5 Things I’ve Learnt From Fasting in SF

Before reading this please put your judgements aside and read with an open mind lacking preconceived notions.

I’ve noticed that more and more of my friends, relatives and people in my life have refrained from fasting during Ramadan. It may be because it’s in the summer during the longest days of the year, it may be because I’m at an age where people have affiliated with identities that align (or not) with a belief/religion and are not willing to compromise or because of the negative connotations tied to Islam, especially in the US. Regardless of why, this phenomenon has forced me to ask myself why do I choose to fast? why do I choose this crazy schedule that makes me tired and dysfunctional at work, fall asleep in the car while driving, wake up alone at 4am to force feed myself and be much less social for a period of time?

After fasting for a few weeks the answers are coming to me naturally. Since the stats show that you’re much more likely to read and enjoy this if I opt for Buzzfeed-style writing, here are 5 things I’ve learnt during Ramadan:

  1. Resilience (both physical and mental): It’s true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. After the first few days of fasting I felt like I was put into a blender all alone without a way to make it stop. A few more days passed when I started to find my bearings and be mindful of my practice and how it’s shaping my mind and body. Now that we’re in the last 10 days I can do so much more while feeling fine, not ridiculously tired or helpless due to the lack of food. I’ve learnt to walk the blades of the blender (if there is such a thing)
  2. Appreciating privilege: In a world where an Uber no-show or slow wifi can (and does) aggravate me, I’ve learnt to take a step back and laugh at my first world problems. I’m constantly reminded of how lucky and privileged I am to have a healthy life with the company of so many great individuals.
  3. Acknowledge that there’s more to life than the everyday mundane routine: stripping my body from a need that is so vital to its existence is a forced reminder to separate between the body and what occupies it: the spirit. I realize that I’m first and foremost a soul that happens to be in a body and that is extremely profound and empowering (boom…mind blown!). It reminds me that there is more to me and to my life than my routine and day to day.
  4. Refraining from judgement: we’re all judgmental to a certain extent. It takes 7 seconds to form an opinion about someone before they even say a word. Fasting makes you look tired and frail. Because I’m in an environment where very few people know it’s ramadan, I’ve been asked repeatedly if I’m sick or on a juice cleanse. This made me realize that I should control my judging instincts because I rarely know what other people are going through. They may well be on a juice cleanse.
  5. Patience: There’s no surprise that fasting teaches patience. After all you are practicing patience from sunrise till sundown. It instills the idea that everything is impermanent. Things will change (post iftar) and so will your feelings, and once you accept that you become a more positive person letting go of negative hangry moments.

Throughout the 8 years I’ve been in the US I have shied away from my Islamic identity mainly so I won’t be socially boxed into a stereotype that I don’t fit (and maybe to avoid NSA spying… If I’m radio-silent after this post you know why). In the wake of ISIS and extreme islamists shredding the image of Islam, I believe it’s my duty as a moderate and logical muslim to represent a different version of the truth. One that is moderate and logical! It’s my right to identify with something that is a part of my character without feeling ashamed or shy about it.

In my everyday life in the Bay Area when someone finds out I’m fasting and they express a sense of surprise (that they really try to hide to avoid seeming judgmental) because I don’t “look” Muslim, I feel great to have planted a seed of a new image of Muslims. Yes I may practice in short shorts, but so do a large number of people who are encouraged to speak up and do their part in breaking the stereotype.

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