Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, has begun, and devout Muslims across the world will observe the month by fasting during the daytime.
My column this edition is a personal one. I hope to share my own personal experiences of observing the month of Ramadan, with both my Muslim and Non-Muslim readers.
In shorthand descriptions of Ramadan, it’s sometimes said that the fast lasts from sunrise to sunset. That’s not true. That would be easy! It actually begins at the first ray of dawn, or, as it says in the Koran, “when the white thread of day becomes distinct from the blackness of night.”
The first fast for me started on July 10 and was from around 230am till 940pm, lasting just over 18 hours. Keeping the fast and increasing acts of worship during this blessed month is not an easy task. The physical demands of balancing work or school with fasting all day, feeling fatigued and less effective than you normally are, waking up for Suhoor,(meal before dawn) performing your five daily prayers and additional Taraweeh prayer, dealing with sleep deficits. The first fast is always the hardest. Right from the moment you wake up for the pre-dawn meal (Suhoor or sehri) and after drinking your final glass of water as you seal your fast, you wish you had a little more time to slip in a second cup of coffee.
It’s impossible to fully stock up, no matter how much food or water or coffee you pour into yourself at dawn, it will never be enough to drown the body’s yearnings until sunset. But the day was easier than I had worried it would be. My main struggle was keeping from unconsciously jamming food into my mouth whenever I passed through the kitchen (This is also true when it’s not Ramadan).
As I opened my first fast and had my first gulp of water in over 18 hours I thought of how Muslims all over the country were doing exactly the same and, in time with the turning of the earth, Muslims all over the world.
Then I thought of the poor who didn’t have the luxury we had to eat after sunset. There I was staring at a huge spread of curries, sweets, desserts and fruit, however, by the time I had gulped down three glasses of water, the only appealing food item (despite my cravings throughout the day) was the watermelon, a few mouthfuls and I was full. My next worry was to ensure I lasted till 2am for prayers and Suhoor, so I automatically disciplined myself to not overeat and to follow the true spirit of Ramadan. Once I had completed my prayers observed Suhoor, I tried to grab at much sleep as I could from 3am before my alarm clock started bleeping for wake up time for work at 8am. The sleep deprivation really kicks in.
However, now on my third fast as I write this, the disciplines of praying and fasting really have taught me self control.
During Ramadan, Muslims are also expected to refrain from gossip and complaining, to avoid anger and lust, to increase what should already be a high level of charitability. Fasting was the easy part. I liked to think of myself as someone who was slow to speak ill of people, and for whom generosity was a reflex, but the discipline of the first few fasts revealed to me that this was just not the case.