Ramadan and the Single Girl

Fasting as a single woman, perhaps I will reach its truer meaning--sympathy for those who are hungry, hurting, and alone.

BY: Asma Gull Hasan


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Every year, ISNA hosts a "matrimonial" event--which is usually ignored by Muslim singles in favor of the main drag. But this year, ISNA kept pace with current culture--holding a "speed dating" style function instead of the usual benign reception.

I was stunned! If you know anything about ISNA, you know how odd a "dating" event at ISNA is. (Imagine an evangelical Christian conference hosting a keynote speech explaining how to support gay rights, and you'll see why I was surprised.) But perhaps ISNA is finally taking notice of the marriage crisis gripping many young American Muslims.

Sadly, speed dating is probably not the answer. Reports from the event were that well-intentioned women in their late twenties showed up, only to meet men who were either dressed gang banger or like maulvis and just shy of their sophomore year in college.

"Aunties were gathered outside the speed dating room, inspecting all the women who came in," a dotcom founder attending ISNA told me, rolling his eyes.

"Just like back in Pakistan," I added.

I appreciate that ISNA is trying to address the marriage problem in a creative way. It's too bad, though, that the effort was not fruitful.

One online Muslim dating service had a strong presence at ISNA, giving away lipsticks and tote bags at an exhibit hall booth. The company's promotional flyer, with a picture of a happy, young Muslim couple (of non-descript Arab or South Asian ethnicity) was supposed to have been included with the materials each registrant received when they checked in--a spot the company had paid for. But at the last minute, the conference organizers pulled the plug, leaving the flyers to be passed out individually or stacked on tables. The woman in the flyer was not wearing a hijab, and ISNA didn't want to be perceived as endorsing her lack of modesty.

One of the purposes behind Ramadan is to learn what suffering feels like, to experience what those who are hungry do every day. Waking up alone in the early morning hours, by myself, in the dark, to eat a pre-dawn breakfast is not easy. When I fast at my parents' home, I usually have a family member to cajole or entertain me. Or my mother will simply stay up all night to make sure I wake up in time and then make her own version of her mother's feast.

But to fast alone--to fast single--makes the process more alienating than it already is. Eating eggs and burnt toast at 5 a.m., watching a Saudi maulvi recite the Qur'an on cable, is a far cry from the eventful Ramadan gatherings my mother told me about when I was little. Her father forced her and each of her siblings to drink a large glass of water and a banana. His instruction was that, if you were going to fast for the day, these two items were essential, and he would not let any of his children fast without having eaten them.

Ramadan single is perhaps, in a way, reaching a truer meaning of Ramadan. Although families observe Ramadan as a unit, Ramadan is actually not meant to be fun. Ramadan alone is more suffering than Ramadan together. It can make you more sympathetic to the plight of those who are hungry, helpless, and alone. For those who fast the full 30 days with sincerity, great rewards are promised. Hopefully, for my female readers, a mate will be one of them.

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