Ramadan, the month-long ritual of fasting for Muslims, will begin on May 6 this year. For the next four weeks, I will fast every day, from daybreak to sundown—no eating, no drinking (not even water), and no sex; plus no fighting and no gossiping—for seventeen hours a day.
This year I am preparing for Ramadan with a new resolution. The inspiration came not from an Islamic scholar, but from a Christian minister. Not one to watch videos, I broke my habit and pressed the Play button. Rev. M’ellen Kennedy of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta was addressing her congregation on the pillars of Islam. Fasting, she said, was about taking a break from your habits, to cultivate habits that raise you, and forego habits that pull you down. I had not thought of fasting in those terms. We have fixed habits, be it sleeping, eating, socializing, studying, even the seat we take at the table. We wake up at a fixed time every weekday and at later on weekends. But Ramadan does not differentiate between weekdays and weekends. We have to wake up before daybreak for sahoor—the morning meal—which on May 6 would be 3:40 a.m. As the days get longer, by the time Ramadan ends on June 3, sahoor will be at 2:50 a.m. That’s a major change in sleep and breakfast routine. At daybreak, it will be time for the morning prayer. Normally, the I find the morning prayer hardest to observe. Rising from sleep in the early hours when slumber is at its glorious, is difficult. But I never miss a prayer during Ramadan. I will then try to catch some sleep, which is not easy on a full stomach, and by the time I fall asleep, it will be time to wake up.
I am a morning coffee person—a habit I relish. But during Ramadan, I have to give it up. The headaches from caffeine withdrawal will remind me that I need to break this habit permanently. Each time I reach out for the cookie jar and pull my hand away, I will be breaking the habit of putting junk in my body. I will forego my routine of having dinner at 6:00 pm, and wait for sundown at 8:34 p.m. As I watch the clock, I will recite the Quran, taking in its positive energy and reflecting on its message. By the time Ramadan ends, I will have completed the Quran. To avoid dehydration during the long summer days, I will stay indoors during the hottest hours of the day, take breaks, and meditate to deflect the hunger pangs. At sundown, instead of eating alone, my husband and I will join family and friends for an iftar—breaking of fast. We will invite friends of all faiths to our home; and celebrate interfaith iftars at mosques, churches and synagogues—eating together, praying together, making new friends, and relishing the communal spirit. As night falls, we will congregate for the special Ramadan Taraweeh prayer—a very long prayer, ending around mid-night. We will turn in for the night far later than our usual time and by the time we fall asleep, it will be time to wake up for sahoor. That is a big load of change in habits. And yet we pull it off, day after day; and come through it stronger and brighter—detoxified.
This Ramadan, I will take Rev. Kennedy’s message to heart. If for one month, I can observe practices that pull me up: morning prayer, daily reading of the Quran, meditation, taking breaks; and forego unhealthy habits—coffee and cookies; I can strive to do it year-round.
To all my Muslim friends, Ramadan Mubarak.