Ramadan Reflections: The Balancing Act

The tragedies and catastrophes unfolding across the globe this Ramadan have caused me to reflect on my own experiences and actions.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Naomi Lai

To many non-Muslims, Ramadan is simply known as the month Muslims fast each day from sunrise to sunset. As one of the five pillars of Islam, fasting during Ramadan is important, but the month has much greater value to billions of Muslims around the world, including me. Ramadan is meant to be a time of reflection, mercy, and personal growth. Our good deeds are amplified, a greater emphasis is placed on worship, and a stronger sense of community is developed as we devote more time to family and friends. 

Yet, for all the blessings and joy of Ramadan, there is still exhaustion and difficulty, which I have found myself struggling with far more this Ramadan. Like many Stuyvesant students, I often feel as though there aren’t enough hours in the day to balance an immense load of schoolwork and a draining commute with my personal life—a feeling that fasting has only exacerbated. The inability to eat or drink combined with an unusual sleeping schedule as a result of waking up earlier to begin fasting takes a toll. Such exhaustion makes it far more challenging to complete homework and fulfill familial and religious obligations. Most nights, I barely see my family as I speed-eat so that I can complete my homework and go to bed at a decent time. I am unable to go to the mosque for nightly prayers, and I can barely carve out time for my own peace, prayers, and reflection, which is a crucial aspect of Ramadan.

However, I can’t help but notice my privilege—my problems are so minuscule in the grand scheme of things. After all, so many people in predominantly Muslim countries are being deprived of the ideal, joyous Ramadan experience—this year more than ever. Instead of experiencing moments of clarity and peace, they face unimaginable horrors, strife, and tragedies that force me to reevaluate my decisions and experiences. 

Perhaps the foremost example of such devastation is found in the lives of Palestinian Muslims. No matter one’s political standings, it is hard to ignore the immense struggles and pain innocent civilians have endured—pain that has not subsided this Ramadan. Rather, the struggles of the Palestinian people have been amplified. Most were without proper food and clean water long before Ramadan began, with over 570,000 Gazans facing catastrophic hunger. Such starvation is incomparable to mere hours of fasting, which I and so many others still struggle with. Palestinian men and women have had their lives completely upended in mere months. There are thousands of orphaned children left to navigate catastrophes alone whereas I have the nerve to get annoyed with my parents for waking me up each morning. 

These tragedies are not only seen in Palestine. All around the world, especially in predominantly Muslim countries, people are suffering. Sudan, for example, has been experiencing political turmoil since 2003, but these issues have only been exacerbated since April 2023. The ongoing power struggle between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces erupted, leading to a violent war with conflict between the groups and mass killings. Millions of Sudanese people have been displaced from their homes—a vast majority of whom are women and children. While I have the comfort of my bed to recharge in after a day of fasting, they are in constant danger living in fear of the uncertainty of a waging war. Not to mention, mass chaos has left millions of children without an education, yet I whine about attending school while fasting, ignoring how privileged I am. 

Similar stories are heard in other Muslim countries all over the world. In Yemen, millions of children are vulnerable to disease and famine. In Syria, refugees do not have the financial capacity to address basic necessities. I cannot possibly list all of the crises grappling nations from Somalia and Afghanistan to Ethiopia and Pakistan, yet I can feel the pain of my fellow Muslims. Islam emphasizes the idea of community—the ummah. No matter our different races, ethnicities, or backgrounds, we are all equal, connected by our belief in God—a belief that encourages empathy, love, and mercy. Thus, the suffering of one group of Muslims becomes the suffering of all; I cannot ignore how immense loss, violence, and agony have continued in the lives of so many Muslims despite the brightening glow of Ramadan. 

Yet, I must also acknowledge the inspiring way in which Muslims in these nations have remained steadfast in their faith no matter how hopeless their situations might seem. I have seen images of Palestinian men and women praying taraweeh—the special night prayer of Ramadan—atop the rubble of destroyed mosques. I have read articles describing children and their parents creating lanterns and decorating for Ramadan in the tents of refugee camps. Despite a lack of food and resources, I have seen pictures of families breaking their fasts together, making the best of what little they have, and prioritizing Islam above all. 

Such devotion has encouraged me to rethink my mentality and reminded me of the benefits of fasting and Ramadan, including developing one’s empathy and patience. The struggles I experience while fasting are not even a fraction of what Muslims afflicted by strife experience on a daily basis. Millions and millions of people are still standing despite seeming to have lost everything, and here I am with far more than I will ever need. If they are able to remain connected to Islam amidst such agony, why can’t I take action to strengthen my faith? 

This is not to say that I am not allowed to struggle—everyone has ups and downs with their faith. Finding a balance between spirituality and daily obligations is no easy task. However, I should not let those struggles define me and instead remind myself of what I am blessed with. After all, Ramadan is a month of blessings and worship, but it is not necessarily a month of ease and perfection. Strengthening one’s faith is a deeply personal journey, one that everyone must take at their own place. Slowly but surely, I can improve my relationship with Islam on my own terms. In ways as little as dedicating an hour of my evening to Islam, donating money to Muslim nations, and educating others on Islam and its people, I can improve my spirituality. 

There is no acknowledging the joy of Ramadan without acknowledging the Muslims around the globe who are currently struggling more than ever. We are all united by our humanity and should strive to learn about and help one another, bit by bit. I can only hope that one day, all those afflicted by strife—Muslim or not—will be able to come together in peace and unity.