After middle school, I went to a New England boarding school. As the son of teachers and thus a “scholarship kid,” I found the resources, talent, academic standards and cultural diversity the school offered illuminating and challenging. I was lucky to live and attend class with bright, talented kids from more than 100 countries all over the world.
Because we lived together in dormitories, there were endless opportunities to observe the thousand small details that made each individual unique, as well as the cultural and family practices my friends brought with them to their boarding life.
I vividly remember standing in the second-floor bathroom watching Mustafa brush his teeth. He was from Pakistan, a lanky and affable sophomore whose smile and quick laugh made him easy to spend time around.
I had never met someone my age who was willing to maintain his own integrity to his beliefs like that.
That late afternoon, he was busy brushing his teeth almost reverently. I asked him what was up and he explained that he was observing Ramadan and had just gotten back from basketball practice. I had heard the term “Ramadan” before but didn’t know at the time that it was the holiest month of the year for billions of Muslims around the world. Mustafa explained that in observance of this important month-long holiday, he was not allowed to eat or drink anything while the sun was up.
It took me a minute to process this.
“So you mean you can’t eat any food or drink any water at all until after sunset? Even though you’re working out every day with the basketball team?”
“Oh man. Are you thirsty right now?”
“So brushing your teeth is the closest you’re going to get to food or water for another... three hours?”
“Wow. My hat is off to you. That’s amazing.”
And I meant it. I had never met someone my age who was willing to maintain his own integrity to his beliefs like that, regardless of what was going on in his environment. I already liked him as a person but in that moment I came to admire him. Beliefs are not simply reserved for times it’s convenient or easy. Mustafa was a living example of what it means to operate with a faith in something greater and more important than oneself alone, and build one’s life and schedule and decisions around that faith. And beyond that, I barely knew anything at all about Islam at the time, but I knew Mustafa was a good person and if he was a Muslim there must be something to it.
I live every day attempting to set that same kind of example as a Scientologist, and I salute the billions of Muslims around the world celebrating the month of Ramadan.