“Have you converted?” they asked me? No, ma’am. “So why are you celebrating Ramadan?”
I was doing a solidarity fast in honor of Ramadan (and my own innate curiosity in religion and interfaith values). Despite the title, it’s really not about starving. Ever.
A friend of mine, and someone I regard in very high esteem, advertised an interfaith breaking of the fast that coincided perfectly with the time I’d be in Boston. When I saw his posting the day before Ramadan, I thought a couple of things: 1) I’ve never tried it; 2) I’d like to learn more; 3) it’d be a good reason to see that aforementioned friend; 4) interfaith work is beautiful; and 5) if I’m going to attend a breaking of the fast, I might as well fast.
It turns out that last-minute fasting is not very smart.
I am absolutely not pretending to be an expert on Ramadan now, but there are some very simple revelations that popped up over the course of my fasting days. Here are a few thoughts and tips for first time non-Muslim fasters.
1. Be prepared. I know this sounds simple, but preparing your pre-sunrise and post-sunset meals is essential. More important, though, is hydrating. Which brings me to…
2. Drink water. Really. Drink it. A lot. And drink the night before, not just before sunrise. Getting up in the middle of the night to use the restroom is nowhere near as uncomfortable as spending the next day in weakness and agony. It was the dehydration that plagued me worst of all–headaches, dry throat, fatigue, low energy. Also, the less hydrated I was, the longer it took me to process things mentally (though this subsided a bit after the second day).
3. Get up before sunrise to eat. Yes, that can be very early in Northern states (or countries) but you will be much less cranky during the day. I am not now nor have I ever been a “morning person,” but what a wonderful reason to experience the sunrise! Also, naps are lovely.
4. Hungry is NOT Starving. This, too, might seem obvious to some, but being able to wait until sundown to eat was really not as hard as I thought it’d be. You’re not going to starve; you’re just waiting. Even if you know this in theory, an active fast is a strong reminder that it’s actually true! Also, it might be cliche to say it reminded me that there are others who fast unwillingly out of lack of resources, but it was definitely a reason to step back and remember that I have more than I need.
5. Productivity rocks. It’s so easy to jump to food the second we sense hunger, but by fasting until sundown, I was able to spend so much more time focusing on other things. I even cleaned my apartment! (Note: I did need to take naps a couple of times, but on the whole, I liked that I ended up seeking more productive activities that kept me busy and distracted from momentary thoughts of “maybe I’m hungry.”)
6. You don’t have to convert (or even be thinking about it). I was very open about my fasting out of solidarity and curiosity–and that I had never done it before. For me, it was a way to at least open the front door of understanding in regard to Islam, Ramadan, and fasting. Looking up “how to fast for Ramadan” seemed silly, but I had never actually looked it up before! I liked learning about the structure of the holiday, and the fast was definitely the catalyst for that learning experience. When I told people of my motives, no one gave me a hard time. Some people were genuinely interested. Most people just nodded.
7. We are stronger than we think. Regardless of whether you fast for religious or secular reasons, fasting during the day is a powerful reminder that we have impressive physiology, that our minds and bodies are capable of adapting, and that we will, ultimately, be taken care of. I could see how fasting for a full month could lead to a greater appreciation in God, health, maintaining a balanced life or any combination of related themes.
The interfaith breaking of the fast was a beautiful, motivational celebration organized by Jewish and Islamic organizations. I felt honored to be a part of it.
When it comes down to it, I can’t say that I know so much more about Islam than before I fasted, that I know what it’s like to fast for a full month as a Muslim, or even that I can relate to the way the Muslim community is perceived in America. However, those couple of days were incredibly inspiring and surprisingly calming. I am now more aware that there are people fasting around me and of the power and awe that such fasting can bring.
The holiday is still going; give it a try!