What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
This is actually the second re-write of this article. When I first wrote it, a week or so ago, Ramadan had just begun and I was not in high spirits about it. After 2,000 words of rambling about why I hated Ramadan and my only reasons for doing it was to make my parents happy, I realised a lot of it was unusable and more to the point, untrue.
For those who aren’t aware, Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and is considered the holiest of the year. During this time, all the devils are locked up, allowing us to lead a truly sinless life as we are not tempted (by the devils, at least) to sin. Meaning any sinful act we do do, is all down to our bad selves. Oh, and we also fast during day light hours until the sun sets.
This year, as Ramadan has yet again fallen on summer, our daily fast is a whopping 18 hours. I can’t eat till around 9 pm in the evening.
So why do I put myself through this? Anyone who knows me knows I am not religious by any means. I drink, dabble, date, have tattoos and friends often joke that I’m probably more debauched than the average "Westerner"! I actually consider myself a non-practicing Muslim, as even though I do believe in the faith, I don’t adhere to the strict rules and guidelines.
Despite all this, because my parents are such lovely sweethearts and I couldn’t bear to break their little hearts by acting so disappointingly, I fast during the month of Ramadan. People have asked why I simply don’t PRETEND to fast, and secretly eat while their backs are turned, but I just respect them too much and would not feel good about constantly lying to them.
One of my pre-Ramadan gluttonfests!
Since my only reason for fasting this year was to appease my wonderful parents, I began the month-long 18-hour-day fasts with a heavy, sad, depressed heart. I can’t remember when exactly things started to change for me but the realisation that it had changed only hit me when I was re-reading what I had started to write a week ago for this article.
I actually feel really happy within myself these days. I love the fact that my life is not complicated (I’ve ceased going out and socialising as this month is about a sinless lifestyle and my lifestyle in general is pretty sinful!) I really enjoy spending time with my family in the evenings when we can finally eat, and I just generally feel pure within myself, uplifted. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like I’m a good person leading a wholesome life.
Because the Prophet Muhammad used to break his fast with three dates, many do the same with at least one date or more (kind of annoying as I'm not a big fan of them)..
I’m sure I’ve felt this way in previous years of fasting. That is essentially what Ramadan brings to many Muslims who observe it. We’re all doing this together, there’s a big sense of unity and it’s a nice, family-oriented time of year. There’s a lot to be said for practicing discipline, it makes you feel like you have accomplished something.
And bizarrely, these 18-hour fasts aren’t actually that hard. I swear I’ve felt hungrier in the past just waiting for dinner on a regular eating day. I have this theory that for those who are willing to go through the obvious hardship of fasting, God lessens the struggle.
This piece was actually (if I remember correctly) meant to have some kind of health and beauty element to it... Whoops! I think I pitched it as a "How to keep healthy during Ramadan"-style article, sorry Phoebe and Rebecca! The only top tips I can really give you in order to keep healthy (or as healthy as you can during this time) is to:
a) Drink plenty of water, like two litres plus if you can manage it. Dehydration is probably what you’ll suffer from the most throughout this month and you don’t need me to tell you how that’ll affect your skin, alongside the rest of your body!
b) Cut down on caffeine as much as you can before the month starts, so those pesky caffeine craving don’t near kill you (as THAT is the thing that really gets most people, same goes for smoking).
c) Try and have at least one piece of fruit a night. As tempting as it is to indulge in the rich, fatty feast laid out before you during Iftar (that’s what we call breaking-the-fast time), fruit will really help your body with some much needed fibre.
d) If you’re a gym bunny, be prepared to wave goodbye to any form of strenuous exercise as fasting will completely deplete your energy tanks long before the month is through! The trick is all about persevering, lasting the month and not burning out. You’ve got to think big picture here.
To finish off this little (hopefully insightful?) piece on my reasons for fasting, here are some that are more universally recognised that I also really like.
- As it’s compulsory in Islam to donate 2.5% of your earnings to charity, fasting during the month of Ramadan helps us appreciate this gesture more by putting us in a similar position to those we are helping by donating.
- It’s good for the body to fast once in a while as it cleanses the accumulated impurities of uninterrupted eating throughout the year.
- Possibly the most obvious, it’s the act of sacrificing something in order to prove our faith to God.
Oh, one last tip for surviving Ramadan -- avoid the ice cream van! There was a whole summer in ’94 where I’d come home from school, after having spent the entire day fasting, slurping on a 99 flake. Obviously the pull of the ice cream van at home time was TOO MUCH for my young self and my defences would just break.
Thankfully my parents found it funny and kindly praised me for all my hard work prior that moment. Bless ‘em.