We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
By Amber Glavine
Amber Glavine is a rising senior at Boston College, where she studies Islamic Civilizations & Societies and Linguistics. She is originally from Atlanta, Georgia and has spent time traveling and studying abroad in Europe. As an AUA volunteer intern, she will be teaching English at the Azrou Center in Ifrane, Morocco. Amber has spent several years studying the languages and cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, and she’s eager for this opportunity to experience daily life in a region that has always fascinated her. She hopes that her experiences in Morocco will inform her research as she prepares to write her senior thesis on the linguistics of Quranic Arabic. After graduation, Amber plans to pursue a graduate degree in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.
Growing up in the Catholic tradition, my experience with fasting was limited.The closest personal comparison I can make to Ramadan is Lent, and its promise of a period of deep spiritual growth . In practice, though, it felt more like a prolonged exercise in self-control. We were all called to free ourselves of excess and vice; meat became scarce, prayers increased, and we all chose one beloved thing to give up for Lent’s duration. I can’t claim to speak for anyone else, but forty days without chocolate or potato chips never brought me noticeably closer to God.
Even so, years of practicing Lent in this manner left me with the distinct impression that fasting is about self-denial. Lent is a season of somber preparation for Jesus’s death, and fasting is our chance to sacrifice of ourselves and share in His sacrifice on the cross. The closeness to God that such an experience can afford is certainly something to be celebrated, but fasting itself has never been something that I understood as an enjoyable practice.
Given this impression of fasting, I was apprehensive about traveling to Morocco during Ramadan. Just days after my arrival, I was thrown into this sacred month with nothing more than my preconceived notions to guide me. I had decided weeks earlier to participate in the fast, but I had little hope of enjoying the experience. I expected Ramadan to be, simply put, manageable misery- a month of hunger, thirst, and constant longing for the days when I could throw away my money on afternoon cups of coffee.
As expected, the start of Ramadan brought with it an instant change in morale. However, it was not the sudden spike in complaints and self-pity that I had anticipated. Instead, there was an increased sense of joy that reminded me far more of Christmas than of the somberness of Lent. Friends greeted each other excitedly with, “Ramadan Kareem!” and exchanged ftour invitations, often begging me to join in. I accepted happily, eager for the chance to understand what seemed to me an irrational excitement.
Conversations over break-fast provided the perfect chance for me to satisfy my curiosity. I would start simply by asking, “Are you excited about Ramadan?” Invariably, the response was an enthusiastic yes, and my conversation partners would happily describe to me the special place that Ramadan held in their hearts. Their eyes would light up as they explained that, “Ramadan is the best way God shows us how much he loves us. He created this month as a time of peace, when all of us can be truly happy”. One woman, an American convert to Islam named Angel, even characterized the month as “utopian”. Far from being the burdensome experience that I’d imagined, Ramadan is seen as a time of freedom – freedom from sin and temptation.
Ramadan has been described to me in a variety of ways, but the analogy I’ve most enjoyed is “an inoculation against evil.” As Angel explained it to me, “Ramadan is a time when God protects us from all evil, so we are able to be the best version of ourselves. We see how it feels to be a truly good person, and it gives us the strength to do so for all the other months of the year.”
The people I’ve spoken to earnestly look forward to Ramadan, because they feel empowered to be their best selves. Although they are fasting, they do not feel deprived. Instead, they feel excessively blessed. After being here and experiencing Ramadan for myself, I can understand why.
The sense of solidarity that comes along with Ramadan is beautiful. Aside from being a time of reflection and purification, it’s an opportunity to turn away from your own needs and be sensitive to the needs of others. I’ve been a direct recipient of this increased compassion, through many invitations to share ftour with families who don’t hesitate to open their homes to me despite nearly insurmountable language barriers.
I’ve learned throughout this month As I feel pangs of hunger throughout the day, I am reminded of what a luxury it is to fast, to abstain by choice. So many don’t have any choice but to live in hunger, and, if nothing else, Ramadan has taught me to carry those people in my heart and remember their pain each day.