Being ABCD: The Debate About Diversity and Culture

by Angela Goraphy 

What does it mean to be ‘ABCD?’ The letters stand for ‘American Born Confused Desi.’ It is coined as a derogatory term for Indian children who behave more in accordance with American culture rather than their Indian roots.

How I see it is that the first-generation born child of Indian immigrant parents goes through an identity crisis. I recall growing up, my parents being immigrants from South India did not really know how the educational system worked or much about America in general. It was up to me to face whatever was put in front of me, without any real guidance. Yet, the conflict was that my parents wanted me to be the traditional Indian girl; however, if I were to that, the kids at school would mock me.

The result was feeling like having to choose between what parents want and what society wants, and this is rather overwhelming. A child needs those closest in life to be understanding. It is indeed the most crucial time for shaping identities, to discover the purpose and meaning of one’s unique self.

If one feels that they have no one to really relate to, to look up to, to have open communication with (hopefully within your own family), one will slowly start to lose themselves in society, hence why the term ‘ABCD’ has been formed.

Culture and Diversity

It is not just the mere idea of being inclusive to one another, but rather, to encourage comprehension amongst those growing up in a multi-cultural environment. This begins with our leaders, our communities and organizations to take responsibility in regards to creating an aura of acceptance and comfort to each individual.

To start, we must first differentiate between culture and diversity as they are often times intertwined with each other. Culture is along the lines of customary beliefs, as well as materialistic traits of racial religious or social groups. Basically, it may be defined as a shared set of values and goals.

With diversity, it’s relatively along the same lines, however, it is precisely known in being; “The state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization.” It may also be known as the various forms, types, ideas, uniqueness that one may have to offer (Merriam-Webster).

These two terms coincide with each other for the very reason that it deals with the term ‘uniqueness’ — a person who is perhaps a shade lighter than the next is considered ‘unique’ or ‘diverse’ because they are different. They stand out. That is what diversity means, and when cultures are looked into, we consider cultures as something very new and unique to the world.

In Bharati Mukherjee’s excerpt from the book “Jasmine,” she gave insight to her journey to strive for the “American Dream.” She is of Indian descent and immigrated from India to America in hopes to further her studies and expand her knowledge of the world. Little did she know, she would go through the revelation of discovering herself and what she wants in life. Rather than following the set customs of her family, she broke free and went on her own path, struggling as any human individual would.

culture[‘Jasmine’ | Photo Source]

She migrated to the United States and, rather than pushing everything aside, took it all in. In fact, she absorbed it and molded it into the person she portrays before others today.

We as citizens, as human beings, must be compassionate and inclusive of each other. Rather than rejecting what is new and foreign, we should understand it, take the time to acknowledge and immerse ourselves in it. Only then will we start to feel comfortable with our own selves.

Peer Pressure

Hearing the name Donal Trump brings a sense of distrust and cold hearts. He has brought unnecessary fear to our nation.

“We have no idea who these people are, we are the worse when it comes to paperwork,” Trump stated on CNBC. “This could be one of the great Trojan horses.”

To even compare a human being who has no real sense about what is going on to a Trojan horse is absurd. Trump has caused unnecessary havoc and chaos in a situation that could have been contained and dismissed. The fear which people feel when meeting others not like themselves – he fed on it and the fire just seems to burn on. People of diverse culture grew to have no voice again. Especially with the recent presidential election, and the Syrian refugee crisis going on, people who are the slightest bit different are seemingly shut down. Especially those of brown skin. It’s become the events of 9/11 all over again.

People of diverse culture grew to have no voice again. Especially with the recent presidential election, and the Syrian refugee crisis, people who are the slightest bit different are shut down. Especially those of brown skin. It’s become 9/11 all over again.

No wonder people of Indian descent are confused about whether to stick to their roots. When people like Trump feeding off fears of those considered ‘rightfully here,’ would they not rather be more American than lean towards their traditions and roots? That is the root cause of why the problems arose in the first place, right? Just be the typical American that society wants you to be — is that not the standard norm now?

