WASHINGTON — May be few born Muslims remember their first Ramadan. But for new Muslims, the first Ramadan is always to be remembered as one of the major steps towards strengthening their newly found faith.
Islamonline.net met several American reverts to share the story of their first Ramadan, their feelings of fasting for the first time, the challenges they faced from their families and workplace, and the support of the Muslim Community.
"I found so much peace during my fast and took interest in reading books on Islam during this time," Kamillah, who embraced Islam 30 years ago, recalled.
She started fasting Ramadan even before reverting and accepted Islam on the 10th day of the same holy month.
"The fast was very difficult for me because it was very hot and going without water the whole day was the hardest part of the fast."
During this holy month, which is dedicated to spiritual growth, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
Born Muslims have the privilege of living into the traditions of this holy month at early ages. Growing up, they surely tried to fast few days in every Ramadan till they hit the age when they are required to fast.
New Muslims, however, don’t have this privilege. They start their first Ramadan with no previous experience in fasting or praying Tarawih.
The first experience is always the hardest yet it is dearly remembered as an amazing journey.
"The humility and lowliness one feels when fasting with the knowledge we would be nothing without Allah brought me to the realization that I wanted to submit totally to my Creator," said Kamillah.
Adjusting the daily life to accommodate their new Islamic duty of fasting is a big challenge in a non-Muslim society.
Penny, a scientist from North Carolina, has embraced Islam four years ago. Her first Ramadan was just a week after she took the Shahadah (Testimony of Faith).
"I was in a business trip when I began fasting. I was worried that I couldn’t do it. I had never fasted before and was unsure how I would feel," she recalled.
But things weren’t hard as she thought.
"I thought, you are one of 2 billion Muslims all fasting in the same time, surely I can do it with Allah’s help."
Adjustment was made easy for Penny thanks to the understanding of her boss and coworkers.
"I simply explained Ramadan to them and told them that I will be working through lunch and need to be at home before sunset."
Unlike Penny, Jameelah reverted just three months ago. This Ramadan is her first.
"I am still understanding the do’s and the don’ts."
She starts her day after taking sahur (the last meal before fasting).
"I adjusted my life by waking two and half hours earlier in order to pray and read the Quran."
Mary, a staying at home mom from Cary NC who became Muslim this Ramadan, experienced fasting even before her reversion.
"My Muslim husband and I had been married a few years before my reversion and I had fasted some in previous years, so it was not that different from previous Ramadans except for the relief of not being 'nowhere' anymore," she told IOL.
Other than fasting, Mary didn’t have to make much of an adjustment.
"My work hours did not change. I just did not participate in festivities at work around food. My second Ramadan was much nicer at work. By that time, I had met another sister at work and we met during lunchtime to pray and talk."
The hardest part for the Muslim Reverts during the holy fasting month of Ramadan is how to explain this to their families and to make them respect their decision to fast.
In most cases, families do not understand the need to fast and the lack of family support makes fasting even harder.
"My family didn’t understand what I am doing, they called it silly and it really hurt my feelings," said a sad Penny.
Nonetheless, this negative reaction didn’t shake her resolve to fast.
"I have faith in Allah, I know we are commanded to fast Ramadan, I have to obey my Creator no matter what other say. May Allah guide them."
It comes as a big relief when a member of the family shows some support.
"The majority of my non-Muslim family has not commented one way or the other. However, my brother has been supportive," said Jameelah.
"He asked me what I have to do so that he can be aware of it. I thought that it was very sweet on his part."
The same happened with Mary whose family supported her decision to fast, which made things easier to her.
"My family was broken-hearted, but supportive. I am blessed to have a supportive family. Alhumdullilah, Islam allows the flexibility for us all to accept and love each other despite the differences."
In the absence of the family support, the role of the Muslim community is critical to fill this gap.
Jameelah, the very new Muslim, found comfort in the support she received from her Muslim friends.
"I have received invitations from Muslims I have met and been privileged to come in contact with since taking my Shahadah."
Penny also remembers being invited to break her fast with some Muslim families.
"Sharing Iftar with other Muslims helped me deal with my family’s position. I have found a bigger family, generous and supportive."
For Mary Muslim community support developed with time.
"The first year I did not really know anyone," she said.
"The following year some wonderful sisters started classes and activities for the new sisters that still continue today."
There is no scientific number of American Muslims but the largely used figure is seven million.
An estimated 20,000 people in the United States embrace to Islam every year.