What is it like fasting for Ramadan? This is something I had always wondered. Ramadan is a month long period where Muslims fast during the day time. It involves waking up early before sunrise to eat breakfast and then not letting any food or drink past your lips during daylight hours until the sun sets for evening prayer. It’s a huge challenge to go an entire day without eating and not exactly fun, so why did I decide to fast this Ramadan? And what was the experience like?
I saw Ramadan as something personal to myself and didn’t think it would be a huge deal if I decided to fast. However people’s reactions really surprised me. Maybe because of the current times we live in? A lot of the questions were to be expected. Why did you decide to fast? You’re not even drinking water? Especially back home, people really had a fascination with whether I’d converted/reverted to Islam. I was asked over and over again with genuine concern.
So since the answer is, ‘No, I didn’t convert.’ You’re probably wondering why I decided to fast?
So firstly why do Muslims fast? They fast because it is prescribed in the Quran. They also do it because historically it has been practiced. The deeper reasons behind this is that fasting brings yourself closer to God and purifies oneself. During this time, Muslims not only fast but avoid sinful behaviour. It is a time to focus on their faith and to give to charity. It is a time where you have sahoor (the meal before dawn) and iftar (the meal after dusk) with your family and friends.
So why did I fast?
My first reason was that I live in a Muslim country and Ramadan is a huge part of the culture. Many friends participate. I felt with everything going on in the world, it was nice to take part of Ramadan. To show solidarity with my friends and to experience what is a pretty hard task for Muslims around the world to go through every year. That’s without the fascination the west now has with their religion and the hate I’ve seen fuelled through social media.
The second part was to challenge myself. Knowing your own limits is part of being human. Also fasting reminds you of what it’s like to feel hungry. Thus giving you a greater sense of humility. There are those who live in poverty and are forced to be hungry every day. Feeling that lethargy but not being able to do anything about it is a humbling experience. It also makes you assess your meals in a very different way. You realise what is more important to you. It shows you your own strength of character and surprises you in what becomes more important to you in this time.
The third reason, my Muslim friends had spoken to myself about the benefits of fasting. It really does have a pro-found effect on how you think and feel during it. You feel more aware, more focused and more humbled. You make better food choices because you know it needs to sustain you through the day. It also makes you realise your own food addictions. For me, my coffee addiction was actually a lot stronger than my food addiction.
It’s a time when you really get to see new elements to yourself along with learning how to cope with being hungry and tired. It makes you realise that your time and energy is limited. So you become far more selective what you engage in.
The fourth part is for health reasons, fasting actually lowers a protein in the blood which reduces the risk of cancer, diabetes, stroke and other diseases. So there are scientifically proven benefits to fasting as well.
Finally why I chose to do it during Ramadan and not any other time? This is because I’ve tried to fast before and it’s hard! However when a whole group of you fast together, you have friends who help encourage you to keep going and are able to understand what you’re going through. It really does help make it easier and gives you a support network. My friends have been amazingly supportive and positive about how long I managed to last.
So what was it like overall?
It was difficult! After 10 days I went back to eating in the day. Just the smell of coffee was driving me crazy and not drinking water was most definitely the most challenging aspect. The tiredness, trying to focus and driving become very demanding tasks. However the overall experience was positive. I really enjoyed finishing work early, having a nap and staying up late to eat. Getting up at 4am however was not as enjoyable but the sense of calm after fasting was a truly great benefit. The moral support and feeling connected to other human beings while completing this journey was also a truly heart warming experience.
Sadly, I’ve also had people react quite negatively despite the positives of my journey. The same reaction seems to happen with vegetarianism. I’m not quite sure why but when someone else changes their eating habits, it really seems to stir an emotional response from those around them. Fasting definitely doesn’t get as bad as a reaction when compared to vegetarianism but it definitely seems to worry those around me that I’m going to become Muslim or that I shouldn’t be starving myself. Will I try fasting again? Yes! The positives definitely outweigh the negatives.