Today is Eid Al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the month of Ramadan. It’s a colorful, celebratory, and festive day, where we eat a lot and give money to the women and children in our lives (side-note: my Venmo handle is @AnamR). 😏
In the past, I’ve felt disconnected from Ramadan. I was more often than not without community, uninterested in fasting, and out of touch with prayer. Something shifted this year. I suspect it’s partially due to my nostalgia for Palestine, where I came to see Ramadan as a joyous, communal holiday. I’ll never forget how radiant Gaza’s city center looked adorned with lanterns, twinkly lights, and brightly colored textiles. My friends would eagerly take me out at night to revel in what they would call “Ramadan vibes.” Such a stark contrast to the isolating, vilified experience of being Muslim in America.
I’m currently in an immersive yoga study, led by Lakshmi Nair, the founder of Satya, a BIPOC-owned yoga cooperative that teaches yoga as a way to heal ethnic and race-based trauma and stress. In class, we talk about internalized oppression - how bigotry can be absorbed and metabolized into self-hate. We are also learning about the root chakra, the first of the seven chakras located at the base of the spine. On an energetic level, the root chakra - muladhara in Sanskrit - governs our relationship to culture, heritage, tradition, and home. Becoming detached from these things can lead to dis-ease.
This Ramadan, for the first time in my life, I completed all my fasts and built a practice of daily gratitude and meditation through prayer. I felt connected. To my family, as we prepared and ate iftar together every night. To culture, as my sense of belonging with Islam grew. To communal care, as I gave zakat by donating to mutual aid groups. And to myself, as I made time daily for prayer, where I learned that talking to God awakens one’s intuition.
In yoga, we read bell hooks and Octavia Raheem side by side with the yoga sutras. This study has opened my eyes to how preserving faith and culture is a form of resistance against cultures of supremacy. It is also a form of self-healing, particularly of the root chakra, when we un-sever our belonging to rituals and traditions that ground us in culture. I started Ramadan feeling like an imposter, like I was not Muslim enough to take part, or not worthy enough to sit before God and ask for support. I had a subconscious fear of alienating myself by practicing a faith that’s become so demonized by dominant culture. Every fast and every day has inched me closer to a sense of belonging on the prayer mat, which slowly expanded to a sense of belonging within my own body, and in the world.
I am fascinated by the unlinear, mysterious force that is healing. How sometimes, you realize you’re healing only in retrospect. For all the steps forward I took this Ramadan, I still wobble. Even right now, as I type this essay, I am afraid of what it means to share this part of myself with the world. Afraid of what I might lose. I look out my window and see leafy green trees that, only a few weeks ago, were dormant, naked branches. Nature is constantly in a cycle of healing, a tug of war between life and death - courage and shame. It’s this tension that propels us forward, making peace with what we might lose to make space for what we might gain.
“Allahu Akbar” is often translated as “God is the most great.” In today’s Eid khutbah (sermon), the imam offered an alternative, perhaps more precise translation of Allahu Akbar: “God is greater than.” Something about this subtle difference struck a chord.
I remembered texting my friend in Gaza during the May 2021 war, after a particularly violent night of bombing. I was angry at the unchecked evil on display, and the helplessness of all of us on the outside as we witnessed a massacre unfold before our eyes. His only response to my impassioned wall of text was: Allahu Akbar.
God is greater than.
I understand so much better now what he meant by those two words: that there is a force greater than what meets the eye, greater than the world’s most advanced, most unchecked army, greater than manmade systems of justice, greater than any empire.
I’m reminded that in the heights and depths of human experience, there is an unwavering, unseen force that is always greater than anything we can perceive. In times of tragedy - times when we think things can’t get any worse - there is something superlative to that experience. A mysterious darkness that operates beyond our comprehension.
Same goes for times of profound joy and euphoria. There are still greater heights. Heights that we cannot conceive. Anything we can experience and perceive - there is something greater than, and its workings go far beyond what our mind can fathom. Reflecting on that kind of abundance is hair-raising.
The photo above is of the sunset in Gaza taken by my friend Ahmed. From our humanly vantage point, it feels like nothing could be more beautiful. But then I remember that there is something greater than. The force that connects all of us - human, creature, plant, ocean, earth, moon, sun - in an intricate web of divine balance. Even though it lies beyond my imagination, knowing that there is force greater than this caliber of beauty fills me with a sense of awe. I guess that’s what faith is - moving through the world with a belief in the potency of the unseen. A remembrance that haunts and comforts all at once.
Eid Mubarak. 🌙
This is a wonderful piece, Anam. I recently completed a 200-hour yoga training program and am currently doing a trauma-based yoga study. I'm happy to see you incorporating this element into your spiritual practice. There is deep connection between the mind and body (more so than many people realize). These days, the BIPOC community is especially affected and I think practices of spirituality and yoga can be very therapeutic. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Thanks for sharing. I strongly relate to the isolation and self-hate. You've inspired me to fast again next year, inshallah. Eid Mubarak