This year I have been working at an interfaith organization, and have engaged in interfaith conversations. I had a co-worker who is Muslim tell me that she observes the Christian time of year Lent. Every year she makes a similar sacrifice of giving up something that separates her from God. I felt moved and empowered in my faith that someone would take the time to understand another person’s religion, their practices, and the significance of them. Then take it a step further in observing an aspect of that practice. I decided that I was going to learn more about Islam not to convert, but to understand. I read about the five pillars; Faith, Prayer, Charity, Fasting, Pilgrimage to Mecca. Fasting is one aspect of Ramadan and the one I observed, but it is much more than that.
It is the month in which the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. As a result, Ramadan is also known as the month to recite the holy text even more eagerly and with renewed dedication to completing the task. It is mandatory for all Muslims upon reaching puberty, as long as they are mentally and physically sound. The elderly and chronically ill are exempt from fasting; however, it is incumbent upon them to feed the poor instead if they possess the financial means. The fast is not simply about denying your body food and water. It also involves arguably the more taxing challenge of avoiding ill speech, arguments, loss of temper and malicious behavior. The whole point of the fast is to demonstrate submission to God and keep the mind focused on a spiritual plane. The fasting day is book-ended by two meals: suhoor and iftar. Ramadan culminates with the three-day Eid Al Fitr holiday celebrating the end of the fast.
Now that Eid Al Fitr has passed part of my celebration is sharing my Ramadan story. I spoke with my two coworkers who are Muslim, Sadia and Imaad, on tips and what to expect. Friday May 26th was when Ramadan started this year. At 5:30am the next day my alarm sounded an indication to get up, but also the sun would be rising, it somewhat felt like a race against time. I consumed a large amount of protein and complex carbohydrates. I ate a delicious tofu scramble, dairy-free yogurt, fruit, and as much water as I could handle. The clock struck 6:30am I cleaned up from breakfast, and started to pray. I prayed for about 10-15 minutes asking God for strength, faith, hope, patience, and direction in this journey. I did some yoga to stretch and focus for the day. I picked up my bible and started reading. I looked at the clock it was already/only 8:30am. It was Saturday I had nothing going on and was rather tired so I went back to bed.
I got up everyday at 5:30am cooked, ate/drank, and brushed my teeth in the next hour, it was a true race against time. Sometimes I fell short; I didn’t get up (those were very long days) or I ran out of time and was unable to finish breakfast. At 6:30am began the rather long 14 hour fast of food and drink. I took the early morning time of the next two and a half hours prior to work by practicing my own faith through prayer, reading some spiritual text (typically the Holy Bible), and mindful walking. Much of my strength to get though some days relied on God/prayer. I don’t believe I have rested more in my life than during Ramadan. I would get off work and sleep or lounge on the couch until 6-7pm. After a week or two in the morning I would think to myself “it has only been x amount of time” and then in the evening after I broke the fast it was “wow, it has already been x amount of time.” About an hour or two before I broke fast my roommates would kind of avoid me/keep clear of the kitchen for fear of the hanger. I only experienced hanger once, we went to a local bar for trivia and it was an hour before I broke fast. The waitress sat down waters and went to take our order I sat by while people ordered and I looked longingly at my glass as the longest hour of my life pasted me by. I got nachos and drank water however, I was still hungry and thirsty. The placed was packed so our waitress was too busy to frequently check on us. I snapped at a roommate over a trivia question, and excused myself and later apologized. My roommates and co-workers were very understanding, supportive, and helpful during Ramadan.
I have never come to appreciate water more in my life especially living in Texas in the summer. Mid-morning I would be so thirsty, it would subside, early afternoon I would be so thirsty again, it would subside, right before I broke fast I would be at the peak of thirst. On the first day I practically made myself sick, I drank too much water in a period of minutes with nothing in my system. I had to rest for almost two hours before I could eat because my stomach hurt so bad. From then on out I seriously had to tell myself out loud to drink slow and in small drinks.
It was one of the most spiritual times in my life. As it was a new practice so I was very intentional and aware of many things. It was like Lent 2.0, but with way more fasting. I believe that I grew more as a Christian, closer to God, and to closer to my friends of all faiths (this includes no faith). I am very grateful for the experience and my Muslim brothers and sisters. I am lastly thankful to Allah (Arabic for God of the Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) for the strength that was provided. I believe this experience opened my eyes to live more like Christ by walking with other’s on their faith journey.
I truly encourage people to experience another person’s faith tradition at least just once. I encourage this not to change or denounce one’s beliefs. However, so we can live with others in harmony, love others, and have kindness through actions.
Peace and Love,