I started to fast during Ramadan when I was about seven. Mom encouraged me. She said that when children fast, the reward goes to their parents. My aunt, the sister of my father, disagreed with her and told her that I was still a child and fasting would interfere with my growth. But Mom was proud of my fasting. When we broke the fast that evening, she said to pray that Aunt Sara die soon because she insulted Mom on that day.
As a young girl, I liked this month because I felt safe when I walked outside. I couldn’t hear the bakery boys whispering and pointing their fingers at me. They didn’t laugh loudly after I left the bakery and the grocery shopkeeper’s eyes didn’t stare at me for long minutes, and the pharmacist didn’t try to touch my fingers when I handed him money for my mother’s medicine. The eyes of the men on the street did not rape me. No car stopped and no drivers winked and invited me for a ride. Everyone knew they were under the fast and had to observe their actions.
I can’t forget Uncle Satar’s poor wife, Friba. I was seventeen and we were about the same age. Her husband smoked from the morning until evening but during the fast he couldn’t smoke and he couldn’t tolerate anyone. To free himself of his frustrations, he beat his wife. Poor woman, she came to our house and I washed her bloody face and told her that she must tolerate this, as the fast month is the time for tolerance. Friba asked me to pray for her, and I said, “I am sorry, I can’t pray for you now because I have my period.”
On the one hand, I was the happiest girl when I had my period in the fasting month because it meant I could eat a snack in the bathroom or some other secret place in the house. On the other hand, it was frustrating to feel unaccepted, shamed, and rejected. Rejected even by God. I was so sad when I thought that my prayers would not be accepted after Mom said women become dirty when they have their monthly period.
Our school teachers confirmed this, and our Islamic teacher at university said that because women cannot fast for all thirty days of Ramadan and cannot pray every day, women are half believers and narrow minded. I wondered about this. My brother with four kilos of garbage in his stomach could pray and his prayers were accepted but mine were not?
In Ramadan month we were “guests of God.” I heard this from everyone, even from our old battery-operated radio. I thought that if anyone came to my house as a guest and spent the whole day without eating and drinking, even if she was my best friend, she wouldn’t come again. But the story was different with our God.
Even when I was considered a dirty girl whose prayers were not accepted, I still prayed in front of my brother and I remember the panic I felt worrying that someone might discover that I was eating during the day. It hurt me to feel like I was not even heard by God, that I didn’t have any supporter at all. I told God: “I want you to hear me all the time. God! I am not dirty, I am a human, and you created me.”
It is Ramadan now, but I am not fasting. I know now that God loves me. He is kinder now than at any other time. But the old memories hurt because I now know that I wasn’t worshiping the real God. I was practicing the wrong beliefs and behaviors. I feel pity for all of us for all those days we made ourselves angry, thirsty, and wild, yet we were not changed for the better.
U.S. Army Photo by Task Force Destiny Public Affairs Officer Sadie Bleistein