Gabriel Jermaine Vanlandingham-Dunn is a dj, writer, and historian focusing on Africana Studies/ Ethnomusicology. In his candid story, he shares his perspective and journey as a black Muslim American during Ramadan. The original story was posted by Ishqr on Medium.com, and can be accessed here.
It’s that time of year again. When Muslims around the globe put down their egos, bad habits, and lunch money from dawn to Maghrib. This will be my second Ramadan and I must say, I am not looking forward to it. Why you ask? Well fam, let me tell you a little story right quick…
I came to the deen in December of 2013, fresh off the deaths of my nephew and a very dear friend. After coming up in the harsh streets of Baltimore, Maryland in the 1980s-90s and losing many friends and family to gun violence, I became a disbeliever in the theory, or fact, of any kind of God. After a turn of events that led me into many things, joyous and troublesome, I decided to give myself to this God, wholeheartedly, in hopes of righting some of the wrongs and better understanding my purpose on this Earth. Now, before you go whispering “alhamdulilah” under your breath, let me explain my life the last two years.
Point blank, shit hasn’t been easy, in fact I would say that life as a Black American Muslim in my position has gotten much more difficult. I am all too aware of the shootings of unarmed men and women by several police departments around the country, and globe, as my fears are still high that I might be next. Something that bothers me the most is how most Muslims outside of the Black Community don’t bat an eye at the killings, while we are supposed to sit back and worry about “brothers and sisters” in countries where the numbers of darker folks are much lower.
On top of “inner ummah racism”, I am dealing with a massive heartache. The woman I had fallen in love with decided to let her feelings fall by the wayside simply because her parents disapproved of me. Why? I’m not Egyptian. Now, this might be common news to those born into the faith, but to the sensitive convert who just wants to get married and raise a healthy family, this shit was/ is devastating. And now June is upon us. It is almost time for me, and you (Insha’Allah), to start our month-long road to self-improvement.
In the words of Lawrence Parker, “Now tell what the fuck am I supposed to do?”
My first Ramadan was rough, but I learned a lot about the deen and what it meant to be a stereotypical Muslim. Do your fives, meet new people, hang out with folks, read the good book, etc. I had some health issues then, as I do now, that prevent me from doing a “full” fast, but I made it, and Insha’Allah I’ll do it again. However, almost a year later, I am a different man. My heart is heavier, and just broken into little pieces. I don’t wanna go to iftars. I don’t wanna pray in the middle of the night. Hell, I don’t even wanna pray my fives.
However, there is one thing I do want… and that is to be a better man than I was last year. It’s not that I am a subpar man now, but there is always room for improvement and this is the time that I WILL take for that. Allah has made me to be imperfect, and I plan on being that until he calls me, but that does not mean I will not try to assist others with issues that I have faced in my past and present. See, I live with depression, and my realm of thinking and feeling is a bit too raw for those who grew up with a narrow way of life in this faith, and now I get it. Yet, it is important that I try to bring myself to a place where I can share my experiences, in hopes that I can connect with those who might need understanding, a listening ear, and a shoulder/ large beard to cry on. If I hide during Ramadan, then I am doing what the negative forces want, and that is not making myself available for those who might need something or someone.
Ramadan is not a time for just you or just me, but a time for us. Yes, we will be hungry and thirsty, and yes, we will not be in the best place to have lengthy conversations about a lot of things. However, we can make it the best place if we believe that the place is right for US. That might mean one-on-one iftars, day/ evening trips to new masjids/ Islamic centers, and being the first one to say, “Yo, I don’t think you fully understand what I’m talking about, but if you’ll allow me, I have a short story that might help you understand these issues a little better…”