“Islam is a very family and community focused religion, and likewise, Ramadan is also very family/community focused,” said Wahby. “Pre-COVID, we would always get together with friends and family to break our fast and have ‘Ramadan Iftars’."
She notes that Iftar meals can be elaborate and busy affairs.
“Cooking when hungry, like grocery shopping when hungry, can lead to some pretty interesting results! Sudbury Muslim Society would also plan potlucks for community members to come together, and those were always very enjoyable.”
The Sudbury Muslim Society, however, has found ways to work with the new rules and still worship as they choose. This past weekend featured a Ramadan-themed and COVID-safe scavenger hunt for the children, with missions like one that asked them to perform an act of kindness, and another mission asked of the parents: to take their children into nature to connect with it, as a way to remind all of the need to care for the land.
Ramadan also brings with it an opportunity to understand your own privilege, said Wahby.
“Our family has spoken about another lesson we get from Ramadan, the reminder of our privilege and the blessings we have. At the end of the day, we know that after all that fasting, we get our meal at sunset, but unfortunately, that is not the reality for everyone, and that may be a challenge that they face all-year round. So it's a good reminder to be grateful for our blessings, and of our duty and responsibility to help those who are less fortunate.”
This understanding is also part of the observance of the month of Ramadan.
“Ramadan also places a huge emphasis on charity during the month,” said Wahby. “We are required to donate ‘Zakat Al-Fitr’ (Zakat is similar to ‘alms’) to those who are less fortunate and are encouraged to regularly donate as much as we can.”
The practice in Muslim countries is more encompassing.
“Neighbours would get together and plan huge Ramadan Iftars for those who are less fortunate,” said Wahby. “These Iftars are called Ma'idat El-Rahman. The Iftar tables can extend along blocks and feed hundreds of people.”
The Sudbury Muslim Society did host a similar event in 2019 and worked with the students at the school to raise funds for the Sudbury Food Bank.
“Our goal is to one day have the resources and capacity to host a real Ma’idat El-Rahman here in Sudbury,” said Wahby.
The end of Ramadan, this year on May 12, is called ‘Eid’. Note that ‘Eid al-Fitr’ means “the feast of breaking the fast,” and try ti imagine what that meal might look like.
You can find out more by visiting SudburyMuslimSociety.com.
Jenny Lamothe is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com. She covers the Black, Indigenous, immigrant and Francophone communities.