Thursday, July 11, 2013

Letters from Egypt: This Ramadan, I’m Fasting

A friend of mine suggested a year or two ago that I should try fasting during Ramadan to understand the difficulties that others face. This is my sixth one to go through and until now, I had never fasted. I complain profusely during the Holy month wondering why it seems the entire country just shuts down, but my friend was right. I need to do it myself in order to gain a better understanding.

For those of you unaware, Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan to understand what it feels like for the under-privileged. However, as soon as many break their fast, they gorge themselves into a food coma. Maybe it’s just me (although we all know it’s not), but I don’t know any poor person that says they can’t eat while the sun is up and then eats their weight and then some as soon as the sun sets. Imagine if we had Christmas for 30 days? Shudder. Just celebrating Christmas Eve and then Christmas is exhausting enough.

This year, fast begins after the morning prayer around 3:15 am and it isn’t over until around 7 pm. During this time, you are not supposed to have anything touch your mouth – so no food, drinks or for those of you that smoke, cigarettes. I’ll be honest, I messed up on the first day. I thought you didn’t have to fast until right before sunrise. So I woke up at 5:30 am and ate a bowl of lettuce, cantaloupe and yoghurt while drinking plenty of water. Random combination right? Well, I ate the lettuce on the advice of a friend. Not wanting to alter my routine significantly, I worried about keeping up at the gym while not taking water (remember, no beverages). The friend told me that lettuce retains water, so on that, I went with it and also picked cantaloupe because not only is it amazing and in season, but it, too, is very watery. And finally, yoghurt helps combat heart burn.

Day 1 was not so difficult. The only thing I remotely missed was my morning coffee. I kept with my normal routine even getting into my office early, skipping out for an hour to go to the gym and since workdays are shortened, I left at 3 pm and began prepping dinner.

I will say that the hours after work seemed to just drag on and I’ve never felt that time could move so slowly. I was invited to a friend’s for iftar at sort of the last minute, and I decided to stop my own dinner prep and spend my first real fast among others. Okay, so I’ll admit I took a nap beforehand simply because I was bored. Got up and in order to pass the last hour before iftar, I decided to walk to my friend’s house instead. I got lost and made it in her door just as the prayer occurred. We had traditional Egyptian food from Abu Sid, chatted a bit and then went for ice cream.

Now I’m not naïve to think that there won’t be hard days, but I do think one of the major obstacles is because you’re forcing yourself to avoid certain things. In this sense you end up wanting them more. I have decided that I will take water if I absolutely need it (and in my gym class today, Day 2, I had to take to do just that). I still do not understand being unable to consume water because that is one of the only things that many poor people have access to (there are even various watering stations in my neighborhood available to anyone on the street), and I do not think that it is smart to face dehydration simply because you’re trying to prove a point.

I don’t know if I’ll change my view or only feel more validation in my previous assumptions, but I’m giving it a shot. 

Taken downtown near Tahrir in August 2011 during Ramadan


  1. WOW! I am impressed that you are doing the whole "ramadan" thing.
    I always say "when in rome, do as the romans!"
    I, however, could not go that far!!!! hahahaha
    what a trooper!

  2. My Christian R.E teacher in high school once scolded us when we all wrote the reason why Muslims fast in Ramadan is to feel how the poor people. She scolded us because it's a superficial answer, it's much more than that. It's a month where Muslims exercise self control and piety. It's not just about not eating and drinking, but not lying, swearing, i. E all bad behaviour. Ramadan is a an exercise on how to be a better person, and how to be God conscious. The fact that it has become the month of gluttony after sunset has more to do with humans feeding their bodies than feeding their mind and souls. Hah, didn't mean for the long comment.

    1. Thank you Marwah for your comment. Yes, you're right. Feeling what it is like for those less fortunate is not the only reason, but it is a reason.