It’s 3:43 a.m., and I’m piling as much food into my stomach as I possibly can. I guzzle down a bottle of water as I try–almost unsuccessfully–to keep my heavy eyelids open. I contemplate making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, only to realize there’s just two minutes left before sunrise.
Once the sun rises, I cannot eat again until sunset.
This has been my routine for a one month straight during Ramadan.
Known as the Holy Month, Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar in which Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset. In its literal definition, the Arabic word for fasting, sawm, means “to refrain.”
This means that Muslims not only refrain from food and drink, but from sinful actions, thoughts, and words. In essence, Ramadan is a time to focus absolute attention on being better human beings.
By participating in Ramadan annually, Muslims fulfill one of the five pillars of Islam.
Restraining oneself from food and water may seem pointless and even absurd to some. At the very least, it’s virtually impossible for the average college student to get through the day without their cup of Starbucks. However, fasting can be both physically and spiritually beneficial.
There is plenty of evidence that proves fasting to be a detoxification for the body, among other health benefits. But what’s most important to many Muslims is the effect that fasting has on one’s character and spirit.
Fasting makes the body and mind weary, no doubt. But the short-term pain you feel leads to long-term positive results. When people intentionally restrict themselves from consuming food and drink, they realize the greediness of their carnal self. By subduing physical appetite, consciousness moves from worldly matters to a spiritual and moral state of mind.
In other words, a person puts their physical needs last and prioritizes their spirituality instead. A person ultimately realizes that they are not controlled by their body, but rather, by their mind and spirit.
My experience with fasting began at an early age and improved as I grew older. When I was young, it was difficult for me to fathom this element of my religion. However, as I grew and matured, the fog of my confusion started to clear.
I began to see the purpose in fasting. With each year that passed, I actually looked forward to Ramadan. I became aware of the many benefits that come with Ramadan.
Personally, fasting is a very humbling experience.
I’ve been blessed to live a life where if hunger or thirst strikes me, I have the means to quickly overcome it. Fasting puts my feet in the shoes of those who are less fortunate than I am, and reminds me not to take any aspect of life for granted. Not only that, but it establishes discipline, patience, and willpower. Through self-control, Ramadan gives me a chance to practice good manners, good speech, and good habits. The process of fasting demonstrates the strength within me, and helps to overcome my weaknesses.
It is here that I should mention some unusual and quite amusing questions I’ve compiled that my fasting friends and I have received:
“How do you stay alive if you can’t eat or drink?” Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to go without food for more than a couple of hours. In fact, a human can survive without food for three weeks and without water for about three days.
“Are you allowed to swallow your own saliva?” Yes, Muslims who are fasting can swallow their own saliva. Otherwise, there would be a lot of spitting going on.
“Since it’s raining and the sun is gone, can you eat now?” The sun hasn’t set yet, it’s just hiding behind the clouds.
“If you sit in a dark room, can you eat?” The time of day does not change in a dark room.
And my personal favorite, “You don’t eat or drink anything at all for one month?! Wow!”
Yes, Ramadan lasts for a month, but we still eat every day once the sun sets.
As this month comes to an end, I’m reflecting on the ways I’ve grown as a person from past Ramadans, and how I’ve improved myself this Ramadan.
This month is a time to re-evaluate my morals, my values, and myself. It allows me to discover who I am, and what is truly important to me.
Fasting is a rewarding experience, and I challenge myself–and others–to continue practicing good habits after the month has ended.
Written by Zaina Salem.