I’ve been fasting during Ramadan for roughly 5 years. Each year is a different experience and brings different discomforts and rewards. Of course, the aim of Ramadan is not to starve yourself, but rather to focus on one’s own self-discipline.
Whilst fasting Muslims must sacrifice more than just food, and often I find myself making the effort to avoid certain programmes or even pop videos or advertising as they may contain sexual imagery or language not appropriate for a time when one is meant to be showing self-restraint. It’s only when you actively try to avoid these things that you realise just how hard it is to do so.
I usually find that Ramadan increases camaraderie. It brings about changes in the behaviour of people I’m with who, whilst not fasting themselves, make the effort not to eat in front of me, or will stop themselves from asking me if I want a cup of tea when they go to put the kettle on. I don’t feel it is necessary to tip-toe around me in the midst of Ramadan, it’s not as if I’m going to crack and snatch the bacon sandwich out of your hand, but it is a simple human kindness and understanding that I appreciate.
Muslims too secure bonds of friendship during Ramadan. I’ve occasionally been caught off guard when given a gift during Ramadan which took a friendship to a new level. Breaking fast by eating dates and drinking water with friends or family is a real highlight to the day, and is itself a restrained ritual.
It’s not the hunger, anyway, that’s the hard part of Ramadan. It’s the sudden drop-off in your ability to think part-way through the day. Your mind begins to take twice as long to do anything normal and thought processes become confused as you get dehydrated. Headaches can be a real problem, especially early on in the month.
Towards the end of a day of fasting, it’s hard not to clock-watch, feeling your hunger increase as every second ticks past. I used to think that Ramadan was a great diet plan, but this is not the case. It’s not a sustainable way to shed weight, at least not for me, as I find myself eating junk food that makes up for lost calories – perhaps I should show more self-control.
As time goes on fasting gets easier and the sense of achievement is powerful. Spending a month of self-sacrifice puts things into perspective and really makes you appreciate the life, relationships and family you have.
Occasionally I’ve dedicated my fasting to a particular cause. This year, thinking of starving children in Sudan is a reminder that fasting for a few hours a day is not so bad in the grand scheme of life. I’ll be donating to the DEC as part of the charitable giving required during Ramadan, this is not so much a sacrifice as a duty.
This article was first published on the Afiya Trust site here.