“Searching for a Ramadan Community in Washington, DC”
By Lauren Schreiber*
Walking into a new community during Ramadan always gives me anxiety. I feel like it’s the middle school lunch room all over again – Am I in the right section? Did I go in through the right door? If there’s only one door, am I standing in the right line? Oh no. I forgot my socks. Will anyone want to talk to me? And the biggest concern of all: Who in the world will I sit with?
With four Ramadans under my belt thus far, I still feel like I’m walking around with the ‘new Muslim’ sticker plastered my forehead. My husband and I try to “masjid hop” as much as possible. Ramadan is the perfect time to explore the surrounding communities and feel a part of the bigger picture and ‘spirit’ of the month. As much as I want it to, Iftar at the masjid still doesn’t conjure up the same feelings that I feel when I think of a ‘holiday.’ For me, there are still things missing; mainly family and that sense of tradition you get from something that’s happened for ages and only comes once in a while. For me, it means walking into a room full of people I don’t know and attempting to feel like I belong there. I still worry about walking into a new space and being met by blank faces or ignored all together – but not because the community isn’t welcoming. I think most of the time people plan their iftars within their own social group and tend to talk to the people they know, even when at a community setting. As a single person in your section, this can be really isolating. Often times, despite being my normal friendly out-going self and sharing salaams between sisters, I end up feeling so alone in a place so full of people. As a result, I typically resort to sporadic Facebook posts the-night-of my planned outing to let my friends know where me and my hubby will be at in hopes that someone I know will come join me and help make the whole experience feel more festive.
At Masjid Muhammad in Washington, DC, I’m always less anxious.
There’s only one entrance; one parking lot; one dining area; one musallah. Although I couldn’t quite figure out where the appropriate place to sit was initially – a brother warmly informed me that the sisters usually sit on the opposite side of the room – I was still able to eat in a room full of fasting men and women who were buzzing with conversation and smiling faces. The brothers had lined up around the perimeter of the room and let ALL the sisters get food before them (which despite my initial gut response of “You’ve been fasting just as long as I have!” was actually a pretty nice touch).
There were even a handful of family units sitting together; mom, dad, kids and all. This is a big deal to me mainly because the significance of sharing a meal together with those that you love can be so hard to do when you’re separated by so much space and gender politics. It was nice to imagine that there are actually spaces that exist where my husband and I could go and sit together with our potential kiddos, rather than sending them running across carpets, up and down stairs, or through parking lots to switch between parents. It felt a little more like somewhere celebrations happen.
Although there were just a handful of us who stayed for isha and even fewer through the taraweeh prayer, I felt connected and acknowledged and like I was supposed to be there. The musallah space at Masjid Muhammad has this way of putting me in the zone. Not only is the space itself gorgeous, but I actually feel like I’m a part of what is happening. I could see the khateebs movement out of the corner of my eye, giving me the same visual cues as the brothers, and hear the echo his recitation made as it resonated in the ceiling rafters in the hall. Being able to focus on one continuous line of carpet pattern and space between our line and their line made it easier to focus. The prayer resonated deeper.
My favorite place to break fast is still at home with our friends in the comfort of our own space where I never have to worry about who sits where or whether or not I’m on the right side of the divider or my socks. I wish I felt differently, but was able to leave Masjid Muhammad that night feeling much more hopeful that such a thing were possible in my own back yard – And that’s something to be grateful for.
*These views are my own and do not reflect any of my organizational affiliations.
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