Transitioning from having four snacks in your bag to munch on throughout the work or school day to having absolutely none is one of the hardest tests of Ramadan. I work at a news station and if I’m scheduled to be glued to a computer editing scripts or blocking a show – I go through a fig bar, a cheddar cheese stick, a sandwich bag with almonds and cashews (courtesy of my mom) and a cup of coffee before 12pm. We eat not just when we’re hungry but when we need something to keep us occupied while we’re already occupied. Take that away and you have no choice but to center your energy on the thing that you’re doing.
Every year when someone asks, “So you really can’t eat anything? Not even water?!” I realize myself how much more there is to Ramadan than giving up snacks. Even though I myself wearily approach the first few days of fasting, when someone else makes it sound absurd that we can’t eat – some protective instinct washes over me and I attack. “It’s not bad at all – just a little intimidating at first but it’s so cleansing and peaceful. I love it.” (I literally said that today to a coworker). Many non-Muslims are baffled that we go without food and water from sunrise to sunset and I almost think it’s our responsibility to shift that outside focus from “not eating” to what fasting actually entails and why we do it.
I was talking to my coworker about it, and I tried, in colloquial terms, to explain the concept of spiritual discipline. You know, getting closer to God and connecting to your religion. She nodded while chowing down on her turkey sandwich. She was definitely confused – what does that have to do with not eating?
Fasting means many things in Ramadan. For example, Muslims are supposed to try to be more positive and lessen their anger. “Fast” from things like complaining and gossiping during the month. “Fast” from distractions like music or TV, and instead pray more and recite or listen to the Quran. It’s so much more than giving up food – and it’s a warranted reminder even for myself.
It’s intended to be a month of rigorous spiritual discipline — of deep contemplation of one’s relationship with God and of one’s relationship with themselves and the world.