Ramadan is the holy Islamic month of fasting. During the month,
Muslims will fast during the daylight, in all conditions and break their fast at nightfall with family and friends. Many of us wonder though, what can it be like to fast for an entire month?
As an Orthodox Jew, my religion is fairly similar to Islam in terms of fasting. Although we do not fast for an entire month, there are small fast days throughout our calendar as well as Tisha b’Av, a fast commemorating the destruction of the Jewish temple and of course, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) where we fast to repent for sin during the year. These fasts only last for a day- and no food or water must pass our lips. It takes a lot of self sacrifice and discipline to fast, to move away from the physical and focus purely on spirituality and God. For me, Tisha b’Av has always been the hardest fast because it is in the heat of summer. This year the Jewish fast day will be taking place during Ramadan. It is interesting for me, that both our cultures will be fasting on the same day albeit for differing reasons, but also that Muslims will be having to contend with the heat for an entire month. Sometimes, the exhaustion can take its toll and your mind weakens, wanting to feed the body.
I had a privileged glimpse into the lives of Muslims around the world when I taught last summer (July 2010) in Tamale, Northern Ghana. I arrived at the NGO, Girls Growth and Development, as a Literacy and Numeracy teacher and found that my class of 20 women were from mixed tribes and religions. I would often arrive in the intense heat to find some of the women lying down on benches before class, where they informed me they were fasting for Ramadan. I could see how much of an effort and a toll it was physically for them and thought it very special that they were able to complete this religious practise despite the challenges.
Muslims fast on Ramadan to spiritually improve themselves and focus on goodness and truth. It is a time of purity and doing good deeds. While it must be hard to fast for an entire month, it is for important reasons. I believe that the Muslim intention to look after the needy particularly during Ramadan is a noble goal, especially the act of feeding the poor. Muslims experience this type of hunger during Ramadan and humble themselves through fasting, to get closer to Allah and celebrate his gifts to humankind. Fasting for a month cannot be easy, however I expect the spiritual goals make it more bearable and at times enjoyable. There is also a communal element which must strengthen the individual as the fast is broken each evening with family and friends.
Written by Eleanor Segall. Read her blog and experiences of Ghana here.
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For an insightful understanding of ‘The Significance of Fasting in the Month of Ramadan’ written by a Muslim, read the article on Khurram’s blog.