After Leaving My Home For Good, Here's What Ramadan Means To Me

Photo: Courtesy of Sahar Mahayni.
Sahar Mahayni (second from right) with her son, his wife, and their three children, in the United Arab Emirates. Mahayni left Syria in 2012.
Editor's note: Sahar Mahayni is a recent immigrant to the United States. She left Syria in 2012 to live with her son and her husband in California. The views expressed here are her own.

I look forward to Ramadan as others may look forward to their summer vacations, because after 11 months of continuously running around, focusing on things that bring me happiness and comfort in the material world, I’m tired. I’m ready for my spiritual vacation. I want to rest and spend time with god so that I can rethink my priorities and evaluate the last year, correct the mistakes I’ve made, and make myself a better person.

I am relatively new to Ramadan in the U.S. I came here escaping the war that has ravaged my beloved country of Syria. Since the war began five years ago, hundreds of thousands have died, and more than 9 million have been displaced. I am lucky to have a son who is an American citizen.

I remember how most nights in Damascus, my children and grandchildren would surround the dinner table. But the war broke that union.

Knowing the future of our country was grim, we applied for residency and made our way to the United States. I had hoped I would be able to go back, even if just for a visit. But it's been four years, and that possibility looks less and less likely every day.
Photo: Courtesy of Sahar Mahayni.
Sahar Mahayni and her sister, Maha, who has lived in the U.S. since 1989.
As I sit here writing this essay in the comfort of my Irvine, CA, home, I have tears in my eyes. While I am blessed to be in the U.S., I am also far from many of those I love the most. I remember how most nights in Damascus, my children and grandchildren would surround the dinner table. But the war broke that union. Like many other Syrian families, the war has separated us by oceans and continents. One of my sons lives with his wife and three children in the United Arab Emirates, another with his wife and two children in Turkey.

I'll never forget the sights and sounds of the crowded streets in Damascus during Ramadan. As the sun set, people would rush home to prepare for iftar, or the breaking of their fasts. One by one, kitchen lights would start to flicker through the windows, and the smell of the nightly feast would fill the air. There would always be a knock at the door from a neighbor eager to share their most delicious homemade dish. Then suddenly, the streets would fall silent. The call to prayer would ring out from hundreds of minarets across the ancient city, the same way it has for more than a thousand years, inviting people to once again eat, drink, and pray.

The call to prayer still rings across Damascus. Maybe one day, I'll be able to hear it again. I am here now and grateful to be in the United States. Even during this time of heightened Islamophobia, where Syrian refugees and Muslims are often portrayed by politicians, and one presidential candidate, as dangerous, I am truly touched by the sense of community that we have in Orange County.

In my new hometown, mosques open their doors for worshippers to come and break their fasts together each night.

In my new hometown, mosques open their doors for worshippers to come and break their fasts together each night. Groups that may never otherwise know one another come together to eat and pray. Some nights, the aroma of Arabic food fills the air; on others, it’s Indian food — and the list goes on. It is during these Ramadan nights that I have come to know and see the incredible tapestry of diversity that makes up the American Muslim community. Ramadan is also a time when mosques invite people of other faiths in, so that we may come to know one another and dispel the myths we may have about each other.

You may wonder what the benefit of giving up food and water, especially in these long and hot summer months, could be. For me, it is a time to rest my body. It's a time when I can increase my acts of worship, as well as get to know my fellow Muslims and fellow Americans. It's a time to serve my community, whether it be in Syria or the United States. The pangs of hunger are a reminder that this is no ordinary month, and that we must pray for serenity and harmony, especially in these trying times for Muslims around the world.

Refinery29 is committed to covering the women behind the headlines of the Syrian refugee crisis. Read the full multimedia feature, "Behind the Headlines: Daughters of Paradise," here. More coverage on the human faces of the world's refugee crisis can be found here.

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