Ramadan in Detroit: How these four women find balance during the Holy Month

Ramadan has officially come to an end. This year in Metro Detroit we saw epic food festivals for suhoor, Muslim communities building bridges throughout the region, and families feeding those in need. What we do not often hear about are the many sacrifices made by the women who observe the Holy Month. For women especially, this time of year can bring on a mix of fear, worry, and apprehension as they figure out how to balance their responsibilities as wives, mothers, homemakers, in the office, or in the community while attempting to reap the spiritual benefits of the month.

From early mornings with family for suhoor to fasting all day, getting kids to school, working full-time, preparing for iftar after dark, and closing out the season with Eid al-Fitr, we’re giving space to four women of diverse backgrounds from throughout Metro Detroit to share their stories about their Ramadan experiences.

(Editor’s note: Interviews may have been edited slightly for clarity)

Fareeha Shuttari, 36, Farmington Hills
Mother of two; health system analyst; executive committee member of Huda School; coaches girls sports (basketball and volleyball); member of City Commission for Farmington HillsFullSizeR1

“My day starts at 4 a.m. I live with my parents…My mom, her art is cooking, so she cooks the meals. I have a pretty light, healthy suhoor. I drink a lot of water, eat a lot of dates, whole grains, proteins. We do the morning prayer and then I go back to sleep for a few hours. I get back up at 6:30 a.m. to get the kids ready for school. A lot of conversations with me and the kids happen during the drive to and from school about spirituality during Ramadan and how we’re so blessed.

“We’re a traditional Pakistani family. The kids love making samosas with my mom and love eating them as well. Dinner is late, at 9 p.m. We break our fast together. My dad sets a table up and we all pray together. It’s a fun but tiring time for us.

“One of my goals this year was to keep my emotions in check in terms of my children’s outbursts. I call it my Ramadan swag, you know, like as a single mom with two little kids at home, there’s always humorous stories that happen. I decided that during this month, I would focus on harnessing my emotional reactions and redirect them with creativity and humor. I learned how managing your emotional and mental health impacts your capacity – emotionally, mentally, and physically – to do more and be more. I think maybe that I always knew this, but I kind of took it for granted. This month helped me realize, on a hands-on level, what that really means and what I’m capable of. If I can control those two things then I’m capable of reaching levels that I didn’t even think that I could reach. I also don’t have to do everything on my own; Allah provides and provides you with the community and the environment to get those things done.”

Hebah Hefzy, 36, Franklin, Mich.
Neurologist; mother of three; marathon runner


“I have a special Ramadan good deed chart for my kids. Each day they draw one good deed that they have to do. They create the good deeds at the start of each Ramadan. Also, we always have a family iftar at my parents’ house at least once during Ramadan. We always decorate the house for Ramadan. We have a ‘Ramadan Kareem’ sign we always put up, along with lanterns and star and moon decals for the windows.

“The biggest challenge is, like, the challenge of the single working mom. Because you really have no help and so you’re still trying to do everything, and at the same time trying to be spiritual while in a weakened state because of course your body is stronger when it has food and water. When you’re deprived of these things, it’s harder to just go about your day. So I think the physical challenges of the month are the hardest for me. I’ve learned that even though something sounds like it’s not possible, it is possible.  I’ve learned that, despite the fact that I’m extremely type A, I am in fact, adaptable. Normally I don’t like to change my routine, but I do during Ramadan, and I’ve noticed that, during this month, everyone’s just happier. Everyone’s in a good mood. People want to be nice, people want to do good things, people donate more. The sense of community is always reaffirmed during this month. People like to visit with each other a lot more than they normally would, whether it’s at the Mosque or at Iftar dinners.”

Zarina Aftab, Oakland Township
Mother of three, wife, social worker

Zarina“I’m not fasting because I’m sick right now, but my children and my husband are. So I try, for the most part, to get up for suhoor. I tend to dictate what to do but not do much (laughs). They end up cooking their own food…I’m there to support and hang out with my kids because that’s so important for me. There’s something special about that morning time when they’re still kinda sleepy but in the process of renewing their relationship with God for that day. So it’s a special time, you know, we pray together and kind of talk about who is doing what for the day.

“It’s a magical month. It’s a hard month, it’s definitely difficult, but it’s very surreal month. It’s serene, it’s peaceful. It’s a beautiful time, and we look forward to it every year. Eid is, of course, the big finale. That day is very special too. We visit friends, we don’t have any family in the area, so we end up hoping to different people’s houses and eating different people’s specialties and we enjoy it.

“I find that every Ramadan I learn something new. Every Ramadan is a chance for me to take another step on the ladder towards God. I’m learning peacefulness and calmness and appreciation for everything. I used to think that things were as I see them, but now I’m learning that things are much deeper than they are.

“Some of the goals I did set for myself personally, even though I’m not fasting, is to be a part of the day with everyone. I’m reading more – I read a great book during Ramadan about being moral. It was about aging, and how people age and what happens to be people as they age. It kinda got me thinking about the life cycle, and as I’m getting older, you know, thinking about the end and what happens at the end of life. This was a great book that talked about that.”

Safina Mahmood, 37, Lake Orion
Mother of three, wife, former teacher, weekend photographer


“We’re moving to Austin Texas in July. We’re selling our house at the moment. Lots going on during Ramaden so it’s kind of crazy. We actually have an open house today actually, and my friends are like ‘you’re doing all this during Ramadan”…It’s been a busy couple of months.

“This year, I’m doing more charity work, donating to families in need – I wanted to do more of that – and also attend the Mosque with the kids…I haven’t done as much charity work as I wanted to this year, but next year when things get settled down I could do more.

“I’ve learned that you have to a lot more patience with kids while fasting, and you have to be patient and go with the flow.

My oldest son is happy because his birthday is on Eid day, so he’s super excited. On Eid, we usually go to the Mosque in the morning for prayer, and then they usually have a lunch set up there. I give out gifts to some of the kids. In the morning before we go to the Mosque, the kids get gifts. It’s like a Christmas morning type of thing. We’ll have gifts set up by the fireplace. After they open gifts, then we go to the Mosque. It’s about food and family. That’s really it.”

This article is part of the Ramadan in Detroit storytelling series. Big thanks to all of our supporters who contributed to the making of this project. If you would like to donate to future storytelling efforts, become a sponsor and make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here.

Tostada Magazine is supported by a generous grant from the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, that’s working to increase quality journalism and help better inform communities.

Brittany Hutson

Author: Brittany Hutson

Brittany Hutson is a freelance journalist based in Detroit. She has written for Black Enterprise Magazine, Essence Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Shelterforce Magazine, and Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. She is the creator of the blog, Fed & Bougie a destination for stories about food, people and community.

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