Wrong. There are others fighting for inclusiveness within culture and diversity. People, leaders, are speaking out and for those struggle with cultural identity, we have a tenfold of people who are speaking up for everyone who pushes being unique away. In February of this year, President Barack Obama spoke out for the Muslim community who was under fire because of the shootings, as well as ISIS.

“You fit in here, right here. You’re right where you belong-you’re a part of America too. You are not Muslim or American. You are Muslim AND American” – Barack Obama, White House Weekly Address Feb. 3, 2016

When the President of the United States recognizes that cultural identity is an evolving issue, it brings warmth to the hearts of those struggling with this reality. President Obama recognized the need to see each other, as well as ourselves, for who we are, which is a blend of all cultures and their virtues. That is indeed the foundation of what is America. If we start to address and educate, we may see a sense of community and togetherness rather than isolation and fear. 

Yes, the President did indeed address this specifically to Muslims, but I feel that anyone of a diverse culture may relate. Whether you are Chinese, Canadian, African, Egyptian, Indian, etc., you are what you are and you should embrace it rather than push it aside because one told you to do so.

[Read Related: The “American-Born Confused Desi” Conundrum Solved]

Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri was the first South Indian-American to attain the crown in a pivotal moment in history. Yes, there were people who bashed her over social media, but she rose above that because she knew her sense of self. She was grounded and sure of who she was as an individual and who she was by representing her culture. She spoke out to the world on how she faced culture by,

“…sharing her platform on how to celebrate diversity through cultural competency by asking questions and learning about other cultures…” – CNN.

Davuluri became the role model of every ‘ABCD’ growing up in America by sharing her experiences and telling the world that it is okay to not be 100% Indian. In fact, it should not be expected or enforced especially living in a multi-diverse culture such as America. We are influenced by all those we interact with and by being inclusive of others’ cultures and embracing being a diverse individual, it is what makes one themselves.

culture[Nina Davuluri |]

Growing up, I noticed that what I watched on TV, what I read and heard was predominantly about the Caucasian background, and if anyone was of a different color, they were considered the minority. Because of this, I felt that there was never a real chance for us to really make an impact on society.

But that has recently changed. Priyanka Chopra, a  Miss World 2000, is of Indian descent and is now the leading lady of the hit action-packed show “Quantico.”

I always have admired her for breaking the norm of Indian traditions, firstly through a beauty pageant, and second, by taking bold risqué roles in Bollywood films which the older Indian generations mostly would not approve. When Chopra was asked what diversity is, she responded:

“In my opinion, diversity mean the inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, gender, or sexual orientation, and it is the responsibility of the entertainment community to mirror the world we actually live in every day. To create a screen that shows color-not only black and white, but also brown, Asian, Hispanic, gay, and transgender- and cast an image of the ‘girl next door’ that actually looks like the girls next door with roots from countries around the world” – Elle Magazine

This brings a sensational feeling to break free of the shell which was once encompassing of black and white, but to now include all others and accept them as one. It is in fact how our world is today anyways.


This being said, we need to incorporate what it means to be culturally inclusive. We need to promote cross-cultural understanding where everything starts — education.

Dr. Youmei Liu had argued that to design an effective curriculum that could be applied in the multi-diverse learning institution, both parties — the instructors and the students, and I would even say parents — need to be aware as to what cultures are there surrounding them, their values, virtues, and characteristics (Designing Quality Online Education to Promote Cross-Cultural Understanding).

We need to break the concept that culture is a foreign alien and that it is not really a necessity to learn about.

I always questioned the ways we would be taught about various cultures, especially India. It was always depicted as a country in the slums, of dire poverty, but in actuality — that is just a portion of the country. Even America has places where they have such poverty. It was when I started to embrace my culture, to educate myself on what it is and its traditions, to actually visit India where I started to accept it as a part of me.


It is embedded in my blood and to who I am. I believe the only reason why education in the U.S. lacks what all other countries have and possess is because they have yet to experience what culture is themselves, or rather, fully embrace it. It is because of the lack of willingness to be accepting and inclusive of diversity that, that lack of understanding in knowledge will be passed on to those listening.

