“I remember being a child and watching my family fast during Ramadan. I was always intrigued, and wanted to know when I could join in with them. They used to tell me that I was too young to fast (in Islam, you begin fasting as soon as you hit puberty, so for women, it becomes obligatory from when you have your first menstrual cycle), but I woke up at the same time as them and did one or two days with them until I was old enough to undertake fasting during daylight hours for the whole of Ramadan.
I was about 12 when I started fasting, and I think by the time you hit puberty, you are more mentally ready to do it – and you understand why you are fasting. For Muslims, Ramadan is one of the most spiritual times of the year. It is a time when charity – which, along with fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam – is very important to us. During the holy month, Muslims give Zakat, which is when we calculate all our earnings for the year and give a percentage of it to those in need, and it’s obligatory for all those who are able. Ramadan is incredibly significant for all Muslims around the world. It is a month of giving, generosity, being closer to your creator, and making time for your family – as you sit down and break fast with them.
The first year I fasted, it wasn’t easy. I remember being at school and seeing other people eating lunch, or I’d catch a cookery programme on TV and think the food looked really appealing, but that doesn’t last. Although I do remember sneaking a few bits of chocolate and then spitting them out. I think that’s probably something quite a few young Muslims do when they first start fasting and don’t fully understand everything about Ramadan. But it is a learning process, all to do with finding yourself and discovering what your religion means to you.
People are always asking about being hungry during Ramadan, but it is something you get past. I grew up in an area with many Muslims and that was encouraging, as we all knew it was a very special month. I got support from my family, friends and the community. It wasn’t like a punishment, because everyone around you is fasting too. And it isn’t supposed to be something that is going to do damage to your body or burden your soul. That’s the reason why pregnant women are not required to fast, same with the very elderly or diabetic, or those who suffer from serious health conditions. Women are also exempt from fasting during their menstrual cycles, as during this time the body is going through its own changes. Of course, although you don’t have to fast during your menstrual cycle, you make those days up when Ramadan is over… I always make sure I do it as soon as possible, otherwise I worry I’ll get lazy and forget!
One of my favourite things about the Holy Month is that I always see more of my family than I normally do. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that my family and I often end up eating at different times and not seeing enough of each other. But during Ramadan, we always meet up for dinner, prepare food together, and spend lots of time discussing what we’ll be eating later that day!
It’s a strange feeling when Ramadan is over. Of course, we have Eid at the end of the Holy Month, but I am always a little sad when Ramadan comes to an end. Muslims often refer to Ramadan as the month of mercy, as that is when you ask forgiveness for any sins you may have committed. It’s also sad because you know that during that month, you have been fasting, going to prayers after you break your fast, and you worry you will lose the devotion you have found, and go back to square one.
Even so, Eid is a fantastic celebration. It lasts for three days, and the way I feel about it is how I imagine many people feel about celebrating Christmas. It is such an amazing buzz – we have weeks building up to it; children getting excited, you might buy new clothes with money from your parents, getting your family over. It is just a huge celebration after fasting. People get together to be with their families to cook and share food. It is just such a nice feeling, and where I live, you walk round the streets and greet them by hugging and saying Eid Mubarak. It is an amazing time of year and the fact that the month leading up to it is so important makes it all the more special.
Many people focus so much on the idea that fasting is difficult, or make it all about the food aspect, but in reality, for me, not eating gives you time to think about where your sustenance is coming from, and to focus more on your spiritual wellbeing. And, contrary to popular belief, I actually find myself more alert when I’m fasting, as opposed to feeling tired. At the end of the day what makes fasting so incredible is that you are doing it out of devotion.