As I plotted the start to the Muslim portion of my religious exploration, the holiest month in Islam, Ramadan, was quickly approaching. Ramadan is the four weeks out of each year when every adult Muslim who is healthy enough is expected to refrain from all eating and drinking from sun up to sun down. It falls according to the lunar calendar and, therefore, migrates a bit annually. This year, it would start in the second week of July and last through August.*
My goal was to participate.
The fasting of Ramadan is meant to shift the normal power dynamic between the two components of our dual natures: the physical side is stripped of dominance, and the spiritual side gains it. It is also intended to increase one’s compassion and gratitude. Having gone through such a trial, one’s consideration grows for hungry and thirsty people. Around this time of year, devout Muslims are expected to make extra charitable contributions, especially of food. The willingness to give is hopefully rooted in deep understanding.
Obviously, not consuming anything—not even water—during daylight hours is a difficult challenge. But in communities and countries where many are participating, it can also be festive. Maybe in part because of the demands of the task, fun elements are added in. The work day is shortened and restaurants open late, and people gather to feast after sunset.
Before Ramadan began, I hoped I might find a Muslim who would be willing to take me on as a friend—not just to offer a few pointers on the logistics of the fasting, but to help me feel less alone in the daunting endeavor. I imagined we could provide a bit of support for one another and, perhaps, celebrate together. I was on the lookout for a female roughly my age.
During a haircut, my hairdresser mentioned having another client who was Muslim, an unmarried woman who converted to the faith from Christianity several years earlier. I thought the universe was sending me a friend, the ideal person with a foot in both worlds who might even need a Ramadan friend herself. I jotted out a heartfelt note asking if she would meet me. I wanted her to feel safe, so I wrote out my cell phone, my email, and my street address. That same week, our mutual hairdresser passed the note along. I never heard back.
I put out feelers again. This time, I learned of a lady through one of Phil’s coworkers. She came from a Muslim family, but was born in the United States. Our mutual friends contacted her first, and she agreed to help me. They gave me the green light and I phoned her. She seemed really nice and I thanked her profusely. I had thought the previous woman from my hairdresser would be my perfect Muslim mentor, but now I realized I had been wrong. We set a place and time to meet. Just before our date, she texted saying she couldn’t make it. I tried a bunch of times to reschedule, but she grew more and more evasive.
It looked like I would be on my own for Ramadan, even more so since Phil would be on a work trip for the first two weeks.
*This is last summer’s Ramadan (2013).