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I have lived in Durham Region for 15 years and seen it grow into a beautiful and wonderfully diverse place. My family was one of very few Muslim families living in the area, and every other Muslim family we would come across would have an Arab or South Asian background. This is one of the many reasons that when I was younger, I had no idea that there were millions of Latin American Muslims in the world as well. Despite my desire to learn about other ethnicities growing up, I remained in a bubble when thinking of what exactly a Muslim should “look like.”

Fortunately, I grew up to realize how wrong I was. There are followers of Islam across the globe, from all different backgrounds, ethnicities and races. A huge population of Muslims live in countries across Latin America, and although I have yet to meet a Latino Muslim here in the GTA, I have hope that I will one day. It is so exciting to see the similarities and differences between how Muslims from distinct countries practice the religion.

One of the most exciting times in the year for all Muslims is Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Ramadan just came to an end a little over a week ago, with Muslims all across the world celebrating the end of a month of fasting during Eid-ul-Fitr. In this month, Muslims who are physically and mentally capable of observing a fast do so from dawn (the meal is called suhoor) until dusk (this meal is called iftaar). The time in between sunset and sunrise every day is when they are permitted to eat, and all Muslims are encouraged to follow healthy eating regimens during this time in order to sustain their bodies throughout the month. 

Ramadan without dates? Never heard of it. (Photo via Unsplash)

Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan? Although it sounds like a basic question, it is a very common one that comes up around this time of year. There are many answers to this question, and fasting means something different to everyone who carries out the act. Fasting is an obligatory action during Ramadan, for those who are physically and mentally capable of doing so. It should be noted that fasting is not mandatory for those who are unable to due to health reasons, such as diabetes, pregnancy or mental illness. Therefore, one of the main reasons that all Muslims fast is because they know that God wishes for them to do so, and that God has the best intentions for them. After this reason, others become more personal.

Some people enjoy fasting because of its health benefits. Fasting cleanses your body and acts as a detox for any harmful or unnecessary bacteria. It also can help with weight loss if the food eaten during permissible times are healthy and nutritious. Others feel that it helps them control their mind and harmful desires. Things that are not permissible in Islam are known as haram actions or attributes, and during a fast one is encouraged to stay away from anything that is haram. This includes lying, backbiting and hurting someone’s feelings.

Fasting is also a means of humbling oneself, as it allows you to be aware of how people across the world who are suffering in poverty or famines have to live their lives every single day. For this reason, many people who have the monetary means will donate either money or food to those in their community who need it. Others also send money back to their families in their home country, so that they buy food and distribute it to people in need there.

According to a World Bulletin article published in 2017, the Muslim population in Latin America at that time was close to five million. My mouth waters when I think of the delicious things they must have eaten for iftaar this past Ramadan! It excites me to think of how people in different countries have different traditions and special dishes that they make during this holy month. The Conversation detailed what it was like for Puerto Rican Muslims this Ramadan after dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. South America’s largest Muslim population lives in Brazil, with over 1.5 million Muslims across the country. Here is a video posted by TRT World in 2017 about the Brazilian Muslim community observing Ramadan:

 

 

As you can see, Ramadan is a special time in every Muslim’s life. Whether they be from Arab, South Asian, Latin or any other background, Muslims find a way to come together and enjoy this month together. Although this year’s Ramadan is over, may we remember our brothers and sisters across the world next Ramadan and strive to learn more about each other in the year to come. My goal for next Ramadan? Iftaar with authentic Latin food!