This time of year, Bedford High School senior Fahad Alden sometimes finds it hard to focus in the afternoon if he has an exam or “mentally I need to be all there.”
There’s a good reason.
Alden is observing the obligation of Ramadan, a month-long observance during which Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. “You have to fast for 30 days, from when the sun comes up to when the sun goes down,” Alden said. “It’s basically meant to instill gratitude for what we have. That’s the essence behind the 30 days.”
Ramadan began on the evening of April 12 and extends until the evening of May 12.
One source explained, “Ramadan is a month of intense spiritual rejuvenation with a heightened focus on devotion. Muslims welcome Ramadan as an opportunity for self-reflection and spiritual improvement, and as a means to grow in moral excellence.”
“Many people get up at 3 or 4, have something to eat, and then go back to bed,” Alden related. He said he doesn’t have a specific morning pattern, but “as a family, our mom makes a nice meal and we have it when the sun goes down.”
Fasting, he acknowledged, “does affect your mood a lot. It affects your focus, by the time you get to 4 or 5 o’clock.” But he added, “I try to do all 30 days. It is very important.”
He also noted, “You are also supposed to abstain from swearing or any negative things. If someone is being rude to you or disrespectful, respond in a calm manner. It’s a religious month; it’s about getting close to God.”
The fasting during Ramadan, Alden said, “definitely makes me understand the privilege I have. Sometimes people say, ‘I’m hungry,’ but to really be hungry is to go eight or ten hours without eating.” Fasting, he continued, “puts things in perspective, and makes me think of people in America or around the world with limited access to food. They can’t eat when the sun goes down.”
Culminating the Ramadan month is the festival Eid al-Fitr, he continued, comparing it to Thanksgiving. “There’s a large meal, the family is together, there are gifts. It’s a celebration.” The traditional greeting is Eid Mubarak.
Alden, his parents, and his younger sister left Baghdad as refugees when he was six, fleeing hostilities in their homeland with the assistance of the United Nations. “We wanted to seek refuge, and they helped us.” The family first settled in Lowell and moved to Bedford when Fahad was in fourth grade.
A lot of people recognize his name because in March Alden was elected to the Board of Library Trustees. “One of the reasons I ran is I wanted to show people that it doesn’t matter where you come from or how old you are. They don’t deter you from being successful.”
“I don’t represent all Muslims in this town; everyone practices differently. I do feel I am a person of color in Bedford government and the first Middle Eastern person to be elected,”
Alden said that although he hasn’t had to deal with overt anti-Muslim bias in school or around town, there are sentiments that he characterized as “passive-aggressive.” For example, “If I tell people I’m from Iraq, some say, ‘Where are you really from?’ People make a lot of assumptions about Middle Eastern people being uncivilized in the way they think.”
“Many people think the Middle East, people are living in tents,” he related. “My parents lived in a nice house. They had a nice car. They didn’t ride camels. I really want people to understand it’s not always how it looks on the news.”
It can be hard to be without a common support group, Alden acknowledged. “In high school, people can connect based on culture, based on religion. For me and a couple of other students, we don’t have that advantage. I wish there were more Middle Easterners.”
He is looking forward to beginning his studies at UMass Lowell, which he said he chose, among other reasons, for its diversity. “I like to experience people from all over the world, different cultures, different backgrounds. I wanted to have opportunities to meet all kinds of people. You don’t want to only be with people like you, just sharing the same experiences.”
The Aldens don’t have relatives nearby; Fahad said his grandparents live in Canada and Germany. He mused that he would like to return to Iraq to visit – “it’s a part of me that’s important.” It’s not a dangerous place to visit now – except for the prevalence of Covid-19, he added.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763