For Young Muslim Converts, Ramadan Can Be Very Lonely

“There is always a fear of judgement.”

By

Srihari Nageswaran Ravi
Photo - Rawan757

 

Ramadan is just as much a period of spiritual growth as it is cultural significance. Muslims across the Ummah engage with their faith through fasting, abstinence from sin, Qu’ran recitation, and other practices while the scents of sambusas, pakoras, and other regional Muslim dishes linger long after the last iftaar meal. 

However, this month-long timeframe of individual introspection and communal care tends to be performed in solitude by Muslim converts, who often lack the community at home to sustain their well-being until Eid ul-Fitr. I conversed with Anna and Nabigal-Nayagam, Sinhalese and Tamil Muslim converts, respectively, in an effort to examine how the Ummah as a whole can make sure that converts aren’t left out during Ramadan.

For Anna, this year will mark her first Ramadan since converting to Islam in July of 2019. “I wish I could celebrate [iftaar] with friends or family, or celebrate [Eid] in a larger community.” she recollects. 

Convert Muslims arguably experience as much Islamophobia from the outside world as they do from the home, and because of this, my first tip in making sure that converts aren’t left out for Ramadan is simply lending a hand. 

From bringing converts home so that they can enjoy a traditional iftaar meal to inviting converts to masjid services so that they can connect more with their local Muslim community, there are numerous easy ways to ensure that the converts in your life know that they’re not alone. 

“I think new converts like myself have a lot of questions and confusion about Ramadan when observing it for the first time,” Anna stated. “The lack of feeling like we belong to any one community – Muslim or non-Muslim – makes it hard. There is always the fear of judgment from born Muslims, although most are very welcoming.”

Nabi mentioned that he’s “not a huge mosque-goer, because [he’s trans],” which he mentions is surely self-explanatory. What he believes to be a significant disadvantage during his conversion process, however, is essentially the shaming of converts during Ramadan for not being Muslim enough. 

“Converts are often expected to dive headfirst into fasting with no prior experience, while born Muslims were often eased into it from childhood. Many of us also don’t have a sense of community and support from born Muslims, and we frequently are ostracized from the very tight-knit circles we find at the masjid,” Nabi stated.

 


Nabi became interested in Islam about six years ago, although he didn’t formally convert until 2017 due to physical violence and threats of disownment from family members. “When I was still living with my parents, I couldn’t fast for Ramadan, as this would easily out me as Muslim, which was something my family was already strongly suspecting and vigilant about,” Nabi recalls. “The inability to fast made me feel like I was not a good Muslim, that God wouldn’t love me, and that I was not ready for Islam.” 

Anna shared similar remarks: being ethnically Sinhalese, very few of her cultural traditions don’t intersect with Buddhism. She feels guilty celebrating Sinhalese holidays in that their Buddhist iconography entails shirk in Islam, yet her Muslim identity has also come under attack from family: her father threw away books she was gifted from a masjid, forbade her from seeing some Muslim friends, and “considers converting to Islam [the] equivalent [of] joining ISIS.” 

Because of this, it’s important to refrain from shaming converts during Ramadan for lack of tradition, religiosity, or even not being able to fast. Although fasting (sawm) is one of the central tenets of Islam and every Muslim is expected to fast, convert Muslims aren’t afforded the privilege of not having to choose between practicing one’s religion and preserving one’s safety. 

“If you are an imam at a masjid, please reach out and offer whatever resources you feel are fit for a convert who may be going through Islamophobic abuse at home,” stated Nabi.. “If you can’t do that, then don’t shame [converts] for not being able to fast.” 

As it relates to convert experiences during Ramadan, however, the experiences of Black and brown Muslim converts are often overlooked. 

“I’ve noticed a lot of white converts get more attention, extra help, and catering-to compared to Muslims of color, who are either not read as converts (brown converts), or are often completely unwelcome ([Black] converts).” 

Anti-black racism is ubiquitous in Muslim spaces and especially predominantly-non-Black Muslim spaces, so when reaching out to converts altogether, be sure to prioritize inclusion. While the experiences of white converts do matter, Black and brown converts often experience the brunt of Islamophobia from both family and society-at-large. Developing community with them during Ramadan is essential in ensuring that converts aren’t left out. 

Finally, in reflecting on the importance of Ramadan to himself as a Shi’a Muslim convert, Nabi mentioned the futility of striving to be “Muslim enough” in the first place. 

“The most important thing about Ramadan to me is that it is a tool for the soul to become acquainted with God,” Nabi stated. “When I am fasting and abstaining from food and drink, I am denying my body a very prominent source of worldly bond and pleasure. This detachment gives me the mindset to forego the temporal, illusory nature of this world and focus on the Permanence of Allah.”