So it literally comes down to taking that leap of faith and perhaps going out of your own comfort zone to make that someone else feel okay. You never really will know whether someone is suffering or not unless you communicate with them and you are willing to learn with them. We, as a human race, need to learn to be trusting and non-judgmental of others, but in order for this to happen, one must know their own self and their own values. It really just comes to treating others with respect and kindness. To be generous and to have an open ear.

We need to have this concept of universality amongst all living human beings as well as the openness in discovering ourselves and what it means to be unique. The definition of diversity should not separate us as individuals, but bring us together and shape the world into something that may blossom into something more. So, rather than to debate the great question of whether one, such as myself is an ‘ABCD’, I will say no, but rather that I am an ‘ABPD’- an American Born Proud Desi. 

Angela Goraphy 1Angela Goraphy won the title of Miss India Washington back in 2014 along with Miss India USA’s Miss Popularity in 2014. Since then, she has acted in the Malayalam short film “Annorunaal” and the Malayalam Music Single “Luvvh.” She’s a radio personality for both Mazhavil FM and Movin’ 92.5, as well as a full-time graduate student completing her degree in Communications along with minoring in Nonprofit Management and Education at the University of Washington. She hopes to instill confidence in people, especially through the youth community. She wants to be the voice that they perhaps are seeking and empower others to do so as well. You can follow her on one of her two Facebook pages or on Instagram at @angelagoraphy.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

In Conversation With Kevin Wu: Creating Content in a new Generation

Kevin Wu
Kevin Wu

Kevin Wu, previously known as KevJumba, is an American YouTuber, from Houston, Texas, with more than 2.68 million subscribers on YouTube and more than 323 million views. His content consists of vlogs, social commentary, musical parodies and more. Wu also streams on Twitch and has released original music as well as freestyles. His most popular YouTube video is titled “Nice Guys” with Ryan Higa. Wu has also worked with many individuals including A-Trak, Chester See, David Choi, Globetrotters, Iyaz, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Lin, Ryan Higa, Wong Fu Productions, and more. He has also appeared in movies such as “Hang Loose,” “Revenge of the Green Dragons,” “Man Up,” and more. Wu is one of the first original YouTubers gaining popularity in 2008 and even had another channel, titled JumbaFund, now known as Team Jumba. Continue reading to learn more about Kevin Wu’s journey!

[Read Related: Superwoman and Humble the Poet’s #IVIVI Music Video Celebrates Toronto’s Diversity]

We really enjoyed the project ‘Underneath the Lights.’ On the track “WHY U IN LA” the lyrics, “Don’t know who I might be, it might surprise me. I could be a hypebeast, That’s nothing like me, It’s so enticing.” How do you feel this speaks to the idea of self-discovery? What have you learned about yourself, diving back into making content?

I love that song we did. The artist who sang those lyrics his name is Zooty. I really provided the energy and direction for the musical piece, but I give credit to my producer Jonum and Zooty credit for the lyrics. Both guys are a slightly different generation, gen-Z, whereas I grew up as a millennial. I find that I left a lot on the table when I left YouTube at 23, so when I work with gen-Z I have so much that I want to give. Coming back to YouTube this time around, it’s all about self-reliance. Coming from movies and television, you have to depend on people to get a better product. But with YouTube, I’m going back to my roots and putting my wit and effort into every part of the process again (writing, directing, performing, producing, editing). I want the result to be authenticity and a homegrown feeling.

[Read Related: JusReign’s Reign on YouTube]

When you started your YouTube channel you were known for your vlogs and social commentary. How do you feel about the new age of content creation — where content is in surplus but individuals aren’t feeling the content?

It’s hard to say whether or not individuals are or aren’t feeling content — the taste is just so wide now. It’s like living in Los Angeles; food is very competitive, and when picking a restaurant you have every ethnic variety and even fusion foods. I imagine opening a restaurant in LA to be very competitive and the attention to detail in what you make has to be authentic or hit a certain demographic. I feel on the Internet, YouTube does a decent job of catering to your sensibilities, the so-called algorithm. However, the personal connection you get with content creators has somewhat been shifted, and now it’s become more interest-based (ie gaming, how-to, music, politics, etc.)

