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I spent time last night with my friend who is fasting for Ramadan and we talked about what it’s like to fast surrounded by wholly secular, non-fasting people. Here, religion, like many other aspects of identity, is wholly individualized. My friend is half Egyptian and half Iranian (and has lived in the States for most of his life, where he was born), but spent his high school years in Kuwait. Though his family, who still reside in Kuwait, came to Massachusetts to spend Ramadan with him, he longs for the collective “we’re doing this together” feeling that he remembers fasting in the Middle East.

I’ve discussed notions of collective identity a lot over the summer. One thing that my friend said that really surprised me is that he thinks a lot more about what fasting really means to him when it’s not something that everyone around him is doing. While the sense of community can definitely complete the experience for many–and I’m sure this carries over for various religious practices and their attached identities of Jerusalemites–the personal aspect of what it means to him is amplified by the fact that he is upholding Ramadan in the face of a society that hardly takes notice to the millions of Muslims fasting worldwide. Because he does not have the support network that he does in Kuwait or Egypt, he struggles with much more temptation and, on a good day, his sense of his relationship to the fast, God, and Islam is strengthened by nightfall.


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