I am really awkward about Ramadan. I avoid telling people I’m fasting, usually because when I do, they look at me as if I’ve either insulted their mother or have just been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. This reaction is not unique to the practice of fasting. Most articulations of Islam solicit confusion at best and unwarranted dread at worst. I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable visibly displaying my faith. A combination of difficult identity politics mixed with the surroundings of a hyper-rationalist, hyper-atheist Silicon Valley culture make me anxious that conspicuous artifacts of my faith may negatively preface my social or professional interactions. Islam: a macrocosmic microcosm With 1.6 billion practitioners worldwide — Islam is niche yet not niche. It is ubiquitous yet wildly misunderstood. It is mainstream yet embodies a sense of “otherness”. And more than it is esoteric, it is seen as ominous. The most benign and meditative elements of this faith are read as threatening. Ramadan underground In the west, participating in Ramadan feels like being part of a secret society tucked out of mainstream sights. The rest of the world carries on as per usual routine, completely unaware of this massive, bustling underground operation privy to lavish iftar dinner parties, pre-dawn meals, heart-trembling, soulful communal prayers, charity, festive social gatherings and unbelievable community-building. For professionals, this month might mean taking micro-naps between meetings, working at odd hours to maximize productivity gains, awkwardly declining lunch/dinner/coffee invites and subsequently coming up with creative alternatives to facilitate exchanges that would have happened over those settings (note: food and drink epitomize most social experiences). Like its observers, expressions of Ramadan are radically diverse. Attempts to explain Islam are often reductionist and generalize it into a monolithic experience, contradicting its inherent pluralism. And while racial, cultural, sectarian and gendered differences are significant, often the most salient variability of the Ramadan experience is socio-economic: the month may be filled with decadent meals for some, while a shortage of food and water is nothing out of the ordinary for those that living in poverty. Why I fast While practicing Ramadan is often seen as deliberate self-mutilation, perhaps in service of a flying spaghetti monster or as part of a subscription to a fictional cult — the immense renewal and internal reward I reap remains unparalleled — even as I struggle to barely fulfill the minimum acts of worship. For me, Ramadan is about serving God by cultivating mindfulness. An incredible mental recalibration has to take place in order for someone to abstain from food and water for 30 days while sustaining the demands of their normal life. Mindfulness toward food Being more conscious about what I put into my body means renewing my intention to eat sustainably and healthfully. Consecutively fasting for 30 long days naturally heightens my gratitude for food — a basic need so crucial yet so easily overlooked by those of us who have daily access. According to the World Food Programme, a million children die due to malnourishment annually, and 17 million suffer from severe acute malnutrition. I have never experienced chronic hunger and do not advocate using Ramadan as a poverty simulation game. However, internalizing the value of food during this month is a great opportunity to reflect and learn more about food justice activism, global hunger and malnutrition. Mindfulness toward money Ramadan encourages giving in charity and taking financially responsible actions. This refers to consciousness about personal expenditure, but also promotes being thoughtful about donating to causes that leverage the greatest amount of impact. Good intentions are often wasted on lazy charity. Although incremental donations of any sort can promote positive outcomes, doing the preliminary homework to optimize impact can yield incredible gains for those really struggling in the margins of society. Because fasting shows you how little you need, it forces a discipline to re-evaluate wants and needs, emancipating the type of latent consumerism that many of us grow desensitized to. Subscriptions to services we don’t use can translate into savings that can benefit others. $45 can provide a full course of life-saving treatment for a malnourished child. According to UNICEF, 59 million children do not have access to education, usually due to insufficient funds. Ramadan’s emphasis on charity inspires me to expand my knowledge about problems sourced by financial scarcity. I am pushed to think beyond donating to solve piecemeal problems, but instead furthering change on a systemic level. Band-aids do not go as far as identifying patterns that contribute to poverty and creating the infrastructure for sustainable, substantive change. Mindfulness toward time Time is precious. Whether it is in the spiritual moments that help me reflect on my priorities, or while aggressively managing time around lower energy levels throughout the day — this month reminds me that my time on earth is not endless. It motivates me to be more intentional about how I use it toward the people and purposes I care most about. Mindfulness toward my own privilege Yes, I may be female, brown and Muslim, a few standard deviations away from sharing in the white male advantage. But I am also able-bodied, heterosexual in a heteronormative world, educated and have a salary-based income through which I can sustain myself. Furthermore, I don’t shoulder the burden many neuro-atypical Muslims face during Ramadan. Potential Fasting for 30 days shows me my willpower. Consuming no food or water during the day stretches my physical limits. Abstaining from anger, jealousy, greed and hostility cultivates a level of thoughtfulness that heightens sincerity. This month reminds me of how resilient I am, yet simultaneously humbling me by demonstrating my dependence on food and water — privileges I normally take for granted. By fundamentally redrawing the boundaries of my life, I discover aspects of myself that are dormant throughout the rest of the year. Ramadan shows me the capacity of my willpower; it teaches me that there is nothing more powerful than the boundless, enduring capacity of my own human potential. Eid Mubarak.