How do you feel the original algorithm has changed, and what do you miss most about that time?

I don’t remember talking about algorithms back in 2010 to 2012. People watched their favorite Youtubers because their homepage included their subscriptions first and foremost, and then if your subscriptions hadn’t posted anything new, you would typically check the most popular page. Then trending became a thing and now you have algorithms generating your timeline based on a bunch of data. I think it’s forced creators to think externally and hanging onto identities i.e. what are my interests? Am I a gamer? Am I a streamer?

We parodied your music video for “Nice Guys” for our orchestra music camp skit back in high school. If Chester, Ryan, and you, had to recreate “Nice Guys” today, would you focus on the concept of self-love for the current generation? We also really loved “Shed a Tear.”

I definitely think self-love would be a very nice theme. Recreating it would be nice, actually. I think it’s hard to get three people to all be in the same room again, especially after leading different lives. But “Nice Guys” was something special for each one of us, and Chester See deserves a lot of credit because of his musical talent. It’s made me realize today the impact of music. I really enjoy the expression of music because it forces you to be more artistic, versus just saying what’s on your mind. Like poetry, or hearing harmonies.

You’ve worked with many individuals and groups in the past including, A-Trak, Chester See, David Choi, Globetrotters, Iyaz, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Lin, Ryan Higa, Wong Fu Productions, and more. If you could create content with any group of individuals who would be your dream collaborators?

At this stage in my life, I really enjoy coming back and rekindling those creative connections and checking in with previous friends or acquaintances. Doing a video with Ryan Higa, Jeremy Lin, Chester See, David Choi, Wong Fu, Jamie Chung, those would all be very fun. But the first step would be to just see how they’re doing. So that’s the closest thing to a best case scenario for me. I’m not trying to force any collaborations at the moment (haha!). Unless it’s convenient.

As an NBA fan you expressed you would like to talk more about basketball on Ryan’s “Off the Pill Podcast.” How do you feel watching sports and has playing sports helped you become more in tune with yourself?

After going through a lot of physical adversity after my car accident, reconnecting with sports has been really helpful. I played basketball for a while and I’d like to get back into soccer. I wanted to talk about basketball on Ryan’s podcast because I was still dipping my toes into Internet content/social media and didn’t want to talk too much about myself at the time.

As a content creator how do you balance not letting validation get to your head and authentically connecting with your audience?

We all seek validation. It’s innate, but it’s about where you seek it. Nowadays I remember to validate myself first, by starting with my mind and body. After a while, you can get a sense of when you need validation versus being totally unconscious of it. Sometimes that sense of validation is important, so we know to check in with our parents, or see if a friend needs positive feedback. To connect with the audience, that’s like number five in my priority list (haha!). Having an audience can be scary; you definitely want to be in tune with yourself first.

How do you deal with comments consisting of “I miss the old KevJumba?”

I just smile. I miss the old KevJumba too!

[Read Related: The Authenticity and Individuality of 88rising’s Niki]

As live streaming has become a new form of content now, how have you enjoyed live streaming on Twitch for the Head In The Clouds Festival both in 2021 and 2022? We really enjoyed seeing Ylona Garcia sing “Nice Guys!”

It’s fun, I enjoy live streaming and I really appreciate 88rising and Amazon Music for inviting me both years to be the host for their livestream.

What was the decision behind putting your family in your videos?

I put my Dad in my videos accidentally; we were on a ski trip. I think people responded really positively in the comments, and then I just sat down had a conversation with him on camera, and it became a hit. After that he just became his own character. I think I tend to come alive more when I am interacting with someone on camera.

We really liked seeing you upload videos to Team Jumba. Is the mission still to donate earnings to a charity that viewers suggest?

At the moment, no. The Supply, which was the charity I donated to before, has since shut down. I also don’t make much money on YouTube anymore, since I was inactive on my channel for a while, so that format from 2009 will be difficult to replicate.

