Seaside in Karachi, Pakistan
I have had the luxury of observing Ramadhan (the Muslim fasting month) in Pakistan with my extended family for the past two years. My employers have been very generous in giving me that time off and I luxuriated the holy month in an Islamic environment. Ramadhan has been in the summer and that meant long, hot days of no food and water and the thought of that was depressing and frightening to me here by myself in New York. So, I went to Karachi and my relatives accepted me with open arms and I loved every minute of it. This year, however, I chose to stay in New York during Ramadhan. I wanted to get over my trepidation of a summer Ramadhan in NYC and just do it. So far, I am glad that I did.
In Karachi, the awareness of Ramadhan begins a week in advance. Signs are up, lights are up, it’s equivalent to Christmas. It is a countrywide experience (since Pakistan is an Islamic republic), school/work days are shortened or timings are changed (I used to stay up all night and sleep a lot during the day), days off are accepted and charity is a given. People are incredibly kind to those who fast. I remember driving home with my cousins one day, it was close to sunset, and there was a lot of traffic. In the midst of the traffic, folks were going around to the cars and people on street, giving them food so that they may break their fast. Likewise in my family dinners, other people were thought of first, either in prayer or by handing out food in the community/mosque or by giving money to the less fortunate. It was the done thing - charity was a given. My Ramadhan experience in Karachi was an incredibly social one, I was constantly surrounded by people, family, friends, neighbors, etc, we dined together, talked and traveled, joined in happiness and sorrow, in remembrance and forgiveness. It was truly the wholesome family experience any person could ask for during a holiday.
This year in New York, I have faced a different sort of Ramadhan thus far, one of solitude and reflection. I live alone, my nights are spent eating, praying and figuring out a sleeping schedule so that my work is not affected. I do not attend the mosque here for I do not have enough time to travel back and forth and it is physically exhausting navigating the subways at nighttime in the heat. However, this Ramadhan is one of the best I have ever experienced. This struggle has helped me understand how much I have in my life and how imperative it is to help others who do not have the luxuries I enjoy. I find myself constantly reflecting on my life and my choices. There is no “New York” rush this month, I walk slowly, I talk slowly; there is no overexertion of any facet because there is a thought behind every action. The solitude in fasting is a joy; it’s a silent, daily journey for God and myself. There is a real chance to improve my character, to try and change for the better.
While these two cities have offered me entirely different Ramadhan experience, the lessons I learned are quite similar. There is an importance in constant reflection of ones character and there is equal importance in the establishment of charity. May the rest of Ramadhan be equally rewarding to everyone.
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