Ramadan, the holy month of fasting on the Islamic lunar calendar, moves back about 11 days every year in relation to the Gregorian calendar. This year, it will start on May 5 and last through many people’s graduations, including SU senior Mohanad Alsado’s.
“It's going to be tough that I'm going to be sitting in the reception and not be able to eat or drink,” said Alsado, who began fasting for Ramadan when he was around 10 years old and a few years later was able to fast from sunrise to sunset for the entire month.
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, Alsado, a New York City native, is a pre-medical biochemistry senior and president of the Arab Student Association (ASA).
“I try not to miss a day,” he said about the fast, “It's always the first week [that’s] the toughest, but then you start getting used to it.” He enjoys fasting. In Syria, where his parents came from, the adhan (a call to prayer) could be heard across the whole city from the mosque speakers, signalling to people the beginning and end of the fast. Here in the U.S., Alsado just relies on his phone for a rough estimate of the time.
Alsado’s parents are from the city of Raqqa, and his dad came to the States in 1982 for college. When he arrived in Kansas, he realized that it was the middle of nowhere and nothing like the America he’d seen in the movies.
His dad transferred between five colleges, not knowing well how to navigate the college system or what to study. He graduated with an engineering degree at Pittsburg State University and then bounced around some 20 jobs before finding his footing in New York City. He worked as a bindery equipment operator at the U.N. building and now is the General Assembly and Publishing Manager at the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management.
Alsado’s dad then went back to Raqqa, Syria and the family moved to New York in 1996. When Alsado tells people that he is Syrian American, he’s often asked where Syria is.
“Some people think it's Serbia, which is a different country in Europe; they [also] think I’m saying Siberia, which is a different country [region] in Russia,” he said.
Growing up, Alsado had a lot of memories from Syria. Yet, it was also clear to him that the kids he played with on the streets could discern the part of Alsado that is American.
“I was kind of treated differently. In Syria, they treat Americans differently,” he said, “Some of them, they like to meet Americans; some of them, they have a hate towards them.” He said that he would get along with some kids and get into a fight with others.
He remembers being in Syria for two months during his sixth grade and having to go to a private school that taught in both Arabic and English. The Arabic part of it was terrible, he said. He felt like he wasn’t going to pass.
His parents tried to move back to Raqqa a few times; they only have distant relatives in the States. It’s difficult, with the abundance of convenience and “just like the way of life” in New York City. Especially since the start of the Syrian War, it’s been increasingly difficult for Alsado to visit. He’s over 18 and has Syrian citizenship, meaning that he would have to serve in the army there if he were to go back.
His mother and siblings — he has a younger sister and brother — will visit families back home this summer, but he hasn’t been back in ten years. “It's very saddening, [the war has] been going on for too long,” said Alsado. On the news, he saw the places where he used to live in Raqqa get destroyed.
“It was just basically flattened out, all the things that my dad invested his time [in],” Alsado said, adding that his dad had wanted to build a school there.
“He bought a nice big house for himself,” he said, “That’s where we were gonna live when we go back there, but all that is gone and taken.”
It's been ten years since Alsado’s dad has gone back. He doesn’t want to see the places he worked his whole life for get torn down. Despite everything, his dad has always been a positive person and tries to stay supportive in the house.
Alsado said that he misses the time he spent in Raqqa learning the Arabic language, being with family and being a part of cultural traditions. “The culture, I enjoyed it a lot because there's a specific culture,” unlike the mix of cultures in New York City, he said.
Alsado reflected that it’s part of the reason he joined the ASA when it was first established in 2015 during his freshman year. As the current president, he also wants to welcome more non-Arabs to interact with and learn the culture.
He said that people have the misconception that Arabs live a strict life or are angry people because of what they see on the news. They don’t see them as “fun-loving.” The organization has invited an Arabic comedian and an Arabic orchestra from New York City called “New York Arabic Orchestra” — “yeah it’s a pretty generic name” — to perform on campus.
“We had like an instant sense of kinship, family,” he said. Thanks to the association, he connected with the culture again, with which he was a bit out of touch during high school.
Interested in becoming a pilot when he was younger, Alsado attended Aviation High School in Long Island City, New York. He did not learn how to fly planes, but he did learn how to fix them.
“Just working with my hands was nice,” said Alsado, “I was getting a job done; it made me feel accomplished.” He always took things apart, like his sister’s phone, and fixed them. He taught himself how to replace a cracked screen and found it easy.
He enjoyed the work, but he also knew that he wouldn’t be fixing planes for life. “I was thinking like, something that I can use with my hands with, that could help people, would be something I want to do for the rest of my life,” he said.
He thought of surgery, especially because he likes the hospital’s setting. He volunteered at Crouse Hospital and SUNY Upstate Medical University for a couple semesters at SU and worked at NYU Langone Medical Center and NYC OCME (Office of Chief Medical Examiner) for a summer.
His parents always said that Alsado was different from most kids in that he was just always polite. “I wasn’t a lot of work. I didn't throw tantrums and stuff.”
He was such a calm child that his parents had lost him under a pile of laundry once because he just let the clothes lie on top of him and never moved.
“Yeah, that's the other thing that I've heard people say: ‘you have the demeanor of a good surgeon, a good doctor,’” he said.
Alsado will take a gap year after graduation to further prepare himself for medical school applications. Ramadan has always been the rare time that his family would sit together for dinner since everyone is usually on a different schedule.
This year’s celebration won’t be so different, except that Alsado’s stomach might growl a little as he walks across that graduation stage, unbeknownst to the rest of the crowd.
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