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Every year, by the Islamic lunar calendar, over a billion Muslims around the globe put themselves through a month-long journey of fasting. It is a journey because it is not just about avoiding food while the sun is out, it is a process of taking in the demands the world puts on the human body and making the best of them. To be specific, the fast that Muslims undertake is not just about abstaining from food and drink (yes, water is also avoided), but it is also about trying to avoid crude actions, language, and a challenge to maintain the best relations possible with everybody. Ramadan is a period of reflection.
The fast is not a diet. It has more of a spiritual effect. When the human stomach is empty and aching for food, the body and brain begin to understand that energy has to be rationed. That means there is little energy left for unnecessary drama and negative thoughts. True, people tend to be grumpier when they are hungry, but when the spirit of Ramadan is kept with people who observe it, a lot of peace can be attained. The fast lasts for a month, therefore the avoidance of food and bad deeds becomes habitual, so every time hunger is felt, it is not a reminder to eat food, but rather, it is a reminder of the poverty and suffering of countless people around the globe. Once the month-long challenge is over, there is a left-over feeling of gratitude in subsequent months. Breakfast is treasured for the luxury it truly is, and lunch is cherished for the aid it gives the human mind and body throughout the day.
The arrival of Ramadan carries a sentiment of religiosity and peace. It is the fourth pillar amongst the Five Pillars of Islam, and Muslims recognize its significance each time the Holy Month takes the community by storm. Muslims are likely to think twice before letting the hardships of life get the best of them during Ramadan. The echoing emptiness in their stomachs is a constant reminder of their test.
The challenge does not end when the thirst is quenched at sunset. Once Muslims recognize and polish their strength and discipline in abstaining from food while maintaining a cool temper, they have to brush up their time management skills. Late night prayers take place. While many Muslims already pray up to five times a day in accordance with the Second Pillar of Islam, the volume is turned up with longer evening “Taraweeh” prayers during Ramadan. The persistence in standing for a longer period of time in prayer forces Muslims to further challenge themselves and practice patience. That is not where resistance against sleep ends though. The last hour of the day that Muslims get to eat before their fast ends is around 4 AM, right before the sun begins to rise. The remaining time gap between 3 AM and 4 AM is known as “suhoor” and Muslims either stay up until this hour to eat or they wake up to dine. Remember, good manners have to be practiced (especially during Ramadan)! That means that patience is further tested when tired Muslims encounter each other in the kitchen to eat. After suhoor, morning prayers are read and then Muslims go to bed before starting their day. The roller-coaster makes people realize how difficult it can be to have hunger interject on a daily routine. Ramadan provides for ponderance on many things.
Patience, discipline, and peace can be attained in difficult conditions. The human body is capable of more than it seems, and the human mind can be tested to new levels of strength. Non-Muslims have also given fasting a chance for at least a day and say that their experiences led them to realize how much people take for granted. Ramadan is an excellent time for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to live their lives in a way that disciplines them and makes them appreciate the things they have. The Holy Month also offers practitioners an opportunity to challenge themselves to maintain more peaceful means of dealing with anger and impatience. The feeling can be very rewarding, and many Muslims say that they miss Ramadan once it is gone. Ramadan is an excellent time to reflect on the things in life that truly matter.
Opinion by Tania Dawood
The Arab American News- Non Muslims share Ramadan fasting experiences
Featured Photo Courtesy of Manaf Kamil’s Flickr Page- Creative Commons License
Inline Photo Courtesy of Andrew Moore’s Flickr Page- Creative Commons License