21 Contemplative Quotes From Muslim Americans About The Month Of Ramadan

Ramadan is one of the holiest times of the year for Muslims around the world. It’s a time when Muslims fast, reflect, pray, give to charity, and come together as a community. Ramadan is observed in different ways around the world, but the bedrock of this holiday is the same; the Qur’an directly states that followers should fast upon the first sight of the new moon in the month of Ramadan to glorify Allah to commemorate when the Qur’an was revealed. During Ramadan, observant Muslims abstain from eating and drinking (yes, that also means water) from sunup to sundown. Ramadan culminates in a celebration known as Eid al-Fitr, or the festival of breaking the fast.

To better understand what Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr mean to the Muslim community, here are 21 quotes from prominent Muslim Americans and the key words that highlight the significance of this time. Here you will see reflections on their faith, community, and the meaning of this holy month.


The most rewarding part of being a Muslim athlete is my faith in God paired with my faith in myself. I approach every match with positivity and the belief that I can beat anyone on any given day. And in the face of defeat, I am able to learn from my mistakes and work on my weaknesses to prepare for next time.
—Ibtihaj Muhammad, interview, Yahoo.com, 2016


Ibtihaj Muhammad made history by being the the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while representing the US at the Olympics in 2016, where she won a bronze medal in fencing. Her mother encouraged her to get into fencing because it was a sport she could participate in while respecting their religious beliefs. In this quote, she describes her faith, or “belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion,” and how it helped her meet her athletic goals.


And in the process of restraining ourselves from the blessings so readily available to us, we naturally develop empathy for those who aren’t as fortunate. It’s a special type of worship that is incredibly both sacred and fulfilling. It gives a spiritual dimension to being unapologetically Muslim in America.
—Omar Suleiman, “Why 80% of American Muslims Fast During Ramadan,” CNN.com, 2018


Omar Suleiman is an American imam and academic who is here describing the purpose of fasting during Ramadan. He notes that it is a way to develop empathy, or “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” In this case, fasting helps one develop empathy with those who may not have enough to eat.


Ramadan is not just predicated upon eating or not eating or drinking or not drinking. It’s a state of mind. And it’s an attempt to achieve God consciousness that carries on throughout the day.
—Wajahat Ali, interview, “Revealing Ramadan,” On Being podcast, 2009

state of mind

While many focus on the fasting element of Ramadan, writer Wajahat Ali is describing how it is more than just refraining from eating and drinking. It is a state of mind, a term that means “mood or mental state.” The goal is to take on fasting as a way of thinking and feeling throughout the month.


Ramadan, Muharram, the Eids; you associate no religious event with the tang of snow in the air, or spring thaw, or the advent of summer. God permeates these things—as the saying goes, Allah is beautiful, and He loves beauty—but they are transient. Forced to concentrate on the eternal, you begin to see, or think you see, the bones and sinews of the world beneath its seasonal flesh.
—G. Willow Wilson, The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam, 2010


Author G. Willow Wilson, best known for her work on the Ms. Marvel comic book series featuring Muslim American teen Kamala Khan, describes in her memoir The Butterfly Mosque how she understands the meaning of the ritual of holidays such as Ramadan with respect to the lunar calendar. She connects it to the eternal, or something “without beginning or end.”


At the end of the day we’re all spirits having a physical experience. … And that really comes from my relationship with Islam because it just makes me really conscious of my action.
—Mahershala Ali, interview, NPR, 2017


Actor and rapper Mahershala Ali also picks up on the connection between the spiritual and physical world that G. Willow Wilson is discussing. Conscious is an adjective with a variety of meanings, including “aware of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc.” The word conscious in English comes from the Latin conscius, meaning “sharing knowledge with.”


It’s about meditation and prayer and thinking about those who are truly less fortunate, feeling that hunger and thirst and observing it day in and day out, sunup to sundown. It’s quite an experience, yeah.
—Mo Amer, quoted in the Austin-American Statesman, 2018


In this quote, Palestinian American stand-up comedian and writer Mo Amer describes what Ramadan means to him. He says it is about meditation, meaning “continued or extended thought; reflection; contemplation” or “devout religious contemplation or spiritual introspection.”


