“My family and I wake up before sunrise so we can eat as much as we can to get through the day,” Ugbad Abdi tells Vogue of her Ramadan experience. The model, who has walked in shows for Valentino, Fendi, Marc Jacobs and Burberry, starts her day in such a way for a month as she fasts. The religious observance, which occurs once a year, started at the beginning of May and will finish on June 4. Across the world, Muslims like Abdi will fast (also refraining from water during daylight hours) from dawn until dusk, starting with the suhur (meal at dawn); ending with an iftar (meal at sunset).
For Abdi, it’s a month full of learning and transformation. “It’s filled with so much joy, laughter and peace,” she explains. “It’s a time when we really connect with God and we better ourselves as humans. And we donate to charities as much as we can to help other people.”
As one of the fashion industry’s recent break-out stars, having been discovered on Instagram, Abdi’s burgeoning career has taken her away from her family and home life in America. “It’s difficult not being around my family all of the time in the same way I was before modelling,” she explains of her new life overseas. Born in Somalia during the country’s civil war, she spent her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp, until the age of nine when her family set up a new life in Des Moines, Iowa. During Ramadan being surrounded by her loved ones is important, which is why Abdi will make a trip home to celebrate Eid (Eid al-Fitr is the celebration to mark the end of Ramadan and the breaking of the fast) with loved ones. But until then it’s business as usual for the 18-year-old, who will continue to work for the duration of the month-long observance.
Before Eid arrives, a lot of praying and self-reflection occurs. “Sometimes we go to the mosque and pray with our fellow Muslims, brothers and sisters, and sometimes we pray at home with our family,” Abdi says. As one of the five pillars of Islam – along with fasting, faith, charity and pilgrimage – praying occurs several times throughout the day. It may seem like a lot of dedication, but for Abdi, it’s not a challenging 30 days. Instead, it feels like “a time when we really reflect on ourselves and better our relationship with God”. However, she admits that observing Ramadan for the very first time can be challenging. “When you fast during your first Ramadan that’s when you feel like it’s the most difficult time, because you’re not used to it,” she explains. “My mum and dad let myself and my siblings know that we could do it [observe Ramadan] when we were ready. Now that I’ve fasted many times, I’m kind of used to it and it’s exciting every year.” But for anyone fasting for the first time, Abdi advises on not being “too hard on yourself, taking it slowly and doing it on your own time”.
Come June 4, the breaking of the fast will mark more than just the end of the observance because, as Abdi explains: “there is just something about those 30 days that make you feel like a brand new person”.