Last Friday Ramadan began, the month of fasting for Muslims around the world and one of the five pillars of Islam.

From dawn until dusk, or from when a white thread can be distinguished from a black thread, or from when the muezzin sings the early morning call to prayer to when he sings the early evening call to prayer, Muslims won’t eat or drink. No crumbs, no sips of water. Some won’t swallow their saliva (which is why spitting is even more common this month, sometimes on my carpet). There is no sex or smoking during those hours either.

In predominantly Muslim countries, like Djibouti, the fast dominates life. It is difficult to impossible to schedule meetings during the day because people are exhausted and weak, so work takes a backseat. At least for men. Women spend their days preparing the delicious feast they will devour in the evening. Evenings are spent with friends and family.

For me, a non-Muslim expatriate living in a Muslim country, the month of Ramadan encapsulates two opposing realities. There is loneliness and there is community.

The community plays an important role both in breaking the fast and in enforcing the fast. There seems to be a unique bond of deprivation and anticipation among the ummah, Islamic faith community.

This can be a lonely month for expatriates living in Muslim countries because we aren’t naturally a part of this fasting community. Work slows to almost a halt while friends and coworkers rest. Playdates and coffee dates are cancelled while friends spend time with their relatives. Each evening is a sort of holiday celebration without us.

Except…

Lucy, sharing iftar with our guard

Every year the University invites all the professors and their spouses to a special iftar, which is the meal taken to break the fast. Our neighbors often bring food to our door or invite Tom to sit outside with the men while they wait for the signal to start eating. Sometimes, Tom and I participate in the fast and always, when we are invited to these iftars, we fast in order to honor our friends’ hunger, beliefs, and celebrations, and to be, in actuality, part of the community which, that day, has hungered for God. I’m thankful they include us, that they think of us.

For those of us in America during Ramadan, think about your Muslim cashier at Target, or your neighbor or coworker. They are hungry and thirsty and most of the people in their worlds here have no idea they are hungry and thirsty, that they are thinking more about pursuing God than on an average day. Many of them probably have communities they worship with, but many are also far from family and loved ones and that loneliness especially piques at this time of year.

Its a little like working on Christmas Eve and no one noticing or caring. So, for those who are not fasting in America this Ramadan, remember the iftars I’ve been invited to in Djibouti. Remember to say Ramadan Kareem, or Happy, or Blessed, Ramadan, to the Muslims you know. Maybe they are part of a rich community or maybe they are many miles and cultures away from home and lonely, or maybe they are both (like I feel is true of my family in Djibouti). In any case, for the briefest second, this honors a community and alleviates loneliness.

For those who are fasting, live in Muslim countries, and know an expatriate who is far from home, share about your fast, about why it is important to you, about the struggles you endure during the day and preparing for the evening, about the spiritual experiences of the month. I, for one, would delight in entering those conversations together. And for the briefest second, this honors a different community and alleviates loneliness.

How do you experience Ramadan where you live?