I think a big part of my faith teachings is to work together towards equality: that we’re all created equal, and under the eyes of God, we all have a right to freedom and to access our rights equally.
—Ilhan Omar, quoted in HuffPost.com, 2016


Representative Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, represents Minnesota’s 5th congressional district. Here she describes Islam as a religion that promotes equality, “the state or quality of being alike.” Her language here also connects her faith tradition to the preamble to the Declaration of Independence in this quote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”


And you see this humanity and camaraderie and brotherhood that I think is deeply touching, deeply gratifying, and I think in so many ways humbling, and really, kind of helps you reset your emotional and spiritual compass, to know what is important in life, not to take these moments or granted.
—Ayman Mohyeldin, quoted in BuzzFeed.News, 2018


Egyptian American television and news anchor Ayman Mohyeldin reflects in this quote on the importance of sharing and experiencing iftar with the less fortunate. Iftar is the meal that breaks the fast at sunset during Ramadan. He notes the feeling of camaraderie among people at that meal, a word that means “a spirit of trust and goodwill among people closely associated in an activity or endeavor.”


We use the fast to try to purify and cleanse our souls, and to ask forgiveness for our sins. We also learn self-restraint and we become much more aware of those less fortunate people around us for whom “fasting” is not a choice, for whom hunger is part of daily life. The fast is an act of worship and a spiritual act; it is also an act of social solidarity.
—Mehdi Hasan, “What Is Ramadan and Other Questions Answered,” The New Statesman, 2016

social solidarity

Mehdi Hasan is a British American journalist and television host who is here describing what he understands as the purpose of fasting during Ramadan. He says it is a form of social solidarity. Solidarity means “union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests.” Social solidarity specifically describes a kind of fellowship with other people in a community, in this case the Muslim community and greater community at large.


The older I get, the more grateful I am for those reminders to stop, be still, reflect, and be grateful. I find those moments can be really restorative like returning to a power station.
—Tahereh Mafi, interview, Coveteur.com


Young adult author Tahereh Mafi, best known for her Shatter Me series, describes her spiritual practice as a restorative time. Restorative here means “capable of renewing health or strength.” Believe it or not, restorative comes from the same Latin root as the English restaurant.


We start the fast in the morning strong. By noon we start to get weaker. By the afternoon, we really begin to feel the fast. By sunset, right before we break it, things get difficult. Our lives mirror this. We start our lives strong as youth until we reach noon time, our 30’s and 40’s, we start to get weak. Once we reach old age … our physical abilities are greatly reduced until we leave this life. Fasting shouts to us our own mortality.
—Imam Suhaib Webb, Facebook post, 2013


Imam Suhaib Webb in this quote connects the daily fast of Ramadan with the life cycle. Part of the life cycle is death, which reminds us of our mortality, “the state or condition of being subject to death.” The word mortality itself ultimately comes from the Latin mors meaning “death.”


Ramadan is a time to control one’s desires and get closer to God. The self-discipline that we learn carries on to other areas of our lives so we can be better family members, friends and, yes, co-workers.
—Linda Sarsour, quoted in HuffPost.com, 2016


The word self-discipline means “training of oneself, usually for improvement.” Political activist Linda Sarsour describes Ramadan, particularly the fast, as a time to work on one’s self-discipline. Discipline comes from the Latin for “instruction.” In this way, self-discipline is a kind of autodidacticism.


It’s not a chore, but it is a discipline. And what I mean by that is it takes self-control, it takes some willpower, but it’s a great pleasure and a joy.
—Ingrid Mattson, interview, “The Meaning of Ramadan,” NPR, 2017


Activist and academic Ingrid Mattson also notes that Ramadan is a time of self-discipline. She describes this practice of self-control as a joy, “a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something greatly valued or appreciated.” The positive connotation of the word joy makes us think of the Ramadan fast as a beneficial exercise of willpower rather than as something negative.


