It’s 9:30 a.m. and my stomach is already growling… and I have about 12 hours left to go.
To top it off, someone brought in two dozen delicious melt-in-your-mouth looking cupcakes. And set it on the desk in front of me. Not to spite me or make me jealous, but I’m sitting next to the desk where they usually set food. And today’s cupcakes look especially delicious.
I’m fasting. Just like millions of Muslims do each year during Ramadan. And when I say fasting, there’s no eating, drinking, smoking or even chewing gum. And no, not even water (that’s the question I get asked the most). I fast from dawn to sunset, every day for about a month.
I think it’s cute when co-workers hide their food from me when they’re eating lunch. Believe it or not, it doesn’t bother me when people eat in front of me. The smell sometimes gets to me, but that’s where the patience you’re supposed to have during Ramadan kicks in. For some reason, I become more patient (definitely not my top virtue). Ramadan also teaches you to empathize with those less fortunate than you. That’s one of the reasons why Muslims fast.
During Ramadan, I realize how important the smaller things in life are; things we usually take advantage of. For instance, that first cup of coffee in the morning; that apple and peanut butter I snack on during the day; the bowl of ice cream or frozen yogurt I have when I get off work. It’s so minute in my daily life, but in Ramadan, I realize how amazing it is that I can have those things during the day; how blessed I am that I have the resources needed to satisfy and sustain me.
(I miss having coffee so much!)
By the way, Ramadan is not just about refraining from eating and drinking, but you’re supposed to be on your best behavior during Ramadan. You’re cleansing your body AND your soul. In my case, best behavior is not swearing (my friends know I can have a potty mouth sometimes).
This year, Ramadan takes place during the start of the summer, during the longest days of the year. We follow the lunar calendar, and so the month of Ramadan moves back ten days every year. I remember when it used to be during winter time. That was the best. But despite the long summer days, I’ve made it so far. I’m still here. And I’m surviving. Probably because I had Suhur this morning. That’s when Muslims wake up before dawn to have breakfast and chug some water. Some Muslims just stay up all night and eat and drink so the day isn’t as hard. In my case, I woke up at 3:30 a.m., clumsily, with eyes half shut, stumbled down the stairs to the kitchen, had some bread and cheese, a few glasses of water, and went right back to sleep.
I have to be honest, throughout the day there are moments of hunger where you wonder, “HOW AM I GOING TO MAKE IT?” And then those moments pass, and you go on with your day. Until Iftar time, when you break your fast around sunset. Those last few hours of fasting can be difficult sometimes. Mostly the last half hour, because you know you’re SO close, yet still so far away.
Iftar time is great, though. Not just because you’re finally eating after a long day of fasting, but it’s also because people usually break fast with family and/or friends, and it’s such a great feeling. Many people take turns inviting others to their home for a delicious dinner. Everyone at the dinner table is there for the same reason. They went through what you went through. They are fasting for the same reasons. And it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, you unite at that table and eat TOGETHER for the first time in about 17 hours (less or more, depending on where you live).
(Broke fast at a friend’s house, and relaxed and hung out after)
Muslims usually break fast on dates. That’s the tradition. And people really eat anything that gets cooked. You’re not as picky about food or what’s on the dinner table at that point. You just know you want to eat. A lot of people ask me if I binge eat once I break fast. Personally, I don’t. I can’t. Fasting makes your stomach shrink, and you pile all this food onto your plate thinking you’re going to eat everything in your sight. But you get halfway through and realize it’s just not going to happen.
Which brings me to the question I get asked a lot: Do you lose weight in Ramadan?
I do, and that’s only because I try not to eat heavy stuff or chow down like a mad woman after breaking fast. In the past, I did eat like a mad woman and actually gained weight during Ramadan. But thankfully, I figured it out and was able to make changes.
(My favorite thing to get after Iftar — Frozen Yogurt!)
Many of my non-Muslim friends tell me they wouldn’t be able to fast because they’re diabetic of have other health issues. People hate on Islam, but believe it or not, it caters to the needs of people a lot of the time. If you have a health issue or are sick, you shouldn’t fast. Also, ladies get a break: women on their period cannot fast during that time. Pregnant women also don’t have to fast.
Even though I have about quite a few hours left until Iftar, I’m doing good. I feel great, and I’m looking forward to having dinner with my family tonight. We’re thinking of getting Mexican food. A carne asada has my name all over it.