Aside from just another Monday to get through, there’s nothing particularly special about June 6 for most people. But for Muslims, it marks the start of a month-long holiday known as Ramadan. During these 30 days, Muslims fast (go without food or drink) from the break of dawn to sunset. This year, that means fasting from around 3:45 AM to 8:30 (both shift slightly throughout the month). Thus, for those of us living in New York City, the fast lasts around 17 hours of the day. Because the sun rises and sets at different times during the day depending on where you live, people around the world fast for different periods of time. Those in Europe, for example, fast an average of 20 hours, while those in Australia fast around 10 hours.
This may seem like cruel and unusual punishment, but in fact, many people look forward to Ramadan every year. Because while it’s a month for fasting, it’s also a month for praying, asking for redemption, and doing good deeds. And while that’s the religious aspect, there’s also the social aspect of visiting many different houses of friends and family and breaking fast together during Iftaar.
Muslims start fasting the full day of Ramadan at various ages. Typically, kids start fasting partially when they’re young, then begin fully participating once they hit their teenage years. Shanizea Husain ‘19 for example, began fasting when she was 7, but didn’t fast for the entire month of Ramadan until she was 13. As you grow up, the reason for why you fast changes. According to Mr. Lakhaney, when he was a kid, he fasted because his parents expected him to, but as an adult it’s a different story. After moving out and living on his own, he had to re-evaluate the act of fasting. He appreciates it now, because it gives him a reason to practice self-control, but is also a ritual that connects you to a larger group of people. Shared experiences are important.
Despite its universality, Muslims fast for various reasons, and Ramadan means something different to everyone . The first most standard reason is that fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. But there’s also the idea that fasting helps you build awareness of those around you who are less fortunate than you are. By going without food or water for the majority of the day, you become conscious of what it’s like for those living in poverty and those who don’t easily have access to food and water. Because of this, Ramadan helps build empathy, while also serving as a strong reminder of all that we have to be grateful for.
Additionally, fasting forces you to practice self-discipline, by allowing you to maintain a sense of control over your desires. Throughout the rest of the year, you can pretty much eat or drink whenever you feel like it. But during Ramadan, you cannot satisfy your hunger or thirst, and must instead divert your attention elsewhere.
As you can imagine, it can still be hard to get through the day, despite your good intentions. During the first few days of Ramadan it’s especially difficult because your body’s not used to going so long without food or water. But eventually, everyone adjusts, and finds different ways to cope. Ramisa Bashar ‘18 says she gets through the day by distracting herself with social media. Similarly, Shanizea Husain ‘19 noted that Ramadan is much easier during the school year, because being in school keeps your mind distracted and focused on other things. Having already had a lot of experience with fasting, Mr. Lakhaney had three main tips: keep yourself occupied, be committed to your goal, and make sure to eat Suhoor.
Suhoor, for clarification, is the meal eaten before dawn, in preparation for the long day ahead. What people eat varies based on their culture, but people tend to go for food that provides an energy boost to help get you through your first few hours.
The meal most looked forward to, though, is Iftaar- the breaking of the fast. People tend to go all out for Iftaar, laboring in the kitchen all day and cooking lavish meals. Ramisa Bashar ‘18 commented that she always looks forward to the array of foods her mom makes during Ramadan- quite a few of which she doesn’t make during any other time of the year. Shanizea Husain ‘19 claims that the preparation of the Iftaar is one of her favorite aspects of Ramadan, because it’s become a way for her to bond with her mother. I personally love Iftaars not because of the food, but because of the togetherness, and the chance to meet up with family members and friends.
To conclude, do your best to be mindful of Muslims around you during this time. Maybe try fasting in solidarity with them, even if only partially. And even if you’re not fasting, definitely break fast with them, or even go to the many Ramadan buffets offered throughout our multicultural Queens (Steinway and Jackson Heights are the prime destinations). Step outside your comfort zone, and try something new this Ramadan.