Fasting left me in awe of discipline required to observe Ramadan

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LONDON: Ramadan holds multiple points of significance for the Muslim world. Perhaps most famous for its month-long fast, it is also believed to have been when the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad.

Neither Muslim, nor someone who had before — at least knowingly — fasted, the request from Arab News to do one and write about it left me with several questions.

Why? What would there be to write about besides feeling hungry and thirsty? And would I buckle and gorge on the Sainsbury’s grocery delivery I had lined up for the proposed day?

It turned out that having successfully gone from dawn to dusk without breaking the fast, I did indeed have some self-control when it came to eating.

Perhaps more importantly, it provided an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of why friends I know do it, and what it offers to the Muslim community, not to mention leaving me in awe of the physical and mental will required to fast for the full month.

Waking up a little after 3:30 a.m., I followed the instructions provided by my colleague Zaynab: “Eggs, banana, porridge.” I gave the dates a miss, mainly through forgetfulness.

At this point I should state that the absence of food or water for one 14.5-hour stretch did not leave me overly nervous. In fact, given it was to be a single day, I would say to write anything on it was, if anything, quite bizarre considering the famines gripping swathes of the world.

Speaking to a friend and Arab News colleague Tarek, I did, however, question how faithful people were when it came to missing out on any drink during daylight hours.

“No, not one drop, sir,” he said before agreeing that given a propensity for human social engagement to inform some form of consumption, this period of abstinence obviously affected social relations.

He added: “But there are other effects, including dizziness, fatigue, lethargy, lack of focus, and cravings — one day is fine but it is doing it consistently that makes it tough.”

Tarek’s reflections came about five hours into my own fast, and having followed Zaynab’s recommendations, I can confirm that I was not feeling any pangs of hunger at this stage, but by about midday I was finding my attention drawn more toward water.

I spoke to other observant Muslim friends, and one thing that came across was that while there was a general uniformity toward the observation of the fast, it was not monolithic.

For instance, one friend said that they did without food for the whole period, but abstaining from water was somewhat dependent on the time of year that Ramadan fell: if in the summer, they would do without all drinks but water.

Another friend, Nabila, said she was stricter than most of her friends and family, additionally doing without music as part of her observation of the holy month.

She added: “The way I see it is that it is one month. For the rest of the year we can do what we want, but through that one month of observation I gain a lot and I become more focused on some of the ills of society; that in turn helps me readjust my engagement with the world.”

Nabila’s focus on those undergoing forced fasts, with this year’s Ramadan coinciding with the largest assault on Gaza in a generation, was shared by others I spoke to or heard.

Speaking to the BBC, Dr. Amjad Eleiwa, the deputy director of the emergency department at Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital, said that Palestinians in Gaza had “already been fasting for months,” with others noting the “dark shadow” Israel’s war had cast over what Nabila said should be a joyous time.

She added: “It’s not easy, though. I have little or no energy and I struggle with work. You won’t see me out. It is not easy and anyone who says it is, well, they’ve probably not committed.”

Equally, however, Nabila noted that the breaking of the fast each day brought its own reward, describing the anticipation immediately before eating as a feeling “of excitement, that ends in a sense of euphoria … I can’t really describe it.”

As my own, solitary day of fasting came to an end, I found myself feeling, as it was suggested I might, almost in a post-hunger state. How did I break my fast? A yogurt.

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