What is it like my first time 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. Yes even water! It’s a huge challenge to go an entire day without eating, so why did I decide to fast this Ramadan? And what was it like?
I’ve been living in the Middle East for a few years and found the culture really fascinating. A lot of people in Dubai choose to fly home for Ramadan but actually it can really be a magical time if you do choose to stay in Dubai!
Check out some of my other related articles here:
What it’s like visiting Dubai during Ramadan
The best and most luxurious Iftar Buffets in Dubai
Guide to first time visiting a Mosque
Practical tips for praying at work
Where can I find English Khutbahs in Dubai
Why do women wear Hijab?
So firstly why do Muslims fast? Let’s give a little bit of a background to Ramadan and what exactly it is.
Muslims fast because it is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is prescribed in the Quran and we can see from the hadiths that Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) also fasted during the month of Ramadan.
The deeper reasons behind this is that fasting is that it 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 along with doing good deeds.
It also a time of celebration and reuniting of families ties. Where you have sahoor (the meal before dawn) and iftar (the meal after dusk where you break your fast) with your family and friends.
It is also a time for reflection, to think about the last year and what you have achieved. Also about your faith and what you want to achieve for the next year. Some people even choose to isolate themselves and stay in the mosque for the last ten days of Ramadan. This is called Itikaf.
So why exactly did I decide to fast during Ramadan?
So since the answer is, ‘No, I didn’t convert to Islam’ You’re probably wondering why I decided to fast?
I live in a Muslim country and fasting for Ramadan is a huge part of the culture
Many of my 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 on top of the negative attitudes many in the west has with their religion and the hate I’ve seen fuelled through social media.
To challenge myself
The second part was to challenge myself. Fasting and especially not drinking any water when living in a desert climate is a huge physical challenge. One which takes mental determination. Pushing your own limits as a human I think is exciting so I wanted to see if I could actually do it!
To be humble
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 an experience of fasting for Ramadan that really brings you back down to earth. It certainly makes you assess your meals in a very different way.
In addition, the acts of charity and helping others are another way in which you feel humbled. Not just the act of fasting alone.
For the health benefits
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.
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.
To see if the mental health benefits were true
My Muslim friends had spoken to myself about not only the health benefits of fasting but also the mental effect fasting has. You feel more aware, more focused and along with feeling more humbled which increases the positivity you feel with your own life.
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 about what you engage in.
To have moral support
Finally why I did I choose to fast for 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 and you have friends who help encourage you to keep going plus 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 my first time fasting for Ramadan like?
It was not easy to fast! I only managed to last 10 days of fasting for Ramadan and not the whole 30 days. Just the smell of coffee was driving me crazy and not drinking water was most definitely the most challenging aspect. The second hardest part was the tiredness. It was almost impossible at times to stay focused and I was worried to drive long distances.
My overall experience was positive though! I really enjoyed finishing work early, having a nap and staying up late to eat. Getting up at 4am 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. I think this was one of the best factors of Ramadan.
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 for Ramadan 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.
So what did I learn from fasting for Ramadan?
So what was the outcome of fasting for Ramadan? What can I take away from my experience? This truly was a great learning experience for me so I’d love the share what I feel I’ve gained and those important lessons.
There is a lot of ignorance in the world towards Muslims and Islam
Firstly I was really surprised by people’s reactions. I didn’t think it would be that shocking that I fasted but a lot of people were really surprised I wanted to. Not always in a positive way.
The second part to this was a lot of the questions. Yes you can’t have water. Also many words used “suhoor” and “iftar”; I found even those living in Dubai had no idea what these words were. “I’m getting up before Fajr” would get a puzzled look!
Maybe the negative reactions were because of the current times we live in? A lot of the questions were to be expected. Why did you decide to fast Especially from people in the UK 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 why I was fasting for Ramadan or if I was thinking to become Muslim.
My energy and time is limited
This is probably the most important lesson I learnt from fasting for Ramadan. You truly realise what is more important to you. You just don’t have the energy to deal with trivial matters and you realise what is worth both your time and energy.
In the past where I would have probably disagreed with a colleague, instead I just let it go.
I have more mental strength than I thought
It really shows you the strength of your character. Staying determined and working when you feel like you should be sleeping. All these are challenges that come with fasting for Ramadan. You really have no idea at the beginning if you’ll be able to do it or not. So it’s truly surprising when you manage to!
Be more grateful
There are many people in the world right now who are hungry. This isn’t a choice for them or a yearly event which they do as part of their religion. Fasting for ramadan really made me grateful for what I do have and even the simple things in life is something to be happy about.
That’s what’s so great about Ramadan, it’s a yearly reminder of this!
How being part of a community feels
This is one of the best things about Ramadan and how everyone comes together. We live in a world where we’re on our phones and rushing to work. It’s very easy to end up feeling so disconnected to the other human beings around us. Ramadan helps bring everyone back together.
There’s also a scheme in Dubai called “The Ramadan Fridges” where you can choose to donate food along with packing and giving out the food. If you really want to feel part of the community, I highly recommend taking part in this.
Getting invited to Iftars and feeling the Ramadan “magic” is a truly special feeling. Being inside Ramadan tents, where everyone comes together to enjoy good food. You can just feeling the happiness and love amongst all the people. It’s also a great time to meet new people through friends!
What’s really important in life
This ties into knowing your time and energy is limited. It really does have a profound effect on how you think and feel during it. This is mostly due to the humbling factor Ramadan has and you truly feel material things are less important during this month.
Update – Since I wrote this article, I actually became Muslim. Alhamdulillah! It took a couple of years after this but I started to learn more from this past and fasting for Ramadan was a huge start in that journey.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little bit more about Ramadan and what it was like fasting for Ramadan. Along with why Muslims fast! If you’re planning to spend Ramadan in the Middle East, I hope you have an amazing time!