Is Ramadan just feasting & famine?
Updated on 02 May 2018

By: Salamah Ghudayer

The balance between being spoiled in a big, modern city like Dubai and then the discipline, modesty and submission found in a religion can be two directions some people have trouble connecting. That alone is a struggle not just for non-Muslims to fathom but is something Muslims must deal with and be accountable for. The holy month of Ramadan is when this becomes most prevalent. Many expats friends are sure it is a month of ‘daytime don’ts’ and a few say they dread the months arrival. I try to equate this attitude to someone sitting for an exam and they are nervous. Yet if you have the tools you need, are prepared and open minded for this challenge, then the test in itself is not a setback, but actually represents an opening door, a moving forward; for both Muslim and not, as the hard lessons and homework by test day are now past.

Ramadan is the fourth of the five pillars of faith or required acts of worship in Islam. Belief, daily prayers and required charity come before. Those are the lessons, skills and homework I am talking about. Those alone can’t help but alter and humble the person. Then comes Ramadan with its fast of food and water from sunrise to sunset as only one part of the holy month.  Ramadan is a complete alteration of a lifestyle, meant to favour the soul and discipline the mind and body.

At each sunset in Ramadan, the breaking of the fast is done as recommended by Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), with dates, water and prayer. This eases the body back to accepting food in a healthy way. An Iftar - breakfast meal follows the sunset prayer and the evening becomes busy with the regular night prayer, extra evening prayers called Tarawih, late night prayers called Qiyam a Layl, reading the Quran, rest and waking for a pre-dawn meal called Suhoor. Checking on neighbours, family and the poor is also recommended, as is inviting people to share your food since it is written in Islam that the amount for one is sufficient for two. The Iftar is often the equivalent of a regular meal, plus some favourite snacks or refreshments. Quite often the meal gets smaller as the month progresses because the body simply can’t consume what it would prior to Ramadan. ‘The eyes are bigger than the stomach’ is often repeated by friends who are filled from a few bites and remembrance to cook less. The mythical plate of three-meals-in one really does not exist. The evenings are then full of prayer, reading and visiting which are time consuming, so being tired is more of a struggle than hunger.

As daytime comes; most Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, as an act of worship to our creator. However, many believe this month is only about the fast and some mistake it for a diet. This holy month is actually not about the body at all. Ramadan is a month to focus on the soul. All year long we feed our hunger, comfort our cravings and try to pacify our wants. The day time fast for a month is a huge challenge, requiring commitment and patience but we do it, because we are promised reward for the struggle from God. Yet the fast is also a tool for improvement. What we think we ‘need’, we learn is just a ‘want’. We notice we can interact with people without food or a cup of tea. We notice the people more in general as we know what they are going through just like ourselves; we become one team. We can’t help but wonder where the people are who feel this tiredness and tinges of hunger all year round or who still do not have what we do as the sun sets and become determined to seek them out. There is a peacefulness that enjoins the slower pace and a consciousness with the daily efforts and the bites of food at sunset become blessings. They didn’t always seem as such the months prior to Ramadan, when hunger meant ‘get food,’  maybe post where I get to eat and continue on until I want something again. That is a flow of confusion between needs and wants we all get into. We survive just fine with much less in Ramadan. Life doesn’t or shouldn’t stop. The schedule really shouldn’t change and the shortened working hours are really just an allowance of a few extra hours to prepare or get ahead on the evenings worship and preparation for visitors. For our non-Muslim neighbours get in the spirit with us and set some goals for your Ramadan experience. Perhaps choose:

• Fast every day for a week or the whole month.
• Fast like some older Muslim children around 2pm until sunset to excitedly await the call to prayer.
• Complete reading whatever life improving manual you choose, a holy book or a translation of the Quran.
• Seek out people in hard circumstances and give them a gift in respectable ways as if you were gifting a friend.
• Donate in the ways of the Prophet’s wives by giving gently used items which have been cleaned, scented and arranged nicely.
• Spread peace with your patience while driving and smile at others; it’s a source of charity in Islam.
• Attend an Iftar with Muslims or invite them over for Iftar - yes you can!

Ramadan is one month about focusing on the needs of the soul; which is inherently good, charitable, devoted and deep in its basic need for peace in this world. The body and mind, with worries, needs and desires are up to you to discipline and moderate, just as how you chose to use your focus and time in Ramadan. The community is all doing it together. Knowing we all feel the struggle together gives a spirit and patience for challenges rarely felt the rest of the year.  Ramadan is for everyone and everyone will be rewarded for their good deeds, by their creator or even just basic karma  - hobba in local Arabic.

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