Fasting Through Different Stages
For me, Ramadan is a month filled with family, food, gratitude and spiritual rejuvenation. Although this year it comes during the hotter and longer days of the summer I am still grateful for the traditions, customs, and memories that come along with it.
As someone in her mid 20’s, I’ve been able to experience Ramadan through many interesting experiences.
My family and I moved to the U.S. when I was about 4 years old. Most of our time in the States, we were the only Pakistani-Muslim family in town. This meant embracing our culture and practicing our faith in a predominantly American-Christian community. Fortunately, my parents were very good about teaching us about Islam and our community was very welcoming and accepting.
Growing up, I was the only kid in my elementary and middle school who was fasting during the month of Ramadan. In elementary school Ramadan came during the late fall, therefore during the school year. When my classmates saw that I wasn’t eating, they would have some very interesting questions and concerns. They would ask me why I wasn’t eating. It also led to some of my teachers wondering if I had an eating disorder or questioning my parent’s parenting skills. I was always very proud of my faith and culture so when presented the opportunity to talk about Ramadan or fasting, I happily took it. I would answer any and all questions about Ramadan because I wanted people to understand why I actually looked forward to going without food and water from dawn to dusk.
My love and commitment to observing Ramadan even led many of my close friends and classmates to fast for a day in solidarity or sometimes just for the experience. Similarly, when my friends came over to hang out, I would pause our hangout to pray, they would stand next to me and pray beside me. Some of my friends also spent Eid with my family and I.
In high school, Ramadan brought a new set of challenges. I started playing on my high school's tennis team my freshman year and continued to play all 4 years. The first two years of the tennis season and Ramadan didn’t overlap. Junior year, only a few days at the end of the season overlapped, so fasting while playing on the team wasn’t a big issue. However, senior year the tennis season overlapped with most of Ramadan, which meant I would have to practice and play matches while fasting. There was one particular day where I was playing an intense match in the scorching hot sun and started feeling faint. I tried to keep powering through, I only had an hour to go, but I ultimately made the decision to break my fast and hydrated. After that instance, both my family and coach advised against fasting for health concerns. I expressed that I would just continue fasting and if I ever felt like I needed to break my fast again, I would. That is when I learned breaking my fast was worse than not fasting at all and just making them up later. My family and friends advised me to either quit playing tennis or stop fasting. I was stubborn and didn’t want to stop either. The whole point of Ramadan is to go about your day normally. I ultimately decided not to give either up and changed my diet. I started drinking gatorade during suhoor, eating bananas and dumping water on my face anytime I felt dehydrated during a match.
College was the first time I was able to fast with a Muslim community. My first two weeks of college started with Ramadan. This was difficult especially when I was living in a 3 person dorm with people who weren’t fasting. I remember I would wake up in the middle of the night trying my best to not wake or disturb my roomates sleeping a few feet away. I would sneak into the fridge and then chug down any liquids I could find, eat salad, and chips . There wasn’t a microwave or stove in our dorm or our hall so eathing anything warm was out of the question. After a few weeks, I became friends with a few Muslim girls in my building. After that point, most days we would try to spend suhoor together, eating our food in the lobby. A couple years into college, ramadan was no longer during the school year, but I did get to have some interesting experiences abroad.
I have also been fortunate enough to have spent a summer abroad in Mexico and the following summer in Ethiopia. I went to Mexico through my school to learn about the Mexican healthcare system for about 10 days. Throughout the trip I was fasting. Because I was fasting, I missed out on a bunch of delicious Mexican food and drinks, but I did get to explore more of the city because I was able to take walks while my peers ate.
During this trip, I remember one experience that made me feel misunderstood. We visited a small migrant village, La Preciocista, where we met with an amazing group of women from the village working to uplift and empower their community. They hosted a group of about 20 of us in their home for lunch. When they found out I couldn’t eat, they were surprised and didn’t understand. I had prepared for moments like this and learned the proper spanish vocabulary to explain Ramadan and fasting. Unfortunately, my explanation wasn’t enough and the women thought I didn’t want to eat their food. I felt pretty bad as the last thing I wanted to do was offend someone. Our translator told me not to worry, the concept of Ramadan isn’t well known in more rural parts of Mexico.
My broad and diverse experiences in observing Ramadan at different stages of my life have led me to become even closer to my faith and develop a greater appreciation for the holy month of Ramadan. I’m very excited to continue observing Ramadan in different ages and stages of my life!
For all those out there reading, I challenge you to find a Muslim friend or community member and ask to share in the observance and celebration of the day. You will see first hand why Muslims around the world love Ramadan so much.
Aroona Toor's reflection comes to the Parliament of the World's Religions as part of the 2017 Interfaith Ramadan series, empowering interfaith allies, Muslim and those of other spiritual and religious backgrounds from around the world, to share their stories of service, community and gratitude during the month of Ramadan. Please contact the Parliament at info@ParliamentOfReligions.org, or tag us at #RamadanPoWR to share your own story.