A friend of mine reached out the other night, saying she was feeling low. As someone who converted to Islam some years ago, she still finds that Ramadan can be a lonely time. While this is a period of togetherness for most, Muslims who are queer, non-religious or otherwise estranged from their families can often find themselves in the same boat.
In 1995, I converted to Islam at the age of 20 from the Hindu faith, after spending my adolescence in a spiritual search for answers. My conversion was met with shock, upset and terror by my parents. It caused a rift between us that lasted nearly a decade, even though we remained in touch.
Ramadan and Eid can be a painful time. This can be compounded by the alienation Muslim minorities may already feel in the wider society.
In the intervening years, I studied medicine, and deliberately filled up all my spare hours during Ramadan to avoid the event — a time that’s traditionally marked not only by fasting, but also by families coming together. Families eating a pre-dawn meal together. Families breaking fast together with a sunset iftar meal. Then there’s the big post-Ramadan celebration, or Eid, where friends and family spend the day together feasting after prayers. A day spent surrounded by loved ones.
On occasion, I would be invited to a friend’s home for iftar, but it never felt right — it was not my family.
After a decade of Ramadan and Eid spent alone and working excessively, I got married. Four children came in quick succession, and then a divorce. The years passed in a fog.
While this is a period of togetherness for most, Muslims who are queer, non-religious or otherwise estranged from their families can often find themselves isolated.
Now I have family to eat with at both ends of the day, and my children are old enough to practise fasting with me.
The past few years have been joyous for me. I can now share pre-dawn meals, which I used to skip. These days, the early hours are filled with a quiet ritual, waking the kids up so they get to eat before school. Then I hurry home after work so we can break our fast together over a simple meal.
In this sense, Ramadan has finally become about family, food, and togetherness.
But I understand the struggles of others. It’s with sadness that I witness the struggle of other friends — the converts who, like me, are often lonely until they find their own community or form families of their own.There are also the single parents who may not get to spend time with their children during Ramadan due to shared custody, and who may eat alone on special days like Eid.
For me Ramadan has finally become about family, food, and togetherness.
There are the Muslims who no longer identify as one, who no longer fast. There are those who aren’t close to their families. There are my queer brothers and sisters who may still be struggling to find acceptance from loved ones. For anyone who find themselves in these categories, Ramadan and Eid can be a painful time. This can be compounded by the alienation Muslim minorities may already feel in the wider society.
As someone who converted with parental disapproval, I am in a position to witness the pain felt by friends who have chosen the same path.
For many Muslims and for me, Ramadan and Eid can be a time that is bittersweet. I hope I will be able to hold space for my friends and their families during their time of struggle as they work out a way forward with challenging family dynamics, and create new families and friendships to share this special and spiritual uplifting month .
Imaan Joshi is a Sydney GP and freelance writer. You can follow Imaan on Twitter @imaanjoshi