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Muslims have taken part in the annual month of Ramadan since 610 AD.
The word ‘Ramadan’ derives from the Arabic word ‘Ramida’ which, when translated, means scorching heat.
Ramadan takes place during the ninth and most important month of the Islamic calendar year. The basic concept is to refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise till sunset every day, for the duration of the month. No food, no water, just discipline and patience.
For me, the worst part of Ramadan is the few days before the month begins. The main thought that takes over my mind is ‘how the hell am I going to do this…No water, no food, for thirty days’. I think about all the different ways it’s going to affect my life.
Having to wake up in the middle of the night just to eat.
How my energy levels are going to drain.
How it’s going to impact my moods, and how I hope I don’t let my ‘hanger’ out on the people around me.
For thirty days.
That process reminds me of when you were a kid and got into trouble. When you were told to go to your room and wait before either your mum or dad, or both if it was really bad, would come in to make you face the music. You would pace around your room with your mind in overdrive, questioning how much they really know of what you did, should you come clean, should you deny, feign innocence, what strategy should you take? More often than not though, it was that waiting period which was worse than the punishment.
The first few days are challenging. There is no doubt about that. Your body is used to a certain cycle. It sleeps at a certain time and eats at a certain time. So when that time comes around and you don’t give it what you need, it lets you know through tiredness, hunger, thirst and exhaustion. But that simply comes down to adjusting your body pattern. When those first few days pass, and your body adjusts to the new system, what strikes you the most is how adaptive the human body is.
It seems monumental, not eating or drinking anything for the majority of the day, and most people would say the same thing, “There’s no way I could do it.”
But if you had to do it, if you made that decision mentally, your body would follow so quickly and you would be surprised at how easy it can actually be.
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam for two fundamental reasons: one centres around health, the other around humility.
In the last few years, the health-related reasons behind fasting have really come to the forefront in the rebranded form of ‘Intermittent Fasting’. The more research is done, the more benefits have been uncovered, not just for weight loss but also for the reparation and restoration of your body and organs. At this point, a simple Google search will allow you to know the scientific benefits in greater detail.
Initially, elite level athletes, celebrities and nutritionists identified the real value of fasting, and it has now become prevalent amongst regular, health-conscious people. The basic premise is thatonce your organs stop focusing on processing and correctly depositing the constant flow of food you intake, it gives your body the time it needs to focus on the more deep-rooted problems that set in over a prolonged period of time as we abuse our bodies.
Breathing. Water. Sleep. Food.
These four needs are the bands that unequivocally tie every living being together. We are designed as such that if you take any of them away, the wheels of death whir into motion.
There is no variation that allows your breath to be used as a means to test you and deprivation of sleep is a genuine means of torture.
With food and water, however, you have more leeway with and can reduce intake without risking your health. It doesn’t matter if you are the strongest person in the world, the smartest, the richest, if you don’t eat for sixteen hours you will feel hunger. If you don’t drink for sixteen hours you will feel thirst. It brings everyone down to the same level.
It doesn’t matter how many fasts you have completed or how accustomed you have become to Ramadan. When you have a hard fast, you forget all of your worldly problems. Your money problems, and family problems, and relationship problems, are all replaced by your primal needs.
And when you do finally open your fast. When you eat your first date and drink that first sip of water, you are humbled. You sit there in silence and marvel over the design and functionality of the human body: equally as fragile as it is robust.
In almost every Muslim household around the world, during the month of Ramadan, all eyes are on the clock. Everyone is waiting for the time and signal that you can end your fast when you hear the azan (call to prayer) of Maghrib (penultimate prayer of the day – always at sunset).
The moment you hear it, everybody breaks fast the way you would if you hadn’t eaten or drunk for up to twenty hours.
But Ramadan is designed to make you think about those who can’t eat or drink. Not out of choice, but out of the inability to afford it. It doesn’t matter if the sun is up, down or anywhere in between, poverty forces some to starve.
How many times do you eat something when you’re not hungry? You eat because you’re bored and you have nothing else to do. You go out to eat and order excessively knowing full well that you can just leave whatever you don’t want. We know it’ll get binned, we know that it’s wrong, but we do it anyway.
It’s easy to fall prey to gluttony. We all ‘know’ that we are very lucky in the grand scheme of things, but we have never had to go hungry because we are unable to eat. We have never had to go thirsty because the only water available is not safe, and we’ve never been in the position where we’ve had to question whether to drink it or not because you’re just that thirsty.
I explained this to a friend of mine who questioned me about Ramadan. I split the two main reasons up as ‘health’ and ‘religion’. Having listened to it all of what I had to say he responded with, ‘this has nothing to do with religion. This is being intuitive and self-aware enough to keep your feet on the ground.’
Ramadan is a reminder. The fact that it comes around once a year is ideal. Not just for your body that needs it, but also to remember that you are simply a human being, nothing more, nothing less. You should be thankful for all the things you have in your life no matter how big or small.