Over the past few years, I’ve been getting the same questions about Ramadan.
You can’t drink water?
Wait, how long do you have to fast?
Why is it during the summer?
I don’t talk about my faith often, but those around me know that this is my favorite time of the year. It’s been a long time since I’ve addressed questions about my personal observance of my religion. As you can imagine, these days, I’m mostly in defense mode when talking about anything related to Islam.
I’m not the perfect person, nor am I the perfect Muslim. Most days, I don’t feel enough. I hold my faith close to my heart because I truly believe it’s a personal connection that I shouldn’t have to justify to anyone.
But you guys, Ramadan is beautiful. Its observance is something that’s been a cornerstone of my life since I was ten years old.
Full disclosure: I’m not a religious scholar. I don’t have all of the answers. I can only talk about my personal experience and observance.
First things first: What is Ramadan?
It is our most sacred month of the year. It’s our holy month. In our faith, we believe that it was during this month that God revealed the first verses of our sacred text.
“When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.”
During the month of Ramadan, we fast every day from sunrise to sunset. It’s a time of spiritual discipline, increased generosity, and it reminds us to be grateful for everything we have in our lives.
So, let’s talk about fasting.
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. You may remember from your Introduction to Religion class that the other four pillars are: the testimony of faith, prayer, charitable giving, and making the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Fasting serves spiritual and social purposes. It reminds us of our human frailty, to show us what it feels like to be hungry and thirsty to increase our compassion for the poor, and the reduce distractions in life. During the period of our day fast, we should also be curbing negative thoughts and emotions. I personally try to curb my swearing and complaining.
But that sounds a little extreme.
I promise you it’s not meant to be. I can personally tell you that as challenging as it is in the beginning, it’s nowhere as bad as you may think. Because it’s an act of devotion, I don’t think of it as a negative experience. I usually don’t even think about it once I get past the caffeine withdrawals.
There are also exceptions: If you’re ill, traveling, pregnant or nursing, or menstruating, you are exempt from fasting. When I was a kid, there were some days I fasted for half the day.
If you miss a day, you’re supposed to make it up later in the year or provide meals to a needy day for the days you missed.
Really, no water?
Not even a sip.
So, you must eat a LOT after you break your fast.
On the contrary, I usually can’t eat a ton. My day starts with a meal before sunrise. It needs to be high in protein, so I usually stick to soup, chicken, and rice, or breakfast (eggs, bread, and olives). I drink plenty of water. I’ll sometimes have a bit of dark chocolate or honey for my sugar craving. I’m usually overly mindful of my sodium intake.
At the end of the day, when it’s time to break my fast, it’s with a sip of water and either olives (I don’t like dates) or a piece of bread with my favorite jam on it. I usually can’t eat a lot of heavy foods and will likely snack throughout the evening. Since I live in Seattle and the sun doesn’t set until 9 PM these days, the meals are even lighter because I don’t like going to sleep with a heavy stomach.
Oh, and no, I don’t lose weight. Honestly, if I do lose any weight, it’ll be because I don’t drink alcohol during the month of Ramadan. Yes, I normally drink alcohol.
Wait, back up. Can we talk about the long days? Why not just have it during the winter so it’s easier?
We follow a lunar calendar based on the phases of the moon — whose 12 months add up to approximately 354 days. Therefore, the Islamic lunar calendar moves backward approximately 11 days each year in relation to the regular Gregorian calendar. So that means that the first day of the month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, moves backward by about 11 days each year. The Vox does a great breakdown about this in this article. I won’t rehash it here.
So, does that mean we can’t hang out during the whole month?
Don’t be ridiculous. Admittedly it’s a little more challenging to be fasting here in the US than it was back in Turkey but I don’t let it impact my daily life. When I was in school, I would hang out with my friends at the cafeteria during lunch. These days, I can even go out to bars without ruining the fun.
If you’re in an environment where you work with someone fasting, just be mindful of your actions. Do you share an office with someone who’s fasting? Don’t eat your lunch at your desk. Most importantly, educate yourself and don’t be afraid to ask questions. We want to talk you about this. Ramadan is a huge part of our faith and who we are.
Speaking of which, I asked my friends on Facebook if they have any questions.
Proper attire? Same way you dress every other day of the year, and if you’re going to pray at a mosque, then you dress appropriately for that.
How do I get an invite for Eid? Tell your practicing friends you want to help them celebrate Eid al-Fitr, and ask them about their traditions. Everyone celebrates it differently. This is personally when I miss Turkey the most – the celebration and kindness are unmatched.
What are the exceptions? I think I covered most of these in the post.
Ramadan Mubarak, friends. If we’re hanging out over the course of the next month and I’m acting extra weird, it’s probably just the hanger 😉
Feel free to drop your questions in the comments. As I mentioned, I’m not an expert but will do my best to direct you to the answers if I don’t have them.