While fasting, understand the whole picture. Remember that fasting is not just about staying away from food. It is about striving to become a better person.
And in so striving, we are given a chance to escape the darkness of our own isolation from God. But like the sun that sets at the end of the day, so too will Ramadan come and go, leaving only its mark on our heart’s sky.
—Yasmin Mogahed, from YasmineMogahed.com, 2012


Yasmin Mogahed is an educator who teaches people about Islam. In this quote, she encourages people to think of the Ramadan fast as an opportunity to strive, a verb with a variety of meanings including “to exert oneself vigorously; try hard” and “to make strenuous efforts toward any goal.” This word captures the difficult nature of a fast; it comes from the Old French estriver, meaning “to quarrel, compete.”


As for fasting, it is a spiritual mindset that gives you the stamina required to play. Through Allah’s mercy, I always felt stronger and more energetic during Ramadan.
—Hakeem Olajuwon, quoted in Andscape.com, 2017

Learn more about the term fasting here.


Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon was a center in the NBA in the 1980s and early 1990s. He describes the Ramadan fast as giving him increased stamina, or “strength of physical constitution; power to endure fatigue, privation, etc.” According to some (including his teammates!), he was thought to play especially well during the month of Ramadan.


Ramadan for me is this reset where spirituality becomes the core, and I try to build the world around that.
—Hasan Minhaj, “Ramadan Reflections and Reset,” YouTube, 2021


Television host and comedian Hasan Minhaj sees Ramadan as an opportunity to reset, a noun meaning “an act or instance of setting, adjusting, or fixing something in a new or different way.” In other words, it is a chance to put things in a new order or to see the world in a new way.


As we welcome the final iftar of #Ramadan this evening, which marks the beginning of Eid—I urge us all to still find joy in our holiday. I know it’s hard with everything going on right now, but our joy is also our resistance. They want to break our spirits. We can’t let them.
—Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Twitter (@xoamani), 2021


Ramadan is a time of submission, but for some, like activist and founder of MuslimGirl.com Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, it is also a time of resistance. Resistance means “the act or power of resisting, opposing, or withstanding.”


If there’s anything Muslims can do during this global pandemic [during Ramadan], it is to have our compassion shine.
—Rashida Tlaib, interview, MLive, 2020


At the height of the Covid pandemic, Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib gave an interview saying that Ramadan was a time for compassion, meaning “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” This is connected to the third pillar of Islam, zakat, meaning “charity.”


I’m a person of faith, and the language that I use to define my faith, the symbols and metaphors that I rely upon to express my faith, are those provided by Islam because they make the most sense to me. The Buddha once said, “If you want to draw water, you don’t dig six 1-ft. wells, you dig one 6-ft. well.” Islam is my 6-ft. well.
—Reza Aslan, quoted in Time, 2013


Iranian American writer and public academic Reza Aslan has written and spoken a great deal about the Islamic faith and religion in general. He notes that his language, or “a body of words and the systems for their use common to a people who are of the same community or cultural tradition,” when expressing his faith comes from Islam.


Remember that the main purpose of this month of fasting is to actually increase our remembrance and closeness to Allah.
—Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), “Message from Yusuf Islam,” YouTube, 2020


The legendary folk musician Yusuf Islam, also known as Cat Stevens, encourages others to see the fast during the month of Ramadan as an opportunity to practice remembrance, or “commemoration.” In other words, one should be mindful of God’s presence during this time. In fact, the word remembrance ultimately comes from the Latin root memor, meaning “mindful.”


There is always a big emphasis on what children wear for Eid. Growing up, I remember my mother having my outfit ready and laid out a month in advance. One year, I even recall sleeping in my fancy attire, as I was so excited to try it on the night before and knew I would be waking up early for prayer. I remember so much of that time, from the ages of about eight to ten, when I would go shopping with my mom.
—Halima Aden, quoted in CNA Luxury, 2020


Somali American Halima Aden is a high fashion model, so it’s heartwarming that her memories of Eid (al-Fitr) include clothes. She describes the fancy attire, a word meaning “clothes or apparel, especially rich or splendid garments,” that her mother would get for her and her siblings for the celebration.

Maybe hearing from all these high-profile people talk about the importance of the month of Ramadan and their faith has got you wanting to learn more about the holiday and its celebration. We have you covered. You can learn more about the important practices, values, and meanings of this time with our article The Major Facts About the Month of Ramadan. Ramadan Mubarak!

Learn more about the name and celebration of Eid al-Fitr here.

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