My First Ramadan

I had casually known Muslims in high school and college; as a gay, Jewish man, I largely avoided discussions of religion with them and held many of my stereotypes about Arabs, as well as Islamic faith and culture.

When I was a grad student, I taught public school in the Bronx beginning in the fall of 2002. During my first year of teaching, I had several Muslim students from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. It saddened me to see many of them teased for their faith, names, or the way they dressed. I also discovered that the Muslim students were required to go to the cafeteria with all of the other students even though they were fasting during Ramadan. Knowing that I would have been uncomfortable fasting while others were eating, I offered to host the students in my classroom during the lunch periods. I got to know many of them and learn about the different cultures and traditions they all came from. One of my students tried unsuccessfully to teach me to read the Arabic alphabet.

I came to respect my students, their families, and their faith. All of them were the children of immigrants who had come here to live as Americans and contribute to this country; I feel proud to be a part of their story of becoming Americans. Now, when I hear people make anti-Arab or anti-Muslim remarks, theirs are the faces I think of and are why I feel compelled to stand up against anti-Muslim bigotry.