Every year Muslims fast in Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Ramadan is the month of reflection, prayers and patience. The beginning and end of the month depends on the appearance of the crescent moon. Since the Muslim calendar year is shorter than the Gregorian calendar year, Ramadan begins 10-12 days earlier every year. For example, in 2020, it started on April 24, and this year it, most likely, will start on April 13 or 14. After completing 30 days of fasting, Muslims celebrate Eid; a festive day when people meet their family, relatives and friends, and send gifts to people who need them.
Fasting starts one hour before dawn and ends a few minutes after sunset. (5:02 a.m -7:40 p.m approximately). We have to stop eating at around 5 a.m., and we are not allowed to eat until 7:40 p.m. It changes daily according to sunrise and sunset. This year’s time for the last fast will be from 4:14 am to 8:02 pm (over 12 hours).
The real meaning of fasting is not only to hold back from food for certain hours of the day but to test our patience. Controlling hunger is not difficult, but what makes fasting hard is having to obey God’s will. Fasting not only means “not eating,” as one also has to stop engaging in bad habits. I think this one-month practice helps to rejuvenate not only the body but also the mind. For example, I had two habits that I never liked: I used to sleep in the afternoon and drink tea unnecessarily. After keeping fast regularly, I overcame both of them. That control gave me the confidence in life to do anything.
The interesting thing is that whenever we fast for the first time, we try to celebrate it. Usually, close family members gather in the morning for breakfast and for the iftar invitees. My first fast was when I was nine years old, and the list of guests was long. Thus, my parents planned for Suhoor (a special breakfast before keeping the first fast). Some of my close family members were invited, such as my paternal and maternal uncles, aunts and their children. It was a festive time early in the morning; we ate paratha (a kind of a tortilla), omelets, lassi (it is made of yogurt and milk) and fruits.
I still remember when I was in fifth grade, it was a challenge for me to fast, since my stomach started gurgling after two hours; I wondered when I could break my fast. At a young age, I didn’t exactly understand the meaning of fasting. As the day passed, I started counting how many hours were remaining, and finally, the time of iftar (the time of breaking fast) came around 7 p.m. This festivity was bigger than the morning’s breakfast, as lots of guests came over to our house. I still remember wearing a garland and breaking my fast after reciting some specific prayers.
I only fasted for three or four days at most while I was growing up, until I got into high school. My sisters gave me the courage to fast. After watching my elder sisters fast, I finally started fasting for the whole month. I kept up with the practice for years until my daughter was born in 2011. It was tough to keep fasting for almost 14 hours in the U.S. However, last year, my daughter turned nine, and she had her first fast. Due to the pandemic, we did not invite anyone, so it was just the four of us. It was an intimate and spiritual time, and we were overjoyed.
A comment I received from one of my fellow colleagues, while working in a bank here in the U.S., always bothered me. They said, “Don’t you get hungry while fasting for twelve plus hours?” My reply was always a simple “Yes, I do feel hunger but I earned patience and tolerance toward controlling myself in areas such as food habits.” Now, when I read comments on these groups on Instagram, I sometimes think about how beautiful the religion of Islam is, as it taught me to tolerate my hunger. Another beautiful thing about the concept of fasting is, if someone is ill or cannot fast due to several reasons they can make up the fast by doing it later, or if the illness does not allow them to fast in the future, they can provide one day’s meal for a person in need.
As I grew older,I also learned that fasting not only increases our patience but also gives us a pause from our busy life. It is a time for reflection and helps us understand the pain those facing famine feel, since it makes us feel real hunger, especially when the fasts are long in the summer.
I am hoping for a peaceful rejuvenation of my inner soul this Ramadan, and am looking forward to celebrating it with my daughter.