A day in the life: Ramadan and high school

A silver bowl of kujurs, or dates, the customary fruit to end a fast in the month of Ramadan. Next to the kujurs is a green tasbih, a string of beads that is sometimes used by Muslims while making prayers.

A silver bowl of kujurs, or dates, the customary fruit to end a fast in the month of Ramadan. Next to the kujurs is a green tasbih, a string of beads that is sometimes used by Muslims while making prayers.

The alarm goes off, it’s 4:15 AM.

In a daze, I fumble for my phone and hit the “stop” button on the alarm. I drag myself out of bed and stumble into the bathroom. Just the way I do when I wake up for school.

But it’s not time for school. It’s time for suhoor.

Most days of the year, this is no time to be awake. But right now it’s not most of the year. It’s Ramadan, and right now I need to gather downstairs with my family to eat right before dawn comes – and along with it, the beginning of the day of fast.

After brushing my teeth and making wudu (washing before prayer) I go down to the kitchen area. I’m pretty much always the first one down there.

There’s nothing in particular you have to eat for the meal called suhoor – whatever fills you up the most for the day.

After having some eggs and rice with chicken, I sit on the couch, munching on potato chips, scrolling through my phone, and listening to my parents yell at my little brother to hurry up and finish his food. He doesn’t have much time before the fasting begins.

The athan, or call to prayer, sounds from an old Samsung tablet next to the fridge. There’s a collective buzz as the notification arrives on my phone and my parents’ phones. Almost every Muslim person I know has an app on their phone from which the athan is broadcasted.

This means it’s time for fajr, the actual morning prayer. During Ramadan, this prayer also means it’s time for fasting to begin.

I take one last gulp of water, then I mumble a dua, like a quick message to God, to myself:

وَبِصَوْمِ غَدٍ نَّوَيْتُ مِنْ شَهْرِ رَمَضَان

“I intend to keep the fast for tomorrow in the month of Ramadan”

This is the way to officially begin the day of fasting for every Muslim around the world.

It’s still only 5:10 AM.

I go upstairs with my family to perform the morning prayer. Then, I go back to bed, happy to get some sleep but wary of the fact that I’ll have to wake up again very soon.

That’s been a challenge for me this Ramadan, how different the days unfold. The month of Ramadan on the lunar Islamic calendar moves back 11 days every year, so these first few days of the month have been the shortest fasts I can remember. But since sunrise is so late, it also means there’s only about two hours between suhoor and waking up for school. I fall asleep every day between the meal and school.

My alarm goes off. 7:00 AM.

I lie in bed wondering if going to school is really all that important before dragging myself out of bed and stumbling to the bathroom.

Ramadan and high school make an awkward mix. Most of the school day becomes a matter of staying engaged while trying not to think about food. Yet there are also days when I am just so tired and hungry, those days are just a total drag. I feel like nothing matters except slogging through class and getting home to rest.

Today feels like the latter. The day seems to go by ten times slower than usual. I occasionally feel cold chills all over my body. I always seem to experience them when fasting, even though Ramadan has been during the spring and summer for as long as I can remember.

I find myself struggling to stay awake in US Government & Politics. How am I falling asleep in Gov?

It’s one of my favorite classes. All I know is I have to keep forcing my eyes open because I think the teacher is starting to look my way.

Almost the only thing keeping me going through the day is the thought of going home and taking a much-needed nap. Most times of the year I stay away from naps; I usually don’t need them and when I take one, I seem to feel worse after waking up than I did before.

But it’s hard to resist naps in Ramadan.

With the disruption of my sleep schedule from suhoor, as well as Taraweeh, a late nighttime prayer service performed at mosques, I always feel sleepy. It all makes for an even more chaotic combination between meeting my Ramadan responsibilities and high school responsibilities.

Still, one of my favorite parts of Ramadan is telling people about it. I find this odd enjoyment in telling my classmates and teachers that it’s Ramadan, that it’s a very important time of the year for me and my family, and seeing their reactions.

Most have a vague idea of what Ramadan and fasting are, but very few know the specific rules and experiences of a Muslim during the observance. I feel like it’s almost my responsibility in a way to inform people around me of what it means to us.

No matter how many times I get asked, “You can’t even drink water?” it never seems to get old answering, “No, no I can’t. Not until sunset.”

I finally get home from school. After praying dhuhr, the midday afternoon prayer, I stumble into my bedroom and crash into bed.

I wake up at 5:30 PM but lie in bed messing around on my phone until 6 PM. This is why I tend to avoid napping most times of the year – when I wake up, getting out of bed or off the couch and being productive is the last thing on my mind.

After praying asr and an hour and a half of studying, I go downstairs where my parents are already preparing for Iftar.

Iftar is the act of breaking the day’s fast at sunset and is more often than not accompanied by a large meal. No matter how many times I experience Iftar, it never seems to get less gratifying.

My family doesn’t usually have anything special or different from what we normally eat for dinner, but that doesn’t matter to me. I’ve never needed anything other than my mom’s food. She makes some amazing South Asian dishes, but my favorite is definitely her homemade roti, this amazing flatbread you can eat with just about any side dish.

I’ve been eating roti my whole life, and it never gets less delicious, especially fresh off the pan.

It’s 7:25 PM. I sit at the table with my dad and my little brother, saying our customary prayer as our mom finishes setting up the table.

These last few minutes of the fast, staring at all that food waiting for you to devour it, are always the hardest. But it makes breaking the fast all the more satisfying.

Before I start devouring the rotis, I have to eat a kujur, or date. It’s Islamic tradition to break the fast with the small, sweet, chewy fruit with a big seed in the middle. You either eat around the seed or dig out after taking the first bite. They’re actually quite tasty, although I hate how they make my hands sticky.

The evening call to prayer sounds on the tablet and our phones, signifying sunset. Now we break our fast.

I murmur another dua, the customary dua to recite before breaking the fast:

اللَّهُمَّ لَكَ صُمْتُ وَعَلَى رِزْقِكَ أَفْطَرْتُ

“O, Allah! For You, I have fasted and upon your provision, I have broken my fast”

It’s 8:50 PM and time for my family to go to our local mosque for Taraweeh.

Taraweeh is a Ramadan-exclusive, extra-long prayer service usually performed with a large group of people in a mosque.
After arriving at the mosque and joining in to perform isha, the year-round nighttime prayer, we begin Taraweeh. I have been performing Taraweeh at mosques since I was a little kid, so it’s weird that I can’t seem to describe it, at least to someone who isn’t familiar with how Muslim prayers in general work.

What I can do is say what Taraweeh means to me. To me, Taraweeh is a long period of shared solitude and worship of God with brief breaks in the middle.

When I was younger I used to not like praying Taraweeh because of how long and boring it was, but in recent years I feel like I’ve discovered just how tranquil and beautiful being a part of it is. Not just from a spiritual point of view, but mentally as well.

There’s just something marvelous to me about a large congregation of worshippers standing together, yet apart from the imam leading the prayer, no one says a single word. It’s nice. It’s peaceful. It gives me time to think, not just about God but about myself.

Because it is a weeknight, it’s very common for people to leave after the first half of the prayer service. That’s what my family is doing tonight.

We get back home at around 10:30 PM. In true eleven-year-old fashion, my little brother needs to be told to go straight to bed so he can get some sleep. Me? I don’t need any reminders.

Even after that nap, I’m exhausted. I brush my teeth, change into my pajamas, stumble into my room yet again, set my alarms for suhoor and for school tomorrow, and go to sleep.

The alarm goes off. 4:15 AM.

The fast begins again for 30 days.