Ramadan in: America
Instructor: Kwanghyun Park
ESL 015, Academic Writing 02
Pennsylvania State University
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar. It is determined by
seeing the crescent of the moon at the last day of the previous month. Ramadan is the
month of fasting. Muslims everywhere abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn to
sunset each day the entire month. Exceptions, of course, are made for the sick and the
people who travel. Ramadan is also the month of will power, being closer to God, and
being nice to your friends and family (Hoyt- Goldsmith, 2001). As a Muslim living
temporarily in America, I had my own Ramadan experience that I shared with my
neighbor, Adel Esmael’s family, who came to the United States six months ago for study.
In this research paper, I will introduce and explain how Muslims (citizens and non-
citizens) experience Ramadan in the United Sates, and how it is compared to Ramadan in
the Muslim world.
Ramadan in the Muslim world:
Ramadan is a very special time in the Muslim world. It has a unique ambience.
All working hours will be cut to half and special TV programs would be set just to
broadcast in Ramadan. Fatemah Haider, Adel Esmael’s wife, recalls her memory about
last year’s Ramadan in Kuwait by stating: “before dawn, we wake up and eat something
before we begin our day of fasting. Then, we would hear the Athan, stop eating and go
for prayer”. Athan is when a special man goes to the top of the mosque calling for
believers to prayer (Hoyt- Goldsmith, 2001), so that all the people in the town hear them
and know that it is pray time. Athan is especially important in Ramadan because when
people hear Athan for dawn prayer, it is also the time for them to stop from eating and
drinking, and when they hear it at the sunset time, it would be the time for them to break
their fasting. Ramadan is also the time when older women spend most of the time in the
kitchen preparing nice and special dishes for the fast breaking dinner. Fatemah continues
her memories about Ramadan in Kuwait by saying: “...at the sunset time, we go to my in-
laws house for Iftar”. Iftar is the Arabic word meaning fast breaking. “My mother-in-law
makes the best dishes in the world, I miss her food”. Traditionally, people break their
fasting on some dates and buttermilk or water, which is the same way Prophet
Mohammad used to break his fasting. At the break-fast dinner, all the family gather
around the dinning table, the food will be served hot out of the cooking pots, serving
elderly people first then children, about three to four first course meals will be presented
along with appetizers, salads and a verity of side dishes. After the dinner, most people
would take a short nap, some would watch TV programs, and others would go to worship
Allah, God in Arabic, by praying and reciting the holy Quran, the holy book in Islam just
like the bible in Christianity. When people wake up from their nap, all the family gathers
once again to have some tea and dessert. When it is time to sleep, some people go to bed,
but some stay awake all night worshipping Allah until just before dawn. At that time,
people would eat their last meal before it is time again to fast another day.
Ramadan in America:
Muslims who came to the Untied States to work or study, find it very difficult to
adjust to the rushing life in America, especially those who came from cultures where time
does not have a formal implication in people’s lives. Spending Ramadan in the United
States away from home was an unpleasant experience for Fatemah who described this
year’s Ramadan as “the worst Ramadan I have ever experienced”. She continues by
stating: “We don’t know that many people here, we can’t stand American foods and we
have no access to Arabic channels on TV. I miss my family and friends, I miss going to
mosques, and I miss the smell of delicious foods at sunset”. In small towns like State
College, PA, where Adel and his family live, it is hard to find Muslim families, Arabic
specialty stores and other stuff that would remind expatriate of their homes. In other areas
where the majority of American Muslims live, Ramadan is usually more warming and
welcoming. In Los Angeles, a home of over 500,000 Muslims (Haddad & Smith, 1994),
people live in a very similar way to the Muslim world. They have Arabic restaurants,
over sixteen mosques (Masjid addresses in the United State, 1998) and even entire
neighborhoods where shopping stores are all middle-eastern. Ramadan is also harder for
singles than families since they have to work all day and they do not have time to cook.
They usually come back from work or school to break their fasting on fast food meals.
Jawed Hassan is a graduate student at Penn State University. He lived in the United
States for four years before he got married in 2003 and had a family. He remembers his
Ramadan days when he was single by saying: “I lived with two of my friends in an
apartment near Pizza Hut. We would finish our classes at around sunset. We would go to
Pizza Hut and order a Pizza. Then, we would go to Hollywood video store to rent a
movie and then go back to pick up our pizza. We would have pizza for break-fast for
almost every day of Ramadan”. He continues by saying: “It is much better now that I am
married. I actually have someone to share my life and faith with. I come back from
school to find my wife and daughter waiting for me with delicious food for break-fast”
Islam is an established religion in the United States. There are about five million
Muslims (Hoyt- Goldsmith, 2001) who live in almost all fifty states of the United States
and there are about 1,209 mosques across the country (Muslim life in America, 2002).
People came from all over the world to live a better life. They kept their faith and
traditions. Now they live a better life and merge in the population of America while
practicing their religious rituals without restraints. For those five million, Ramadan is
another Islamic rite; just like praying and wearing Hijab (veil). They actually established
their own American Ramadan traditions that resulted from the great diversity of Muslims
coming from all over the world in addition to interacting with the American culture. That
might be visible through the type of dishes they prepare and how the recipes have
changed and evolved.
Americans and Islam:
Although the majority of the population of the United States is Christians, the
separation of the church and government made it easy for any minority or religious group
to practice their faith freely. “People here are nicer than I thought, I didn’t think they
would accept me wearing Hijab” Fatemah says about how kind the American people are.
A recent survey of islamonline.net result shows that 55% of Americans view Islam in a
favorable light (More Americans see Islam in favorable light, 2005). Ramadan is a
welcoming celebration in America. In some communities including Washington DC,
local television stations broadcast daily Ramadan greetings. A few years ago President
George W. Bush hosted an Iftar dinner at the White House, welcoming representatives
from 53 Muslim nations. Also for the last few years, the U.S Department of State has
hosted an Iftar dinner for prominent American Muslim leaders (30 days of prayer for the
Muslim world, 2005).
Even though Americans are very welcoming and try their best not to make you
feel a stranger, Ramadan is always going to be hard for those who have been away from
home, especially with the huge cultural and life style differences. On the other hand,
American Muslims seem to enjoy Ramadan as much as people in the Muslim world.
They created their own traditions and customs adjusting to the life tone of the United
States. They combined Americans’ efficiency in work and education with spirituality and
Adel Esmael and his wife Fatemah Haider came to the United States in June 2005. Adel
is a Penn State University student. They live in State College, PA with their two children.
Jawad Hassan is a graduate student at Penn State University. He lives with his wife and
13-month old daughter in State College, PA.
30 days of prayers for the Muslim world (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2005, from
Haddad, Y.Y & Smith, J.I (1994). Muslim Communities in North America. Albany: State
University of Press.
Hoyt-Goldsmith, D. (2001). Celebrating Ramadan. The United States of America.
Masjid addresses in the United State (1998). Retrieved Dec 07, 2005 from
More Americans see Islam in favorable light: Poll (2005, July 27). Retrieved Dec 04,
2005 from http://www.islamonline.net/English/News/2005-
Muslim life in America (2002, October). Retrieved Dec 04, 2005 from