On April 2, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan officially starts. Ramadan marks the time when God is believed to have revealed the first passages of the Quran (the Islamic holy book) to the Prophet Muhammad. And because Islam follows the lunar calendar, Ramadan starts and ends on a different day every year. During the entire month, many of the world's more than 1 billion Muslims will be fasting from sunrise to sunset.
For those not familiar with Ramadan, a lot of questions may come up. Like how does fasting work? And can you really not drink water? Here’s what four Skimm HQ’rs who are observing had to say…
Psst: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How do you observe Ramadan? What does a typical day look like for you?
Daily Skimm AM Writer Rashaan Ayesh: “The big part of Ramadan is fasting, so, you're not eating, you're not drinking — not even water, no coffee, no nothing. It becomes meditative in a sense because you've removed this worldly thing you need to address. When you remove that and you remove ‘what am I going to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,’ you kind of free your mind up to think about other parts of your life.
“For a lot of people, it's [a time for] praying, reading the holy book, [and] family time…For me, it's mostly a time for self-reflection and thinking about personal growth.”
Social Media Director Diana Elbasha: “I observe Ramadan by participating in 30 days of fasting from sunrise to sunset. A typical day looks like waking up just before sunrise. This time of year, that can be somewhere around 4am — this is timed with the morning sunrise prayer. [It means] forcing myself to eat a meal before the sunrise. [It] can usually be something like a smoothie that's full of filling ingredients. Lots of water and coconut water to hydrate before the day. Things like nuts and nut butters. And fibrous carbs.”
Video Producer Medha Imam: “After [the sunrise prayer], we can go to sleep or some people end up staying up. Then it's just observing our five daily prayers while we're fasting. At sundown, you can break your fast with a date — it's like sunnah, which means it's the action of the Prophet Muhammad. He used to break his fast with dates. [But] you can break it with anything.
“How I celebrate and observe is not only just by praying or fasting, it's also by reading the Quran and learning from the actions of the prophets. It's good practice to learn from the stories and apply them to your real life. It's a month of you trying to better yourself. This is a great month to give up a certain habit or it's a great month to [develop] a healthy habit. It's [also] a really big charitable month. A lot of mosques around the area will have fundraisers.”
Brand Strategy Manager Alysha Mukhida: “Usually, I only fast one day out of Ramadan. In Ismaili culture…we have this holiday called Beej and it's right before the start of Ramadan. So, my family [and I] usually fast on that day. Now, the way that I'm celebrating is a little bit different because my husband's family fast[s] through the whole month. When we're staying with them, we all end up inadvertently fasting because they're fasting. My husband and I are in this weird phase of ‘Are we going to do it? Are we not going to do it?’ It's a big commitment.”
Is there anything you do to prepare for Ramadan?
Rashaan: “Since we start fasting Saturday, [on] Friday I'm going to be getting groceries. Depending on how you look at it, you're trying to get all of your nutrition in one meal or two meals. So you want to be on top of it and more intentional in what you're eating and what you're putting in your body. When you're fasting for 30 days, you're giving your body time to cleanse itself during the day because it's not constantly digesting and processing something. So, why do you want your body to go through all that work repairing itself just to eat a McDonald's cheeseburger?”
Medha: “You should be weaning off coffee and caffeine. That is the hardest part for me. If you're used to having your cup of coffee in the morning, you tend to get a lot of caffeine headaches. What some people have started to do is take caffeine pills during their sunrise meal.
“My mom, my sister, and I [also] prepare samosas. Those are so easy because you take it out of the freezer, put it in the oven, and that's something easy to eat during the month.”
When did you first start fasting for Ramadan?
Diana: “I believe the guidance is that you start to fast full days when you reach puberty. I was fasting half days when I was younger, in late elementary school. And then started fasting full days probably in middle school.”
Medha: “I actually started when I was really young — around when I was six or seven. You don't have to. I think you just tend to see your parents fasting and as a kid you just want to do it. I remember one instance, all of a sudden I’m in the kitchen and I'm like sucking on a lollipop. I forgot and it was cute. And kids do that.”
Alysha: “In middle school. My parents were already doing it and I saw them doing it. So, then one year they were like, ‘Well, do you want to do it too?’”
Are there any exceptions to fasting?
Diana: “Ramadan is not nearly as restrictive as it sounds, there are all kinds of exceptions. If you have a health condition and it's going to put you at further risk by not eating, you are exempt from doing it. Or you can fast part of the month and not others. [People] try to time their medications either in the morning or at night around when they can eat or drink, but there's always exceptions to that. Your health and survival comes first. You don't fast if you're pregnant [or] if you're nursing. Even women when they're on their periods are not supposed to fast.”
Medha: “When I was in college, sometimes kids wouldn't fast for a day if they had huge exams going on because [fasting] also disrupts your studying schedules. Obviously, [people try] to fast for 30 days, but there's different ways to practice it.”
What’s a popular Ramadan misconception you’d like to clarify?
Rashaan: “You're not torturing yourself for the religion. Everything's very logic based and it's very intentional. You're taking the time to focus on yourself and your relationship with God. But then on the flip side, you are building empathy with people who have less than you do. You realize what it means to go through the work day and be hungry and tired. In a sense, you can't do anything about it.”
Diana: “I think people have an idea that we are overly restricting ourselves or we are engaging in unhealthy behavior. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that once you get over the transition period, you find that your focus and clarity really increases. I find that I'm a lot more productive at work and I'm a lot more patient. It's about so much more than just not eating and drinking. There's a huge mental component to fasting and the experience of Ramadan that is not talked about as much. But it really is so much more about giving yourself a spiritual reset for the year.”
Alysha: “To a person who does not understand Islam or has not gone through the process of at least understanding the different faiths and the different ways that people practice, a common misconception is Islam is all about hurting yourself. For us, it has nothing to do with that. And from my perspective, it's [about] taking out all the distractions in your life so that you can focus on what's important, which is waking up, breathing, [and] having discipline.”
What can coworkers and friends do to be respectful of those celebrating Ramadan?
Rashaan: “Don't give me any special treatment. If everyone's constantly [asking], ‘Are you okay? Are you hungry? Are you tired? Do you need anything?’ That becomes overwhelming and kind of tiresome. Obviously it's coming from a good place. But if you're hangry and caffeine deprived [and] someone’s constantly messaging you, after a certain point you're not going to be okay.”
Diana: “Understand that we — especially at the beginning of the month — may be just a little more tired or sluggish than we usually are. [Also] understanding that we're not going to be able to attend things like happy hours or lunches.
“[And] I really enjoy answering questions about it and appreciate when people ask [about Ramadan]. When I was younger, some friends would go through the experience of fasting for a day with us. And that's always fun and it's a nice little show of support.”
Medha: “Be a little gracious when it comes to mistakes at work — because you're not drinking, not eating, and you tend to have a lack of sleep. Maybe even offering to [say], ‘Hey, I can be your second eye on your [work].’ I really appreciated employers who allowed me a flexible work schedule, allowed me to wake up a little later. Or, being okay with workers taking naps midday. Then, obviously making up that work once you're fed and have nutrients in your body. I [also] love when I receive like ‘Happy Ramadan’ [messages].”
Alysha: “When I do fast, I usually let somebody know. Especially in a remote environment, [there are] virtual lunches. [I think] going about your day and not making a thing about [fasting] is probably the best thing that you can do. By saying something like, ‘Oh, do you mind if I eat in front of you?’ That I think is annoying.”
Take a moment to wish your friends or coworkers a Happy Ramadan or Ramadan Mubarak (aka a blessed Ramadan). And remember there are different ways to observe — and to show support throughout the holy month.
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