Six reasons why you should be fasting this Ramadan
Ramadan is soon upon us. This year the British fast is an eighteen-hour colossus, straddling the summer solstice. I will join Muslims across the world in abstaining from food and drink during those hours. And yes, that does include water. Contrary to the assumption you may have made, I’m not a practising Muslim.
I want to share the reasons why I observe the fast each year, and why I think you should too.
My timing is inconsiderate. In a country such as ours, when the lunar calendar places Ramadan during the summer months, the fast is long and the days can be hot. This is the deep end. But the lunar cycle takes 33 years to complete and I wasn’t prepared to wait 10 to 15 years to ease you in.
Two years ago, during Ramadan, I stayed on the couch at a friend’s house. I drifted awake, and from the next room I could hear her chatting to some lads I didn’t know. I heard the following;
BOY NUMBER 1: Who’s that girl asleep on the couch?
FRIEND: That’s my friend Zahra, she’s probably tired. She’s getting up at, like, three in the morning to eat because she’s fasting for Ramadan.
BOY NUMBER 1: Fasting?!
BOY NUMBER 2: Fasting??!! Why would you do that, why? Why??!! Eat! I mean eat! Jaaaaast Eat! HAW HAW haw haw ha ha!
I chose not to explain myself on this particular occasion, but now I’d like to try. Why choose not to eat? Why observe without obligation? Here are six reasons;
1. Self-discipline. Training of any kind is based on repetition, as anyone lycra-clad will tell you. It is in recurring confrontation with challenge where the value lies, and from which development might spring. Over time you realise you can run with ease the route which almost made you cough up blood. Whether your motivation is spiritual or pragmatic, this kind of discipline will change your view of what you’re capable of.
2. Gratitude. When you break your fast at sundown, or ‘Iftar’, believe me, food has never tasted so good. The ritual of chewing and swallowing is elevated and exalted. Taste buds deadened by continual satisfaction are re-awakened. Recognition of our utter dependence on what we stuff our faces with can be a magic ingredient, taking flavour to new planes.
3. Empathy. Intellectually we know that everyone is as authentic a person as we are, and that many have dramatically tougher realities. But how often do we allow ourselves to truly feel it? Ramadan confronts me with some of what I’d ordinarily brush past.
4. Health. Every year I fend off the imperious ‘that’s really bad for you’ with the unscientific ‘billions of people do it every year so it must be fine’. Despite the assumptions of some, Ramadan can be good for your health. Yes, you do need to be sensible. You need to ensure you eat and drink enough during hours of darkness and maybe avoid vigorous sport in full sun. Having said that, it is meant to be a challenge, underlined every year by fasting athletes who maintain their observance throughout and claim Ramadan can even improve their focus and performance. England cricketer Moeen Ali says fasting is far from detrimental to his game. “It is tough, but it’s very rewarding. I do feel that I’m much sharper in my senses and a lot more relaxed.”
5. Perspective. Fasting gives you a shake and a slap and a new lens through which to view yourself and the bubble you operate in. It’s easy to be all-consumed by your own reality; that’s all you see every day. Changing some of the fundamentals of your routine, and the relationship you have with your ‘needs’, can be humbling. It’s a pinch of salt to take yourself with, to help erode the battlements you’ve built to protect your own perspective. Last year I salvaged a friendship which was crumbling under my feelings of resentment and absolving of responsibility. It was during Ramadan that I saw my own ugliness and let go. Coincidence perhaps. Perhaps not.
6. Ego. It’s an ego petri dish around here, and in our culture we like to feed it with immediate gratification, celebration of the individual and a hideous quantity of selfies. If a demanding infant says ‘I want it all, I want it right now, and I want to be the centre of attention’ you might have a lesson or two to teach them. But it seems that all we learn is not to vocalise the desires we grow up to embody. Fasting is just one way to acknowledge your ego and start to separate yourself from it.
Of course, there is a seventh reason as well. Although I’m not practising Islam, I did grow up in a Muslim family. This is no longer the predominant impetus for my fast — but this is how I began, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to share in this tradition.
“Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardships and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.”
For me, this piece of the Qur’an can guide anyone who wishes to fast, whether you’re Muslim, non-Muslim, tasting three days or seeing out the whole period. There is no guarantee of any benefit or reward, no medal to be won. Just you, your best intentions and an infinite opportunity to learn. And perhaps you will be grateful.
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