I Was Raised Muslim By an Ex-Catholic and a Former Jew. Here’s What Ramadan Teaches Me That No Other Holiday Has

Source: Time

By Ahamed Weinberg is a comedian, writer and director from Philadelphia, living in Los Angeles.

As a pasty white child raised Muslim in America, I have distant memories of sitting in the school cafeteria with my non-Muslim friends, and just watching them eat. As I fasted from sunup to sundown during the month of Ramadan — not even allowed to drink water — the smells of french fries and grilled cheese would tempt me, over and over, to abandon God and just eat. I’d wonder, Why am I doing this? I was a good American who looked exactly like my friends but, for some reason, I was starving myself. Why couldn’t I just have Christmas or Hanukkah, like my parents once did?

My mom was one of ten children in a Catholic household that moved from military base to military base throughout her childhood. Her parents, hard-working and hard-drinking, made a regimented and disciplined life for their children. This unquestionable and often hypocritical authority, to her, was something to escape. My father, born Jewish in Brooklyn, was a victim of the world of hippiedom and psychedelics that his mother found solace in after her divorce. (“Hippies,” my grandma still says, “are people who tried everything.”)

Both of my parents, through the grace of their chaotic childhoods and thirst for truth, ended up leaving these troubled worlds in exchange for the spiritual solace and purity of Islam. They separately found a Sufi Muslim Guru in Philadelphia, met under his wing and got married two years after his death. I was born eleven months later. Their guru’s teachings were the antidote to the turmoil of the world, and a surefire way to give their son the childhood of peace they never had. This was their dream. Islam would protect me from the temptations of our overly sexualized consumerist culture.

Ramadan is supposed to be the core of this. It is a time of self-reflection, spirituality, worship and bad breath. Yet while it’s the biggest holiday of the Muslim calendar, to me it didn’t feel like a holiday at all. Over winter break, my friends — even if they barely went to church or synagogue — would disappear into a magical land of presents and family and feasting. I’d peek into living rooms on my block and see the glowing trees that represented what my family lacked. And so, much like my parents, I yearned for something else, something quite the opposite. I wanted Christmas. I wanted America. I wanted to be normal.

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