By Shumaya Islam
When I first enrolled as a freshman at MCSM, I was instantly taken aback by the level of diversity the school enjoyed. In some ways this offered me a great chance to blend into the colorful sea of faces in the halls, but then I also struggled to avoid familiar faces from my neighborhood, since the majority of Bengali-American students here at school also happened to reside in my own community.
Thanks to being part of a diverse student body over these past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of being introduced to veganism, authentic chinese food, and even korean pop music.
However, as I mentioned before, I’ve encountered maybe a few too many Bengali-American students as well. From most of them, I’ve learned about the wide range of cultural values and respect that are maintained in different Bengali homes. From talking about the “no boyfriend until you’re 30-years-old” policy, to “my mom’s cool with me wearing a skirt to school”, we were able to explore how differently young Bengali-Americans were being raised in the same city. Yet, if it’s one thing that I’ve noticed from one particular group at school, it’s how all my Muslim American peers strive to behave and account for their actions during the month of Ramadan.
At the age of six years old, the most I fasted was either exactly one day out of 30, or sometimes two, when I felt extra cocky. For this year, Ramadan began during the end of May, a time when angry high school teenagers are on the verge of exhaustion from exams, applications, and life in general ( at least from what I’ve experienced). As the first few days of Ramadan kicked in, I realized a few things.
“Are you fasting?” is the first question I received from my friend during first period calculus. As I attempted to catch my breath from the three flights of stairs Id just climbed, I turned my head to stare at her colorful hijab and slowly nodded my head in reply. This was the typical greeting I would receive from most friends who fast during Ramadan. At other times, we converse and make jokes about the struggle to wake up for suhoor (breakfast), knowing that school starts just two hours later.
But my favorite moments during fasting while being at school is the level of purity–or “holiness,” as most of my friends call it–that modern day young Muslim Americans attempt to feel as we fast. Speaking for myself, I like to consider Ramadan not only a time to truly acknowledge what you are thankful for and to give attention to the poor; but as a time to focus spiritually and physically as a teenager. After praying or even reciting small prayers during the day, somehow my body and mind internally feel refreshed. When I explain this to non-Muslim students at MCSM, I think back to the day when I felt relieved to see the many different races and faiths at this school.
For me, the high point of another day of fasting is helping a fellow student truly understand how this Holiday can work for the faithful practitioner, and also how it works to my personal benefit.