What is Ramadan?
A couple weeks ago at the beginning of Ramadan, we didn’t explore or discuss the key element of observing the month: fasting.
Muslims who are observing Ramadan fast from sunrise to sunset. No food, no water, no gum — nada. Every day for (roughly) 30 days. We’re also supposed to use this time to focus more on things like abstaining from foul language as well as selfishness in general. The avoidance of food/water is the noticeable part, but the inner, more spiritual aspect, is as (or more) important.
Islam uses a lunar calendar, which is ~11 days shorter than our regular Gregorian calendar, the month moves throughout the seasons. When I was in high-school, Ramadan was in the January. It’s gone through winter and fall and now into summer.
Where I live, the fasts start around 345 AM. and end around 820 PM (slight variation each day). For people closer to the equator, the fasts are a little shorter.
That Sounds Rough
Ramadan requires some physical and mental preparation. If you’re addicted to caffeine, tapering off a week before is a must, otherwise you suffer severe caffeine withdrawal headaches for several days. If your schedule has flexibility, you may try to move work or personal obligations around to be free for your evening meals (Iftar), or avoid some particularly demanding tasks/activities that are hard to complete when you’re a little run-down. It was pretty easy to do that in college — a lot harder as a married adult with kids who each have their own schedules.
Some Muslim-majority countries will almost flip their schedules during Ramadan, with some businesses being closed during the day, people resting more during the day, and more activity occurring at night. Living in the good ol’ U S of A that isn’t really an option
Ideally one wakes up at sehri (the time for morning meal before sunset), whether on your own or with family that is fasting. Some families manage to pull of a large meal or a feast at 330 AM. I can barely make myself eat when I’m awake that early. I dislike breakfast in general, and having a giant meal early in the morning along with a 2-3 cups of water makes me feel ill. Sometimes I only have water and toast. Sometimes I just drink a ton of extra fluids before bedtime and extra snacks and don’t wake up for Sehri. Sometimes just having uninterrupted sleep makes me feel better than eating/drinking at Sehri.
Fasting for 16 hours is about as difficult as you can imagine, even when you’ve been doing this for 25 years. The days I don’t drink enough I am sure my creatinine is bumped fairly high. Sometimes I have headaches, or rather, pain in my head whenever I change position to fast.
Fasting during winter time, it may be 645am-530pm, is certainly much easier, though not always easy. Many non-Muslims and non-fasting people skip lunch, but no one intentionally skips fluids during the day, let alone for long stretches for 30 days. However in high-school I could go through a full day of classes and a two-hour swim practice while fasting. I was also a teenager, was waking up for Sehri every morning with my parents, and I was not having my sleep interrupted nearly every night (the way I am now by our kids).
Some of my friends and I have taken to late-night IHOP meals when our schedule allows. We go at midnight instead of 3am so we can have uninterrupted sleep. Eating a stack of chocolate chip pancakes at midnight along with eggs and everything else feels just like college.
CNN posted this great, slightly humorous, etiquette guide that covers many salient points for me. In short — if you’re interacting with an adult Muslim who is fasting, don’t feel bad for us, it’s okay to eat in front of us, and you don’t need to apologize for accidentally asking us to go to lunch
On occasion we may actually go sit with you while you get coffee or food for social purposes. Depending on time of day or # of fasts observed, we may be a little tired, or a little cranky. Bear with us.
What about the Rogue Family?
Rogue Mom isn’t Muslim. Early in our marriage she routinely either fasted with me, or had Sehri and Iftar with me. Having multiple kids has made that difficult for her (pregnancy, breastfeeding, etc.) so Sehri and fasting together has mostly fallen by the wayside, though we still do Iftar whenever possible. Unfortunately our kids bedtimes are near Iftar time, making a true family Iftar difficult most nights. Rogue One can handle that time easily, but not the the exuberant 3-year old or the infant. Instead she’s often helping the kids get ready for bed so I can break my fast, a nice thing on its own.
Speaking of kids — our oldest, 8-year old Rogue One, is eager to fast, but he can’t handle a 16-hour fast while doing outdoor summer camps (pretty sure I can’t either), so we’re very slowly easing him in over time. He’s tried a couple times last year with abbreviated hours/modified rules, and we will let him do more as he becomes older/bigger (and fortunately the fasts will become shorter as Ramadan moves towards the spring).
At the end of the month is Eid-Al-Fitr — the first day of the month following Ramadan. Generally a day for family, eating, friends, eating, naps, eating, and presents. Celebrate with us during Ramadan by having Iftar with us sometimes, but celebrate the end by having lunch with us again.