We really enjoyed the ‘KevJumba and Zooty Extended Play,’ specifically the track “With You in the Clouds” featuring fuslie. How has Valorant inspired your music as well as other forms of content creation?

The album was really experimental. I find the personal connections I made in gaming to be the most enlivening. “With You in the Clouds” was inspired by TenZ and, since he’s such a legendary figure in the pro FPS community, we had to do a worthy tribute. I think paying tribute to the things you like is a really great way to think about content creation.

How do you feel your childhood experiences in Houston, and playing soccer, have shaped you to chase your dreams of acting? How have you enjoyed acting in comparison to YouTube?

I love acting. It’s a wondrous lens at which to see your relationship with others. I find that in studying acting, you are often really studying the human experience or the mind. It’s like learning psychology but you are on your feet, or you are reading great theater. Playing soccer and growing up in Houston don’t really contribute directly to why I enjoy acting, but I very much enjoy coming from Houston and thriving in soccer. It made me commit to something and seeing how consistently “showing up” can really ground your childhood and prove to be valuable, later in life.

How do you feel we can uplift each other across the Asian diaspora and unify to create ripple effects of representation?

I think listening is probably the best thing you can do. Just genuinely hearing about something, or someone, helps you really invest in them during that time that you are there. So I think that’s probably the first step.

What made you go back to school and finish your degree at the University of Houston in Psychology?

No one reason in particular. I was also studying acting at the time back in 2017-2018 when I completed the degree, so it was just testing my limits and seeing what I could balance. I finished it online.

What are your upcoming plans?

Just experimenting on YouTube for now. Making videos with my own effort.

Your first video was uploaded back in 2007 and was titled ‘Backyard,’ where you are dancing to a song called “Watch Me” by Little Brother, off of the “The Minstrel Show.” We also really enjoyed your video with Ryan Higa titled “Best Crew vs Poreotics.” Are you still dancing these days?

Yes. The body does what the body wants.

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

Nothing in particular. I try to let my mind flow when I answer questions. I may have jumped to conclusions before fully investing in some of the questions, so I apologize. If you are reading, I thank you for your time and patience. I also thank Brown Girl Magazine for putting together a vast array of questions that allow my mind to stretch and work out a bit. I hope you find a stronger connection to your own truths, and I hope I did not disturb those in any way. Regards.

Photo Courtesy of Kevin Wu

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›

Celebrating the Spirit of Eid-ul-Fitr With Meaning and Fervor


Eid-ul-Fitr is a special holiday that marks the end of Ramadan — the month of fasting — for Muslims worldwide. Ramadan is a time of gratitude, spiritual focus, forgiveness, celebrating community and helping the needy. Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations mark the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan.

[Read Related: Tips and Resources to Teach Your Children About Ramadan]

This Ramadan, Brown Girl Magazine had the opportunity to connect with five popular immigrant moms and discuss how they make Eid celebrations meaningful and memorable for their children.

Rubab Bukhari 

Rubab Bukhari is a busy mom of five based in Calgary, Canada. She shared that Eid, for her family, is a day of gathering with loved ones and sharing a delicious meal together as a symbol for breaking fast. “Eid is celebrated as the most joyous occasion where we put up Eid decorations and exchange gifts with everyone in the house. New clothes are made for everyone; the girls get excited about getting henna on their hands and the boys get more excited about receiving their Eidi (gifts/money).” 


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A post shared by Rubab (@lifeofmamabee)

While many family traditions are often passed down from generation to generation, these moms have added some newer customs to the Eid celebrations, giving the festival a personal touch.

Nazhah Khawaja

A published author, spoken word artist and dance fitness instructor, Nazhah Khawaja shares how she’s built new traditions with her two children and husband in Illinois, Chicago despite not being exposed to the “Eid flavor” herself while growing up. 

“My sister suggested decorating the house for Eid with the goal of getting the kids in the holiday mood,” she said. Regardless of the exhaustion that followed due to decorating while fasting, Khawaja realized that her sister “was onto something.” She added that “kids are very visual learners and interpreters — the visual display of decorations helps them to feel the festivity more. Forever grateful to my sister for encouraging this tradition that our family has embraced.”


