Another Ramadan is here, and again it is business as usual in Maine.

Ramadan has always been the time to be with family, pray together and feast together. The last year I sat down with my closest family, including my mother, to break the fast together was 2010.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

As a kid, even when we did not have food, I was always happy about the arrival of Ramadan. Preparation for it would start weeks prior. Quranic schools were closed for the holy month. To welcome Ramadan, we washed clothes, cleaned the house and volunteered at the mosques. On the evenings during Ramadan, we stayed up all night telling stories of the prophet Mohammed and his migrations around the Middle East. The local radio stations had nightly quizzes about the history of Islam. And Quran reading competitions continued every night, when the winner with the best recitation would be awarded with a dozen copies of the Quran.

It had always been eventful. We played hide-and-seek in pitch black neighborhoods until Tahajjud time, which is when we headed for the mosque shortly after midnight to pray until sunrise. Speakers in the mosques would broadcast the Quran all night.

Ramadan was always more than religion. It is the memories of childhood and teenage years. It is sharing food with family and friends. We never had enough food for everyone in our house, but we still fasted and wished ourselves good luck with dinner.

Ramadan has never been the same since I fled Somalia. This year, Ramadan arrives in the spring on the second day of April, which means fasting long hours. There are not enough mosques for Muslims to attend here. The nightly Quran recitations and the quizzes are not even possible. The Ramadan nights here are dead quiet. People have work and schools to attend during the day, so instead of praying Tahajjud, we head for bed. Life goes on as usual in the United States. American employers and school teachers who are not from Muslim backgrounds may not know that their employees and students who are Muslims may be fasting all day for 30 days.


Schools and workplaces must recognize this holy month and respect the needs of their Muslim employees or students. Ramadan is not a choice. People can’t decide if they want to fast or not. Everyone must fast from sunrise to sunset unless the person is ill or traveling. Employers should consult with their Muslim employees on how they would rearrange their work duties. They still want to work their hours to kill time. But no Muslim wants to come home from work dehydrated.

On my first Ramadan in Maine, now seven years ago, I worked at a construction company that required me to push heavy material up the stairs in commercial buildings. Communication with the employer did not help. It seemed like they did not understand why I was not drinking water. Or eating snacks. The Muslim fasting month is unlike many other religions. Muslims must avoid drinking any liquid during the day until sunset. There is no excuse unless one is ill.

My coworkers thought I was religious and were making references to al-Qaida, Iraq and Osama Bin Laden. But I had said I was not religious. I don’t preach and I don’t regularly attend prayers at the mosque. But I have to fast because it is about more than religion at that time; it is embedded in myself and my culture.

Maine employers and teachers can think about training their employees about big events such as Ramadan. They have to prepare their non-Muslim employees and students to understand Ramadan and why people fast. It is often true that Muslim students hide their fasting from their classmates because of misconceptions about Islam and Muslims in general. As Ramadan starts on April 2, the pressure is on and the nostalgia continues.

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