Fasting

It has now been about two weeks of Ramadan.  What always strikes me during Islam’s holy month is the solidarity between people in Morocco and how much fasting brings people together.  More or less everyone is fasting in the day, so everybody shares the same feelings of thirst, hunger, or sleepiness, along with the same traditions of breaking the fast at night.  I usually choose to fast for several days each Ramadan so that I can feel that same sense of unity with those around me.  That way, when I walk to work, I know that it is not just me who skipped breakfast, but an entire community.

Ftour

Breakfast/dinner of dreams

Fasting is not specific to Islam.  During the past few days, quite a few of my students have asked me about whether Christians fast.  We do occasionally have days of fasting at my church, sometimes related to important dates, and sometimes just to reflect about a specific topic as a group, but it rarely lasts more than a week.  Another local church is currently having a “year of fasting,” where each month the members are encouraged to give up one thing that distracts them, such as television, facebook, or coffee.

I looked up fasting in some other religious groups, and found that Coptic Christians in Egypt fast for the forty days of Lent by giving up all animal products, or basically becoming vegan for that period.  Fasting is required at different periods in Judaism, Bahaism, and Catholicism.  The purpose of fasting during Ramadan for Muslims is to remove mundane desires to increase spiritual reflection, and for all Muslims to feel what it is like to be poor and to increase charity.

According to the bible, fasting is not necessarily about food. We can read in the book of Isaiah what a fast should be: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)  This sort of fast requires charity, generosity, and a fight against oppression, but mentions nothing about food other than that it should be shared.

The New York Times recently published this article on the health benefits of fasting, unrelated to religion.  Apparently, regular periods of fasting can promote weight loss and longevity.

As you can see, there are a lot of different methods of fasting and reasons to do so.  Have you ever fasted?  In what way?

 

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Reflections on Ramadan

As I wrote before, this is my second Ramadan living in a Muslim country.  Last year I was so excited about it, but this year I have mostly just been feeling cranky.  Instead of writing about Tunisia, I am posting what I wrote after Ramadan ended last year in Morocco.

Ramadan in Morocco

September 4th, 2012

About two weeks ago, Morocco, along with the rest of the Muslim world, celebrated a very important holiday.  Eid al-Fitr is a celebration that the month of Ramadan has just ended.  Ramadan lasted 30 days and was a month of fasting, when food and drink are not allowed during daylight hours, and people are encouraged to think of the poor and increase kind acts.  I fasted for only 18 days of the month, but I got quite a bit of insight into Moroccan culture and religion and learned about the meaning of the month.

The first days I fasted seemed to last a lifetime.  At school on Monday of the third day of Ramadan, I took a nap in the garden during our lunch break.  I had been joking with a friend who was also fasting that we should take a nap, but once we lay down on the grass in a nice patch of shade, it was no longer a joke.  But no need to be embarrassed, because we were definitely not the only ones.  And by the end of that week, my body had become so used to abstaining from food that I looked forward to the lunch break as a time to enjoy spending time with friends without the inconvenience of waiting in the lunch line.

Although I struggled at first, I had the feeling that fasting was worth the sacrifice of food and water during the day.  It was comforting to know that when I was tired and thirsty, so was nearly everyone else around me, along with the majority of people in the country, and millions of people across the world.  When I broke the fast at restaurants or with my host family, others would tell me that it is good to fast and several people explained to me that my stomach will be healthier in the future.  In the freedom of the evening, there were concerts and a carnival in Rabat and families walking around the city, enjoying the night.  I spent more time with my host family and got a better idea of their lifestyles; waking up at three in the morning to eat a meal was quite a bonding experience.  I was particularly thankful to be in Morocco for the whole month, because the entire country had a time change just for Ramadan so that sunset would come an hour earlier.

I realize that while I celebrated Ramadan on the surface, I missed out on a lot of the activities during the month.  Prayer is an important component, and more time is spent in the mosque since an extra prayer is added in the evenings.  I was not able to fully appreciate the spiritual element, and broke my fast for about a week when my mom came to visit; I thought it would be unkind of me to tell her that we could not eat breakfast during her vacation.  I celebrated Ramadan as an outsider, but have at least increased my understanding of the month.

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After Ramadan ended, I was happy to eat lunch and drink water while walking around in the hot sun, but occasionally I miss the routine of the month.  I always knew at exactly what time I would be eating, and at least for the meal at sunset, I knew exactly which foods my host family, or any restaurant, would serve.  I got to look forward to having dates, orange juice, sugary chebakkia cookies, and hearty Moroccan soup along with a tall glass of water every evening.  Right after Ramadan ended, eating and drinking during the day seemed like a chore; once I knew it was possible to be free of material needs for so many hours it was hard to get back on a regular schedule.  Now that it has been a little longer, everything has gone back to normal (although hopefully my stomach is actually somehow healthier, as I was told it would be).  However, I will not forget the feeling of sitting down with friendly and open people who are willing to share everything they have with me and quenching our thirst by sharing our first long and satisfying sips of a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

Not Enough Hours in the Night

Today was the first day of Ramadan, and the beginning of the second Ramadan in which I am fasting (for the experience…I’m not Muslim!)  Thankfully I only worked in the morning and so was able to rest in the afternoon, so hopefully tomorrow when I have to work until 5:30pm I won’t be so tired.  As always, the feeling of my digestive system starting back up again after breaking the fast was wonderful, and each type of food I ate seemed like the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted.

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My coworker and some of her family.  Maybe they’re not smiling because they just want to eat.

Last year I thought I would have trouble keeping myself from eating in the day, but Ramadan is like an alternate universe where food is not edible during daylight hours.  I found that it was actually harder to get myself to eat lunch again after the month ended, and I even missed the feeling of joy you get from breaking the fast each evening.  But happiness is fleeting, because I need to go to bed soon so that I can go to work tomorrow, but going to bed means that I have to start all over again!  The first day is the hardest though, so I think I’ll get used to this soon.  Tomorrow night I’ll stay later with my coworker so we can walk around and enjoy the freedom of nighttime.  But before then, another long day!  Ramadan kareem, and I hope everyone else who is fasting finds that there are enough hours in the night.