“C’mon you don’t even drink water? You must really love God, ” said my friend who was eager to learn more about this concept of Muslim fasting during Ramadan. While it may sound pretty extreme to endure an average of 15 hours a day without food or water and still go about your daily activities, to 1.8 billion Muslims across the globe, Ramadan is the most favorite time of the year when they enjoy a holistic physical, mental and spiritual detox to rejuvenate themselves for the rest of the year. Quite simply the month of Ramadan is the inspirational, energetic high to kick-start the other next eleven months before we welcome this lovely guest the next year.
Unbeknownst to many of their neighbors and work colleagues, Muslims wake up an hour before dawn to consume their first meal of the day (called Suhoor), usually something simple yet nourishing, and then they begin the day standing in morning prayers before the beautiful sun rises on a Ramadan day. Depending on the season, the fast duration is usually 12-to-18 hours long, punctuated with five daily obligatory prayers and reading of the Holy Quran. The Quran is the constitution of the Islamic faith and was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him), also in this same month fourteen centuries ago.
As for me having lived on two continents, I have observed Ramadan in the scorching summers of Asia and the freezing winters of North America, and have felt the same sense of peace and tranquility this beloved month brings in both seasons. This month is called the month is called Ramadan Al-mubarak or the blessed Ramadan and fasting is not mandatory to some who are not in perfect health like those who are sick, pregnant, nursing or traveling or to women on their cycles.
Of course there’s the physical labor of fasting in that towards the end of the fast, the back of your throat feels dry and your body automatically wants to slow down, but to me this is a small price to pay for all the other bounties this month brings with it. In fact, after the first couple of days of fasting, the body trains itself to adapt to the newer, lighter eating schedules (people who embrace intermittent fasting schedules for wellness will attest to this as well). For one, there is the peace of not being subject to the vicissitudes of my food and caffeine cycles. There is a calm alertness in my mind’s eye – a clear, sharp focus which pushes me to be more productive throughout my day. My body is energized from the effort saved of not having to process food multiple times a day. There is also a sense of ease and assurance coming from the soul-cleanse, because of the month-long focus on prayer, worship and meditation.
Much like meditation, immersive worship in Ramadan, celebrates my connection to our Creator and makes me feel small in the grand scheme of the universe, bridling my ego and unbound worldly expectations. This is quite similar to the experience of transcendental meditation or yoga when a person experiences a loftier feeling of being connected to the universe. Then there is the joy of socialization during this month; managed very creatively now in a socially-distanced world and through virtual meet-ups. The rush of exuberance at seeing a familiar face and the welcoming the aroma of treats shared by friends and neighbors are so rewarding, especially when you have been fasting for long hours. The same joy of seeing family on your favorite holidays. The long worship on Ramadan nights in the warmth of our home decorated with shining lights and trinkets, brings a deeper realization of the larger universe around me. In the stillness of the night, I value the comfort of a good night’s rest – such a basic need that may in reality, be a luxury for some.
In spite of the sleep deprivation, I manage to accomplish my gift list. Usually I have a mischievous smile on my face as I carefully pack my children’s gifts picturing their reactions as they joyously rip the colorful wrapping to devour their rewards for their month of observance. In Ramadan, I strive to be a better person with more patience for all, finding ways to go out and brighten people’s lives, even in small ways for we believe that even a smile can be a charitable gift.
And then there is the gratification of giving Zakath (2.5% of one’s net worth as an obligatory payment in charitable donations to deserving people) to assist and support destitute communities around the world. When it comes to alms, ‘all giving some’ can set right many societal imbalances and check materialism.
Most of all, there is a silent gratitude that arises from the combined experience of fasting from food, water and intimacy, the same things we take for granted every day, but we give up during Ramadan, to remind ourselves of the struggles of the impoverished. Ramadan teaches you to conquer the desires of your soul to live in contentment for the rest of the year. That first sip of a cold drink or bite of flavorful food at Iftar (the ceremonial breakfast at sunset), reminds us of those that face the harsh brutalities of homelessness and poverty and also crave the same relief after many long hours of feeling the pangs of hunger and the parchedness of thirst.
As I tune into noble discourses from renowned speakers, thanks to technology, I am grateful for the safety and comforts of my home and family. With this sense of gratitude, a calm sense of peace spreads within my soul, and my heart expands to give more. With so much unrest and incivility in the world, Ramadan reminds me that peace can in fact begin with me.
Small sacrifices can lead to big gains and those big gains get multiplied across families, communities and countries. While Ramadan is a practice rooted in religion, as a social practice, fasting can bring forth contentment, restraint and promote inclusion. While it is about loving God, it is also about becoming a better human being by finding gratitude and spreading love and peace in every interaction. Ramadan is a blessing and blessed is Ramadan, for it teaches me to be grateful, to love more and give more for the greater good of all mankind.