April marks the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, considered the most sacred time of the year for the world's billion-plus population of Muslims. For many who don't practice Islam as a religion, this holy month still raises many questions some are too embarrassed to ask.
Common misconceptions mostly center around the concept that Muslims don't eat at all during this month, when in fact, the act of abstaining from food and drink during a portion day speaks to the significance behind Ramadan. During the month of Ramadan – which lasts from the evening of April 12 to the evening of May 12 – Muslims all over fast every day from dawn to sunset to demonstrate a sense of spiritual discipline that draws them closer to Allah.
Though Islam is a widely-recognized religion where Black Muslims make up about a fifth of the American-Muslim population, it often leaves out the narratives around Black culture and fails to incorporate the intersectionality that exists between the two entities. As we continue to recognize another year of Ramadan celebrations, it's important that we amplify inclusivity as far as highlighting Black experiences and traditions in today's climate.
Now more than ever, with the daily challenges that come with being a Black Muslim in today's hectic social climate, conversations around mental health in this community need to be uplifted. According to Nadirah P. – a standup comedian from New Jersey, she believes that positive mental health during Ramadan should be prioritized because "being isolated and fasting from so many things can heighten or worsen your pre-existing mental health struggles, especially when you don't have access to your coping mechanisms," she tells 21Ninety.
Nadirah's skill as a comedian gives her leverage to use her satirical truths to speak candidly on her everyday experiences and educate others about her identity as a Black-American Muslim woman. Considering all the traumatic events that have occurred in America over the last year and continue to this day, peace and understanding of one's culture can go a long way during this holy month.
"Amidst the pandemic and the fight for social justice, I find balance and peace in leaning into my community," she adds. "They give me a place to express my anger and frustrations and then a place to rest and recover. That's the only thing getting me by right now."
While mental health is a huge part of practicing Ramadan, understanding culture and identity is another factor that makes the celebration so important. For multi-talented sister-duo Sakinah and Zakiyyah Rahman – aka Aint Afraid, they both have been able to use their sounds and styles as an artist group to inspire people around the world. And in turn, they built a platform where they can embrace their identities as Black Muslim women.
"While there are some who try to challenge us because of our identities, we have always seen our identities as empowering," the duo tells 21Ninety exclusively. "The story and history behind each of our identities is a powerful/beautiful one. To be quite honest, we feel fortunate to be a part of such communities. We've had to advocate so much for ourselves against being underestimated, judged off of our appearances, and being put in uncomfortable situations influenced by the ignorance of others. However, this fight has made us love who we are even more and to not be afraid of our stories. The journey we lead allows us to fight for what we love and encourages others to do the same."
For all three of these women, Ramadan means something sacred that embraces family, reflection, improvement, goodness, and most of all, a time to bring themselves closer to Allah. "If life was a race, Ramadan is the pit stop," Sakinah and Zakiyyah said. "That's honestly what Ramadan is. It's the time to recharge and reboot so we can hit life's racetrack as better people."
That time of reflection and recharging is something all Muslims lean on to restore their religious relationships during this time, especially as we're still in the thick of the pandemic. "Since COVID-19 has interrupted the sense of community that Ramadan once brought, I have definitely leaned more into having more alone time with Allah, and it's been the most rewarding experience," Nadirah adds.
"Ramadan is also a time for me to rest all of me. I'm ripping and running throughout the entire year, but during Ramadan, I avoid food and drink as well as music, television, and social media. It's just me and Allah having our time together."
As far as diversity and inclusion go for including the Black Muslim experience in the celebration of Ramadan, platforms like Instagram are stepping up to create initiatives like #MonthOfGood to offer more transparency as to what Ramadan offers its participants.
"The #MonthOfGood initiative is amazing because a lot of people who don't practice Ramadan think it's just about not eating. When in reality, the holy month is all about doing good, feeling good, and giving good," Sakinah and Zakiyyah share with us. "So with that said, it's amazing that Instagram is helping amplify the true purpose and impact Ramadan has on the world. It's also great for others to see ways people around the world are pushing out the good in their own ways."
Beyond Instagram's offerings, diversity and inclusion are notions that should be further embraced to showcase what real compassion looks like within the Muslim community as it pertains to Black Muslims and their truths.
"Real diversity in the Muslim community looks like people from every race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and sector coming together for the common goal of taking care of each other as a community and worshipping Allah," Nadirah concludes.
Sakinah and Zakiyyah echoed her sentiment, stating, "There's no one way to look like a Muslim. People may feel like the Muslim community is limited to a specific image, but the media plays a huge role in this as it continues to push an unrealistic stereotype that all Muslims look one way."
Muslims come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life that do not always fit inside people's boxes of what they believe they know about the group and its religious practices. Ramadan is a perfect example of how we all, whether we practice Islam or not, can use this holy celebration as a learning moment to open our eyes and hearts up to new ideas. Only through this are we able to progress and grow as a society.