In this episode, Islam on the Edges curator-host Ermin Sinanovic interviews four scholars and activists about Ramadan fasting in their countries and communities. The episode reveals many similarities across the four continents – North America, Africa, Europe, and Asia – as well as distinct local practices. Central to the observance of Ramadan are family, community, prayers, Qur’anic recitations, and acts of charity. The four guests are Nisa Muhammad (United States), Ahmet Alibašić (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Ibtisaam Ahmed (South Africa), and Lien Iffah Naf’atu Fina (Indonesia).
Ramadan. This word elicits joy and reflection among Muslims around the world. It is also an occasion for the “not even water” question, to which there is an easy answer: not even water! Muslims who observe fasting in Ramadan abstain from food, drinks, and sexual intercourse, from early dawn to sunset. They can engage in such activities between sunset and dawn.
There is much more to Ramadan than simple acts of abstaining from food, drink, and sex. Families gather, communities pray together, the sound of the Qur’anic recitations fills the air, the aromas of Ramadan delicacies tempt us in anticipation of the iftar – break of the fast meal. Dates, water, sweets, prayers, food, laughter, reflection, more prayers, the Qur’an, more food and drinks … it’s all part of Ramadan lore. It’s a season like no other. Children enjoy Ramadan. They try to imitate the adults by fasting parts of the day. They gorge on Ramadan delicacies, fall asleep during the prayers, cry if they are not awakened for the pre-dawn sahur meal, and wait in anticipation of the Eid gifts after Ramadan is over.
It is also refreshing to see a community come together to celebrate the lack of consumption. In a world in which there is rampant consumerism, unbridled capitalism, environmental degradation, overindulgence, and oversaturation in just about anything – at least in the more affluent societies – it is an act of redemption to be involved in such a profound spiritual act of devotion like fasting. At the same time, Muslims live in the world, so they are affected by the mentioned spiritually eroding activities. But, at least for a month, we try to remind ourselves, and the world, that another way of living is possible, and that – at the deepest levels – humans are defined not by what we consume but what we believe in.
Dr. Nisa Muhammad is Howard University’s Assistant Dean for Religious Life. She is responsible for religious programming, advocates for the religious needs of Muslim students, faculty and staff, teaches nonacademic classes on the Islamic tradition and works closely as part of the staff in the Office of the Dean of the Chapel to foster inter faith dialogue and cooperation. She organizes Muslim worship and devotion services, counsels and advises students, and answers questions from race to religion to relationships. She is the advisor to the Muslim Students Association, the Juvenile Justice Advocates and the Chess Club. Dr. Muhammad is the president of the Association of Muslim Chaplains. She also works with Sapelo Square an online resource for Black Muslims as their internship coordinator, and co-editor of their Ramadan Series. Nisa has a Master’s Degree in Islamic Studies and a graduate certificate in Islamic Chaplaincy from Hartford Seminary. She recently completed her Doctor of Ministry from Howard’s School of Divinity, and is currently pursuing a PhD in African Studies.
Dr. Ahmet Alibašić is an Associate Professor of Islamic civilization and Deputy Dean for Academic affairs at the Faculty of Islamic Studies, University of Sarajevo. He was educated in Malaysia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Currently his research and teaching interests include Islam in Europe, human rights in Islam and Muslim world, church-state relations, and Inter-religious Dialogue. Most recently he is one of the editors of Yearbook of Muslims in Europe (Brill, 2009-2021) and Journal of Muslims in Europe. Dr. Alibašić also heads Center for Advanced Studies in Sarajevo.
Ibtisaam Ahmed is a lawyer and independent researcher from Cape Town, South Africa. She is co-founder and managing editor of Hikaayat, an online platform showcasing content by Muslims. Ibtisaam holds law degrees from the University of Cape Town and Cornell University.
Lien Iffah Naf’atu Fina was born in East Java and resides in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Since 2015, she has been a faculty member of the Islamic State University, Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Currently, she is on a study leave to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago’s School of Divinity. She has an MA in Islamic Studies from Hartford Seminary.