I'm giving a talk tomorrow on the subject of Fasting. In preparation, I wrote this blog post about the feelings that can often be experienced during the month of Ramadan. Most information about Ramadan talks about the mechanics of the month of fasting. This post focuses more on what feelings many experience during the month of Ramadan. Of course it's impossible to represent everyone or all perspectives, so this is just one amongst innumerable others.
The Feelings of Ramadan
For many living in the Muslim world, the few days before the beginning of Ramadan have a growing sense of dread to them. Although one can hear on the lips of many, as they part from each other during daily errands, “Inshallah, Ramadhankoum Mabrouk,” meaning “God-willing, congratulations on the arrival of Ramadan,” there is still a palpable unwelcoming spirit in those last food-filled days. In the early evening, people wait to hear, or watch on the news, whether or not the “hilal” was spotted—the crescent of the new moon. With the sighting of this new lunar month will come at least 29 and maybe even 30 days of no food from before sun up until sundown. It is inevitable that day will come, ushering in a month of days without food, smoking or drinking but with feasting in the evenings. There will be lots of socializing, with family and friends and relatives, punctuated with bursts of eating activity.
Of course for many, one of the advantages is the shorter hours at work, the early return to home time (well, we certainly won’t be able to spend more time during the days at the café—they’ll all be closed). Productivity may decrease in many workplaces, and people often comment that they are tired in this month of fasting. For many women, the shortened workday translates into more hours in the kitchen, ensuring that family favorites are fresh on the table every night. The kitchen is often piled high with pots and pans after the work is done. It is challenging to cook, though, when you can’t taste the food as you go along. There are often complaints that the salt isn’t right or that the food is too spicy.
For those fortunate enough to be able to adjust their work schedules, it will mean staying up all night and sleeping most of the day. Almost like moving to a new time zone for a month. Once the beginning of Ramadan starts, the first few days are the worst. Tempers flare, headaches skyrocket from lack of caffeine and nicotine in the bloodstream and arguments spark at the smallest instigation. For some, extra hardship will endure if Ramadan happens to be during exam time or in their busy season of work. Naturally, it’s not like this every year, as Ramadan, being a lunar month, moves forward 10 or 11 days every solar year according to the Gregorian calendar. This year it might start on May 15, but next year then, it will likely start on May 5. After a few days in, a new routine settles in, creating a familiar rhythm to those who have lived with this month all their lives.
For many, once the beginning of the month has done its thing, feelings of warmth and happy memories take the place of anger and short tempers. Families spend at least their evening mealtime together, with no outside interruptions or pressures. It could be compared to a month-long Thanksgiving weekend or the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day that is familiar to many. Almost everyone in the country is fasting, bringing with it a collective sense of unity. This act of fasting in Ramadan conjures up a communal spirit, one to which everyone participating belongs. Going through this ritual as a larger group brings with it a sense of belonging as a whole—we are in this together, we are one people, one group—called by God, and being obedient to Him in a month-long fast.