CAIRO – Observing their first Ramadan ever, reverts to Islam find the holy month as both exciting and challenging, practicing a new set of religious, spiritual and social activities that distinguishes the holy month.
“I was so excited for Ramadan to start. I’d read all about it but couldn’t wait to actually practice it,” Samantha Kessenich, 23, who was not religious before she reverted to Islam last Summer, told International Business Times.
“I really see it as a time to become closer to God.”
Observing fasting in her first Ramadan, Kessenich wakes up at 3 o’clock in the morning to take an early suhoor before dawn.
Kessenich, who didn’t practice any faith before she became a Muslim last summer, is observing Ramadan for the first time and is working to make the most of the month as a time for increased reflection and spirituality.
Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, kicked-off on June 18.
In Ramadan, Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
Around the globe, Muslims observe Ramadan with a set of traditional rituals including family gathering at iftar, religious lessons, special evening prayer and helping the poor, Muslims and non Muslims alike.
The absence of family and friends from iftar meals offers a challenge for many reverts.
Chris Duffy, a 21-year-old new Muslim convert from Albany, New York, is one of those who experienced isolation in Ramadan.
“It’s hard for me to constantly be separating myself from my family,” said Duffy.
“I went to my uncle’s house for a cookout on Father’s Day, where they had everything — mac and cheese, potatoes, chicken, the works. And when your family says here, have some food, it’s hard to constantly explain to them why you can’t. The temptation to break the fast just to fit in is always there.”
Along with the psychological challenge, many reverts find the holy month of Ramadan fasting as a challenge.
“This is my first Ramadan, and I’m trying to fast, but my body is not used to it yet,” said 19-year-old Alondra Cadena, a new Muslim from Houston, who works as a cashier at CVS while also going to school.
“So I started by fasting for half a day at first, just to prepare myself.”
But Duffy says he actually finds fasting invigorating.
“I’ve noticed I have way more energy now. It’s not easy in the beginning, but your body adjusts and then you feel energized. It helps you focus on what’s essential,” he said.
For Ethan Gottschalk, 30, who works as a nursing and patient-care assistant in Cleveland, a tough work schedule adds to challenges in Ramadan.
“I fast during the day and I make a solid effort, but it’s very difficult at times,” said Gotschalk, who reverted to Islam last summer and is still adjusting to his new role.
“It’s still in the very early days for me. Sometimes I need that little cup of water or crackers.”
Yet, he admitted that Ramadan has helped him a lot with self-control.
“Right now, it’s a hot, humid summer day and I’m craving a glass of lemonade. Those creature comforts are the biggest challenge. But that’s how fasting also creates discipline,” he said.
“When I’m in this mode, it motivates me to get my Quran, to pray more, to focus on my time with Allah. I can see how Ramadan is designed to bring you closer to God and realize your full purpose on earth.”
Attending daily ifter at the Islamic Center of Cleveland, Gottschalk find fasting a rewarding experience at the end of the day.
“There’s a lot more action during Ramadan. Every night they have an iftar dinner to break the fast, and it’s a great way to meet people, get into discussions. It’s a peaceful, festive time,” he said.
Fasting for two weeks so far, Kessenich found that the physical trials of Ramadan were forcing her to reflect inward.
“When you’re hungry and lacking caffeine, you are more irritable. Your nerves are more on edge,” she said.
“So I do find myself asking if I am being patient when I’m fasting. Because Ramadan isn’t just about abstaining from food; it’s about charity, kind acts, forgiveness and being steadfast. So that’s what I’m trying to do — be more steadfast in every situation I can.”