It is for me

I am so utterly done with being required to defend Ramadan to Muslims and, quite often, non-Muslims alike. The script goes,

‘Oh! You cannot eat all month!’

‘From sunrise to sunset,’ I reply. 

Then comes: ‘What if you get hungry or thirsty? Can you at least drink water?’

Reply: ‘No, no drinking or eating. It’s OK to feel hungry and/or thirsty. You will have food and drink soon. You just need to show patience.’

And then – my favourite: ‘This is asking too much. How can a merciful God ask you to do this?’

My reply: ‘It’s not asking too much, its more for you, the body is able to be without food or drink for an extended period of time without it becoming dangerous unless you are medically unable to go through with it, in which case you are excused from the fast following the guidelines for exemption.’

They reply: ‘This all sounds pretty harsh.’

My nonverbal reply: head shake, eye-roll, balls-of-fists pumped.

My issue is with people refusing to allow their vast brains to contemplate for a second what it means when people of many different faiths practice fasting. Islam is not the only faith with specific rules on food abstinence. The season of Lent in the Christian faith; the full, minor, four, and customary fasts in the Jewish tradition; the disciplined regimen-like fast that some Buddhist adhere to, especially during times of intense meditation; the integration of regular fasting – depending on personal belief and deity association – in the Hindu religion, and the required Ash Wednesday and Good Friday fasts for Catholics. Let’s just pause for a second and try to understand why these faiths, which have been around for thousands of years- double emphasis on thousands – choose fasting as a regular, integral part of spiritual advancement. We pray, we read, we recite, we meditate, we adhere, we follow, we go to our places of worship – and we fast. Fasting is not meant to hurt, or weaken. It is meant to increase, and enliven. The benefits of fasting are even medically recognized as a sort of detox, reducing insulin resistance, boosting brain function, and enhancing heart health, amongst other advantages.

What happens in Ramadan is transformational.  This may be hard to believe for some people who only consider the physicality of the practice. Not eating or drinking is just one part of a month dedicated to the utter internal stripping of egoism. We underestimate our power of self-control sometimes. We live in a fast-paced, drive-thru, Amazon Prime, Uber Eats, Instacart world these days. Everything is easy; everything is within reach, or just a click away. We struggle with basic principles, such as showing patience, sharing, and making do with what we have. We want to indulge – to feel good, to splurge, and repeat to feel in charge. In Ramadan you wait. You sit, you reflect, you feel hunger, you feel thirst, you are tired. Many times you are pushed to your breaking point, but you wait.

And when the wait is over, when you sit down and say a prayer over the food you have in front of you, you feel proud. Through the hunger, thirst, and the migraine from caffeine withdrawal, you are proud of yourself. This boosts self-confidence in the direction self-confidence was meant to be boosted. We can feel confident in our stylish, branded clothes, confident as we walk in our trendy heels, wearing matching accessories with a fresh blowout, but the self-confidence building that occurs over the month of fasting comes from the power of mind over matter. Once we can get that power, materialistic and superficial things lose their appeal. We become in tune with ourselves again, with the values that strengthen us and define our being. We are reminded of meaning in life and keeping purpose part of our daily decisions. We learn about ourselves, where our strengths lie, what can be done with our weaknesses. We begin addressing what needs addressing, first internally, then externally; first in theory, then in practice. We have the time and energy for this crucial evolvement because we are not noisily occupied by mediocre, unsubstantive distractions. And then, approximately thirty days later we feel different. We feel accomplished, fine-tuned, steady. We find ourselves eating less out of habit, appreciating more with respect for what we have. It is truly a special feeling. It is truly a blessed month.

The decision to fast is an eager, yet careful one. No pity or sympathy needed.