I knew from before that life as a Muslim convert wouldn’t be very easy in Belgium. Being born as a Christian and considering myself a practicing Catholic, I saw how the people here thought of Muslims. I, myself, have always had a lot of respect for other religions. Since religion has always been a very important aspect in my life, I never liked it when others made it seem like it’s an evil thing. Because of living in a neighborhood where there aren’t a lot of religious people, let alone Muslims, I never had contact with Belgian Muslims. To me, Islam was a mysterious religion, which I didn’t know a lot about.
That all changed when I got to speak to a Muslim over the Internet. We shared our perception on religion with each other. I compared the ideas of Christianity to those of Islam. Later that night, I concluded that Islam is actually a very interesting religion. The next few days I kept talking to that person, and we kept sharing ideas. I kept asking questions, so I could understand how Islam deals with certain situations. And with every answer I got, Islam became more interesting, and I got more and more intrigued.
Before Ramadan: Lots of questions and insecurity
A few months before Ramadan started, I felt ready. I was looking forward to it, since it’s one of the five pillars of Islam. I imagined feeling more connected to the Muslim community in Belgium and started asking questions about it. A lot of them gave me tips and encouraged me. They never stopped supporting me. That proved to be necessary, because a week before the Ramadan started, I got intimidated. I started to feel scared. What if I wasn’t ready? What if I ate something by accident? What if I got a lot of criticism? A lot of questions started racing through my head and I started to doubt myself. But when Ramadan started, every piece of the puzzle fell in it’s place again.
Ramadan for the first time: How I’m experiencing it
The first day went much better than expected. I had an exam, so I focused a lot on that. The tips I got from my friends immediately came in very handy. The hardest moment of that day, were the last hours. Just moments before sundown, I started to feel tired, as it was still very hot outside. But I still experienced the inner peace Ramadan gave me.
I started the second day with a lot of courage. However, the second day was even harder than the first one, just like my friends told me. I wasn’t used to fasting two days in a row, but I also managed to survive that day.
The next days went better, and every day I became stronger. My body is getting used to fasting. I also feel closer to God, and more spiritual, it’s as if Ramadan is cleaning my soul. Of course, there are still some difficult moments. Now and then I feel hungry and thirsty, but that feeling goes away quickly. I started noticing that focusing on my studies and reading Qur’an makes me forget about my hunger and thirst. And it is time to break my fast before I knew it.
The difficulties of Ramaden
Of course, not everything goes easily. Every day, difficult things happen. The hardest thing for me was telling my non-Muslim friends that I was fasting. A lot of people have this feeling that when you pray five times a day, read Qur’an, or take part in Ramadan as a convert, you are starting to get a little extreme.
Another difficulty is that you suddenly stop eating. My body wasn’t used to that in the beginning, and I quickly wanted to snack something. That, combined with the long and hot days, is very tough in the beginning. But the more days pass, the easier it gets. I notice that especially the last hours can be very hard. Time sometimes seems to go very slow.
Seeing others eat can also be difficult. In my case, I am mostly surrounded by non-Muslims, and it can be hard sometimes to resist eating, when your friends are all eating.
On the bright side: The positive aspects
Besides the difficulties, there also are a lot of positive things as well. During Ramadan, I feel much closer to God. I feel like I can start anew, and that all my sins have been forgiven. What’s also very nice, is that the community has your back. They check up on each other frequently, and they give you a lot of support. Something that a convert sometimes needs during the first Ramadan.
Like I said before, during the day it can get tough. But afterwards, when you break your fast and eat the first date or drink a glass of water, it feels so rewarding. I am so proud of myself every time I break my fast and look back on a good day of fasting. It makes me stronger, and it makes me want to fast the next day as well. It motivates me, and I prove to myself that I am stronger than I think. That God is with me, and that He helps me as long I have faith in Him.
Surrounding’s reaction: negative responses and solidarity
Being a convert, the reactions of my surroundings are all different. Some people support me or listen to my story. Some people act shocked, others will say that it is unhealthy or that I am too extreme. I get asked a lot of questions, especially by non-Muslims that support me. They want to know what I can or can’t do. They ask me about my experiences and how my other surroundings react to my choice. Some even reschedule things on purpose, just out of solidarity. This proves me that not only Muslims are here to support me, but also non-Muslims often support me.
There will always be people that don’t agree with your choice. My advice is to not get intimidated by their opinion. Don’t change your opinion because of them.
Tips for people who will be participating for the first time
My first Ramadan so far has taught me a lot already, and I have some tips for the people that are going to take part in their first one.
Firstly, don’t listen to people that don’t like what you’re doing. There will always be people that won’t like what you are doing. Always follow your heart and do the things that make you happier. Secondly, drink a lot of water or milk during Iftar or Suhoor. Try to avoid soda, and don’t drink coffee, especially not during Suhoor. Don’t drink too fast either. This may be hard after a whole day of fasting, but if you drink too fast, your stomach will start to hurt. Drink with small gulps and throughout the night. As for eating, eat things with a lot of potassium. Dates are the way to go, but bananas are very healthy as well. Avoid salty things, because they will only cause you to be even more thirsty. And thirdly, keep God in mind, definitely when you are tempted to eat or drink. Keeping Him in mind has always given me the power to not give up. This can really help during the long and hot hours. Another possible solution is to read Qur’an. That’ll keep you busy and make the fasting easier for you.
The most important thing is: Don’t make it too hard on yourself! May God be with you during this blessed month!