Matt Schoonover (left) and Lovii Hicks (right) converted to Islam and observe Ramadan, the holy month that started in April. (Taylor Bruck/Spectrum News 1)
CLEVELAND — Ramadan is a time for Muslims around the world to fast and further their faith. Some converts to Islam see the experience as challenging, but see the rewards as worth it.
Lovii Hicks said she recently found her religious calling. Her upbringing was Bible based. She grew up a Jehovah’s Witness, became Catholic, and then practiced another Christian faith, but always felt something was missing.
“Religion shouldn’t be religious, it should be a spiritual connection,” said Hicks. “You should have a direct line to your creator, and I didn’t have that connection.”
Her thirst for knowledge and a desire for worship led her to Islam. She became Muslim in September 2021.
“It means everything to me,” said Hicks. “It gives me peace, and it centers me. Just taking those few 10 minutes out to pray five times a day is a blessing.”
Ramadan, which began in April, is her first. The holy month is an annual celebration for Muslims around the world. From sunrise to sunset, able-bodied Muslims are encouraged to abstain from eating and drinking as much as a sip of water.
“I thought it was going to be hard,” said Hicks. “I was so scared. Like, I prepped, my house is Ramadan proof now. I put all my snacks away. I don’t have anything laying out that I could just reach and grab.”
To the outside world, the month may seem like misery, but to the Muslim community, it’s magical.
“It’s not like you’re sacrificing yourself, you’re starving, you’re walking around all gaunt and hungry,” said Hicks. “You’re full of worship and prayer and God’s word that sustains you throughout the day. And then when it is time to eat, it’s a feast.”
Matt Schoonover became Muslim in 2006. Like Hicks, he didn’t have a faith that resonated with him until he found Islam.
Ramadan comes at a different time every year because it is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Schoonover said his first Ramadan was difficult.
“The first Ramadan, it was more of a struggle for a couple of reasons. One, never being used to fasting before and then also, you know, 16 years ago, it was kind of more towards the summertime,” said Schoonover. “So it was starting, like the fasts were really, really long. So that makes it more difficult when you’re fasting for, like 15, 16 hours as opposed to right now where it’s 14 hours.”
Ramadan is a reset for many Muslims. It’s a time to take a step back, reflect and grow.
Muslims are encouraged to read the Quran and get to know more about their religion as well as themselves. It’s not just about abstaining from food and water, but abstaining from destructive behavior or character as well.
Matt Schoonover (left) and his family. (Taylor Bruck/Spectrum News 1)
“[It] allows me to take time to reflect, you know, make myself a better Muslim, a better person, get rid of your bad deeds,” said Schoonover. “It’s definitely got me on the right track in terms of doing better deeds, for myself and for others.”
A Ramadan Mubarak sign hangs outside of the West Cleveland Muslim Association. (Taylor Bruck/Spectrum News 1)
Ramadan is a social month for Muslims. Families attend Mosque services together, do charitable acts and invite friends over to break their fast during Iftar, or an evening meal.
“We all go through the same sacrifice each day, so it’s important that we spend time together to break our fast together,” said Schoonover.
It’s a festive month full of prayer and sacrifices, all to strengthen their connection with and show gratitude to Allah.
“You have to know that the endgame is a firmer relationship, in your religion with your God, with Allah, because he’s going to bless you for simple sacrifices, simple sacrifices, things that we in America take for granted,” said Hicks. “Because I mean, food is plentiful. There’s a McDonald’s and Wendy’s on every corner. But you know, you’re driving past that because you know that, instead of snacking, you’re gonna get that extra blessing, you’re gonna pray more, you’re gonna focus more on your relationship instead of your stomach.”
Eid al-Fitr, or the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” marks the end of Ramadan and is a huge celebration.
Ramadan lasts from April 2 to May 2 this year.
By Taylor Bruck Cleveland