The holy month of Ramadan, which began on the 5th May 2019, has fast approached us once again. Millions of Muslims around the globe will be fasting from dawn till dusk for 30 days whilst still going about life.
“Why?”, you ask.
This answer will vary on an individual basis. What I can tell you is that Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) in this holy month. Ramadan is the ninth of the Islamic calendar and changes every year as it only begins when there has been a physical sighting of the new moon. This adjusts the holy month’s start date by approximately two weeks earlier every year.
I find it a period to slow down and exercise self-control as well as self-reflection. During the month, we are known for abstaining from drinking and eating from sunrise to sunset. However, fasting during Ramadan isn’t just about resisting the urge to eat and drink. It also means no sex, no smoking, no backbiting, no cursing or general anger and misbehaviour during the daylight hours. Instead, love, charity, kindness, gratefulness and prayer are prioritised. It is a conscious detox for the mind, body and soul.
Although fasting is carried out during other times of the year, Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam for the healthy able Muslim. The young, elderly, sick, travellers and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating are exempt. In these instances, donating money or food to those in need is an alternative to fasting.
“So you can’t even have water?”
Not during the day; Tea withdrawal is a thing. What you probably won’t believe is that I eventually get used to it. The body is something I believe we are all guilty of taking for granted. During this time, I appreciate how quickly my body adapts to the test. Day 2 is always the worst. By day 4 I’m in a routine of having a pre-sunrise meal, called suhoor, and breaking my fast with a meal known as iftar. In the UK, the first fast will begin from 3:41am and end at 8:34pm. The daily fast will increase over the month with the last fast beginning at 2:48am and ending at 9:14pm.
My typical weekly routine inevitably changes during Ramadan. Consequently, it results in more broken sleep. Feeling weak and tired is common and as many will say, the challenge is more mental than physical. I find because of no tea, lunch or toilet breaks, my eyes get insanely dry from staring at the laptop. Occasionally I will get ‘fasting brain’, which is when my brain may have forgotten what you just asked me to do. On the sunny days, I find a short walk outside refreshing. You’ll always find me layered up as without the fuel, I feel colder. By the end of the working day in Ramadan, when lethargy sets in, a nap is sometimes all I need. There have been days where I have been so mentally drained I slept through the time to break my fast. I am lucky enough to have an understanding manager who is flexible with my hours, which has made a difference. It is these small gestures that are greatly appreciated.
“I could never give up food.”
I bet you could as it is all to do with willpower. I have been fasting since I was ten years old. Growing up in Dubai, it was easier. The pace of the city changed; Restaurants would not be open during the day. Hours of school and work altered. It was a precious time for family get-togethers and iftar parties with friends; Muslims and Non-Muslims.
I find meetings the trickiest; there are moments where I do not feel like talking as my mouth is drier than the Sahara Desert. Or the awkward moment when everyone has paused to read the PowerPoint slide and my stomach makes the loudest and longest grumble. No fake cough can cover that.
You couldn’t stop me fasting though. The simple reason I do it is because it makes me feel humble and grounded. Most people can’t grasp the concept of being without food let alone water yet there are millions of people around the world whose reality is exactly that daily. It gives me perspective and reminds me to be grateful.
So, don’t feel bad about eating in front of me. I still enjoy your company over a coffee. It’s only for a few more weeks. The fact that you ask how I am keeping means a lot.
‘Ramadan Kareem’ is the greeting at the beginning of the month which means ‘May Ramadan be generous to you’. Donating 2.5% of your wealth to the poor and needy is known as ‘Zakat’, another pillar of Islam, and Ramadan is considered the best time of year to give.
Once Ramadan is over, Eid-Al-Fitr begins which is a three-day celebration. The customary Eid greeting is ‘Eid Mubarak’ which means ‘Happy Eid’.
Truly for me, Ramadan is a time for community, self-growth and charity and this is one of my favourite times of year. The peace I feel is one I cannot fully explain. It is the simple things that bring me joy in this month; sharing an iftar with friends and family, spending time in solitude to appreciate what I have and realigning myself with my goals.
Wishing you all a Ramadan Kareem. May this month of spiritual rejuvenation bring you peace, compassion and satisfaction.