This is America: A personal reflection on another pandemic Ramadan

Ramadan is a time we prioritize “feeding our souls” over feeding our physical bodies. 

Most Muslims don’t drink or eat anything (from sunrise to sunset) during this month. Many try to take extra steps to dig deeper into our spiritual selves. 

We seek to enhance our faith, our relationship with God, our relationships with loved ones, and even with ourselves, hoping that by the end of it we will come out of it a better person, if even by a small degree. 

It might still be too soon to tell. I might just be coming off a spiritual high. But at this moment, as I am winding down the last week of Ramadan, I truly feel it has been the most fulfilling one I have ever experienced. 

Hi, I’m Fatima Farha, an audience editor at USA TODAY and a proud This is America co-founder. It’s the world’s second pandemic Ramadan, and this is your second Ramadan-related newsletter (here’s Rasha Ali’s reflection on her specific relationship with religion amid the pandemic.) These are some lasting thoughts I want to share with you right in time for Eid. 

Before I get into it, I want to emphasize that I am not a scholar nor an expert by any means when it comes to Islam. I am a 25-year-old Muslim woman trying her best. I also want to reiterate that Muslims aren’t a monolith, and we all have our unique experiences with our faith. 

But first: Race and justice news we’re watching

  • Al-Aqsa mosque taken from prayer to violence: Divergent photos from one of Islam’s holiest sites
  • Graphics show rising violence as Israelis use airstrikes against Palestinian rocket attacks
  • What to know about the Israel, Hamas escalation as Biden faces pressure on Palestinian rights

Celebrating Ramadan during a pandemic 

Ramadan this year took place during a pivotal moment with the COVID-19 pandemic, not unlike last year. The difference now is that instead of us looking toward an uncertain future and a global pandemic that would shutter our lives as we knew it, we are instead anticipating a return to some kind of “normalcy.” More and more people are getting vaccinated, travel restrictions are lifting, the CDC recently announced fully vaccinated folks could take off their masks in most public spaces, and some would say “nature is healing.” 

Of course, the pandemic is not over, not nearly so, but there is no denying the kind of progress we have made. 

The first pandemic Ramadan was frankly awful. The state of my mental health was somewhere between depression and despair, I was anxious about COVID, I felt lonely in isolation, and I could not bring myself to do anything worthwhile, not spiritually or otherwise. 

But as I wrap up this Ramadan, I find that it was because of last Ramadan, and this entire past year, that I was able to take stock of what my priorities are, for myself, my mental health, and my faith. 

Living through a pandemic not only made me realize what is actually most important to me, but also made me grasp a truth I always knew: the fact that everything in this life is fleeting, and every moment we have is a moment to be grateful for. During this Ramadan I made the conscious effort to express that gratitude. 

Ramadan is about fasting, but also so much more 

Growing up, Ramadan for me has always been something I had to do as a Muslim, a part of our duties in Islam. It consisted of fasting, praying, eating suhoor (the meal to start our fast) in the middle of the night, reading the Qur’an, going to the masjid for late night prayers, iftar parties to break our fast, and so on. It was a holiday that ended with a fun day of dressing up and house hopping for delicious meals.

Now, it is still that, but this month is also significant for so much more. 

Ramadan gives me the opportunity to recollect and ground myself. It serves as a reminder to be more grateful of the privileges I was blessed with and have worked for. I try to properly thank God as well as ask for His forgiveness, as I hope for a clean slate when I move onward with my life. 

Ramadan prompts me to diligently ask in prayer for what I want and gives me space to rejuvenate my faith, allowing myself to form better habits, not just spiritually, but even with my everyday life. 

During Ramadan I strive to take extra steps in praying for and doing what I can to aid those who are facing injustices and hardships around the world, hoping they can find peace and relief. 

Just last weekend, Palestinian Muslims were under attack at Masjid Al-Aqsa, the third holiest Islamic site in the world, and hundreds of worshipers were injured while a beloved historic structure incurred damages, during the final few nights of Ramadan. More violence since then has taken precious lives. This Eid, I am keeping them in my prayers. 

Ramadan also pushes me to be more intentional about giving to those in need. One of the main five pillars of Islam is giving charity, also called Zakat. All adults who are able to, are required to donate a percentage of their income to charity every year, and I was able to fulfill that obligation just last week. 

These are the tenets of Ramadan that I value most, and ultimately my goal every year is to reach a point where I can practice this level of worship and gratitude even after the month is over. This year I might have finally accomplished that. 

My Muslim identity has always been an essential part of me, and now I feel even closer to it. Perhaps that has been the biggest blessing this Ramadan. 

And so, I wish you all Eid Mubarak! May the rest of this year be kinder to us.

This is America is a weekly take on current events from a rotating panel of USA TODAY Network journalists with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. If you’re seeing this newsletter online or someone forwarded it to you, you can subscribe here. If you have feedback for us, we’d love for you to drop it here.

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