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A post shared by Nazhah Khawaja (@nazhah_k)

Another new tradition that she has embraced is celebrating Eid festivities with her husband’s family who are non-Muslim. Furthermore, she insists on taking photographs during Eid-ul-Fitr to keep memories alive because one never really knows if the people in the photos will be there next time around. She also includes that the “Eid nap is a must — which means adults are dozing off while the kids are running wild; ample heavenly chaos and beautiful noise.”

Passing down familial customs from her mother, Khawaja remembers a story she had told her of how as soon as the dawn of Eid arrived, the villagers in Pakistan walked down unpaved streets welcoming Eid with a tune: “Mubarak Eid Mubarak/ Mubarak Khair Mubarak/ Saheliyon Eid Mubarak!” Khawaja’s mother used to sing it every time. “Growing up, my siblings and I would sing this tune in our not-so-refined Urdu, giggle at one another, create our own, often goofy lyrics, and even dance silly moves,” she shared.

Janan Sarwar

Meanwhile, Bengali shemai, Kashmiri kheer and ma’amoul are the favorite Eid desserts in Janan’s household! She is the founder and CEO of the publishing company, Global Bookshelves Intl., a pharmacist by profession and a mother of three young girls, based in Louisville, Kentucky. They look forward to dressing up their best for Eid prayers the most.


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A post shared by Janan (@rxjanan)

“We love to create small gift bags for friends and to hand out to small children on Eid day,” Janan shared. 

Ursula Sarah Khan

Likewise, Ursula Sarah Khan who is a mom influencer and an accountant by trade, said that they fill their Eid-themed gift bags with all sorts of goodies like candy, bubbles and pencils. On Eid-ul-Fitr, her eight-year-old son, Ibrahim, distributes these bags amongst the boys after Eid prayers, while her five-year-old daughter, Eliyah, hands them to the girls. 

They also bake Eid cookies together in addition to swapping their Ramadan decor with Eid decor, while still in their Eid pajamas in their Northern Virginia home! 

Blending older traditions with some newer ones, Sarah carries on her mother’s age-old tradition of making sheer khorma — a Pakistani dessert made with vermicelli, milk, dates and nuts — in the morning. 

[Read Related:6 Muslim Content Creators Share Their Favorite Eid Recipes ]

She also explains to her children the importance of Zakat or charity, which is what her mother taught her: “I now take this same approach with my children to ensure they have a deep understanding of the generosity Islam teaches.”

Haffsa Rizwani

Speaking of home and family, Haffsa Rizwani — a Canadian, currently residing in Stockholm, Sweden, as a PhD candidate — said: “Living away from home, Canada, where my immediate family resides, we have a tradition of traveling from Stockholm to my aunt’s house in Oslo, Norway, every Eid. Especially to mark the celebration as a family event for my children.” Together with her aunt, Haffsa’s daughter gets her henna done and goes shopping for bangles! She goes on to explain how Eid-ul-Fitr is an opportunity to not only dress up, but also regain that morning ritual of chai and evenings with games like carrom board; “a game played till my uncle wins.”

As Rizwani so eloquently puts it, “While my children are still quite small, my daughter is now of age to appreciate and understand the meaning of gratitude, blessings, and giving back. She now has the empathy to comprehend the inequalities and injustices in the world. Ramadan is therefore a month of being thankful and making extra duas. Eid is a day of celebration with gratitude and blessings.”

What these moms wish for their children to learn from the spirit of Eid are the values of gratitude, generosity, compassion, togetherness and knowledge. 

By Rumki Chowdhury

Rumki Chowdhury was born in Bangladesh, but grew up in the USA. She has also lived in the UK and … Read more ›

Ramadan is My Spiritual Sanctuary for Healing in a Chaotic World

This story was published as a collaboration between Brown Girl Magazine and Reckon, a national news organization that covers the people powering change, the challenges shaping our time, and what it means for all of us.

