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Fasting? Ramadan? What is it really like?

10th May, 2022

Read what happened when Gemserv’s Harry Rix took up a Muslim colleague’s challenge to experience fasting.

I’ve always had an interest in Ramadan and how one should appropriately act, talk and behave around our Muslim friends and colleagues whilst they are observing. Saadat’s presentation at our company stand-up was really informative, and when he asked whether I’d be keen to experience it for a few days I couldn’t say no. So, on Tuesday afternoon I was in Tesco Express buying copious amounts of dates and preparing for what lay ahead…

I don’t live too far from the office so on a normal day I am fortunate that my short commute means I’m able to be a relatively late riser to still get in to the office just before nine. That’s when I’ll usually have a bowl of cereal and a coffee from the hub and get ready for my day. My unpreparedness for Suhur, an early breakfast that was to last me until sunset was my undoing. I’d frantically search the cupboards for anything resembling breakfast food, cursing my lack of preparation before hastily frying a couple of eggs to have with some toast or pouring the sandy dregs of cereals long forgotten into a bowl. I’d wolf the sustenance down and cycle to the office. I’d be flagging by 11am and next to no value conversationally by 12 (although colleagues may not have noticed a discernible difference from my usual low value chat).

On the first day came the pizza. I’m not a religious person but free pizza, at work, the first day of fasting has to be some sort of transparent temptation from a higher power… Not today! With temptation successfully abated, I completed a day’s work and cycled home at five before crashing hard on the sofa (not whilst riding the bike). Sunset came around and so did my first foray into Iftar and dates. The tradition of eating dates to break fast does have a spiritual meaning in reverence to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) but apparently they are also genuinely just good for your stomach and help ease you in to eating a meal after going the whole day without food. I’d gone my whole life thinking I hated dates, but they’re great – like a miniature sticky toffee pudding that still counts as part of your 5-a-day!

The Iftar meals were always great and the dates beforehand meant that I never stuffed myself until I was uncomfortably full – something I have somewhat of a harsh (but fair) reputation for doing. I was able to exercise – a cycle and a trip to the gym. I was even, dare I say it, productive! I hired a van after work on Thursday to pick up some outdoor furniture from a lady in Enfield and was back for Iftar and to cook a meal.

I also had to balance the fasting with my social life. Breaking fast on Friday with dates I fished out of my pocket in the queue for a gig in Brixton was a low point, but I was committed to the cause.

Saadat regularly messaged me to see how I was getting on. I told him I was doing fine…The peaks and troughs of tiredness were a struggle but when the time came, food never tasted so good! In typing the message, I had quickly realised the whole point, the reason Muslims observe Ramadan and celebrate Eid. Those moments of temptation subside and give way to thanks. During Ramadan you become profoundly thankful for the things you take for granted; the food, the moments of high energy, friends, family, community – everything really! Whilst I’d only experienced it for a few days, I could see why fasting is such a spiritual experience for Muslims all over the world who are able to link this with their Religion and God.

Those moments of temptation subside and give way to thanks…

The feelings of jealousy, lust and temptation you may feel from seeing, say, hordes of your colleagues brazenly eating pizza in front of you (I’m not bitter about it I swear) are not dissimilar to how someone less fortunate than you may feel when they see you buying ingredients for your dinner whilst they’re struggling to get by. It’s been a tough year or so and things for the least fortunate look to be getting harder. The cost of living crisis is very real and help from those who can spare it will never be more necessary. Muslims donate 2.5% of their accumulated wealth to the less needy as part of Zakat (one of their 5 pillars) and throughout the year help communities in a variety of selfless and altruistic ways because they have this time to reflect and empathise where others may not.

If I took anything from my (very) brief foray into Ramadan it would be that we are all guilty of moments of indulgence, self-pity, or a lack of perspective, but we can all do more to take a moment and be thankful for what we have. Being mindful of others and commit ourselves to helping those who may not be able to help themselves.

Eid Mubarak!