This is a special year for Ramadan. For the first time in three years my mosque will fill to capacity, giving my community a chance to rebuild lost connections and overcome heartache. It reminds me of a simple truth: healing comes not when you expect it but when you need it.

For Muslims, Ramadan symbolizes the time of the year in which Islam’s prophet Muhammad first received the revelation of the Quran. Since Islam follows a calendar based on the monthly cycles of the moon, the start of the holy month of Ramadan is determined when a crescent moon is sighted in Saudi Arabia.

The Quran is said to have been received throughout the life of the prophet Muhammad, and Ramadan marks the days it took for him to receive its first verses. When Muhammad received this revelation, it is said that he isolated himself in a cave to reflect and devoted himself to endless worship. In the same way that Muhammad secluded himself to focus on gratitude and prayer, Muslims around the world use the time to distance themselves from daily distractions and focus on spiritual growth through a month of fasting.

Siyam in community

The Arabic word for fasting is siyam which translates to ‘be at rest.’ Abstaining from eating and drinking allows us to take the rest our body and soul so deeply crave and ground ourselves and one another in a physical, mental and spiritual reset.

When I was a child, Ramadan symbolized the one time it was normal to spend your entire weekend in the Mosque. It was my first experience of a sleepover, with pajamas hidden under my abaya and Pakistani kurtas. Beyond the gender divide of the prayer halls, children would take naps on parents laps as the community prayed throughout the night. The Mosque was a beautiful gathering space open to anyone who needed a meal, whether or not they were fasting.

During the pandemic, Ramadan was different. Endless nights in the Mosque filled with prayer and community were scaled down to Zoom hangouts. Programs that were once filled with intimate in-person conversations on the floor of the Mosque, were now faceless squares on a screen, their names barely visible.

[Read Related: How I Create Everlasting Ramadan Memories as a New York City Mom]

The Jummah or Friday prayers that were once so packed with people that the crowd spilled out onto the surrounding grass and sidewalks were conducted in parked cars. The mosque decorated the parking lot for drive-through visitors for the Eid Namaz, and community members waved from a distance to others with the same time slot.

I still remember when a friend’s mother died of COVID-19. What would have been a Janaza or funeral that surrounded the grieving family with community and prayer, turned into a Zoom call. Watching the tears of my friend’s family during the burial services, unable to visit her home and read the Quran together was heartbreaking. 

Even before the pandemic, the world was not always a safe place for me and my community. From my family and I being yelled at to “go back to our country” when we were on vacation, to the looks my mother received when she wore her hijab in public, I understood even as a young child the ways in which Muslims were perceived as outsiders in our own country.

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In many ways the pandemic compounded the islamophobia that my community began experiencing at heightened levels after 9/11.  During Trump’s time in office, the Muslim community—which in the US mostly consists of people who identify as Asian and Black—faced heightened racism and incidents of violence, in part due to misinformation about the coronavirus. In the racial justice uprisings of 2020, Black Muslims—which make up more than 20% of all Muslims in the US—were not only targeted for their race but their religious background. Mosques across the country were vandalized, and continue to experience increased threats to this day. 

Ramadan as a space to heal

These last few years made me realize how badly I craved the sanctuary of my Mosque, and to physically return to a space where I felt safe. I feel relieved and at peace to return back to nights where I am surrounded by familiar faces praying together side by side and breaking our fast without any fear of judgment. 

During Ramadan, I find myself closest to my faith and to myself. Just as the Quranic verse says, “so, surely with hardship comes ease”,  I am reminded of our resilience and how obstacles can be overcome through spaces of community and prayer. 

I believe that the healing we need in the world begins from within. My community needs the sanctuary of Ramadan now more than ever to reflect and rebuild, away from the violence. 

Reckon is a national news organization that covers the people powering change, the challenges shaping our time, and what it means for all of us.

Feature Image courtesy: Aysha Qamar

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By Aysha Qamar

Aysha Qamar is a writer, poet and advocate based in the tri-state area. She currently serves as BGM’s News and … Read more ›