My initial interest in the Islamic holiday of Ramadan started during my trip to Pakistan, during the height of the pandemic. I went for a wedding and came back with love prospects, an addiction to chai, and a case of COVID-19.
I remember during my time there, my love interest and host told me that she was more productive during the month of Ramadan than during the next 11 months in the year. Exaggeration or not, her statement points to the fact that Ramadan helps millions of Muslims each year recalibrate their goals and align towards more purpose.
Ramadan, to the unfamiliar, is a month-long period for Muslims that is comprised of fasting, prayer, and reflection. Though I am familiar with prayer and gratitude practices, I have never seriously tried fasting, despite being intrigued by the known health benefits of intermittent fasting on sleep, brain function, and reducing inflammation.
The first Ramadan that took place after my trip was in March 2022. At the time, I was working with a therapy patient who was Muslim. He told me that although he would be giving up the standard food and water from sunrise to sunset, I could give up something simpler, like alcohol, caffeine, or car radio and still reap the benefits of moderate asceticism.
I decided to give up car radio, podcasts, music, and calling friends while in the car. I treated every car ride as a meditation, listening to the sounds of the street and the smells of the road passing me by. I learned to talk aloud to myself and to feel okay doing so.
When Ramadan came around this year, I decided I wanted to give it a try for real. Despite being Jewish and having no solid reason to abstain from food and water for 14 hours a day (meaning no morning coffee), I was curious. And one of my friends, Tom, told me to always follow your curiosities.
At sundown on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2023, I had a big meal full of carbohydrates, consisting of my favorite Raos pasta and homemade grilled chicken. I then fasted all day Thursday – from sunrise until the sunset at 7:10pm. The first day was challenging but my optimism kept me alive.
The next day was grueling. I had stomach pains starting around noon and would often fall asleep for a nap around 2pm. Since I was still working my day job, my body seemed to be burning too much energy during waking hours and craved the slower metabolic burn of sleep.
After 7 days of fasting from sunrise to sunset, I decided to stop. While I could list twenty reasons why, from the headaches, to how cranky I was, I won’t make excuses because I’m not here to defend myself. I knew from the beginning that participating in the fasting element of Ramadan was more about the journey than it was about meeting the 30-day destination.
Here are a few things I realized from my first experience fasting:
- While fasting, I had almost no anxiety about the future (which does typically afflict me). Without proper nutrients, my mind was focused almost exclusively on what and when to eat. I recognized that all my previous “worries” about work and relationships were made up stories in my mind, which when I stopped fueling them, simply faded away.
- My body can survive with a lot less food and water than I typically feed it. This is helpful in order to get through a hot yoga class with no water, or to calm myself down if someone is running late to a dinner.
- Religion is so powerful due to the aspect of community. One of the best moments of my period of fasting was walking into a Shawarma shop and talking to the Somalian owners about Islam and raising their children in America. They and I both feel that fasting is one component of Ramadan that is made far more manageable with the addition of friends and relatives to support your journey.
- I saved a surprising amount of money in just a week by eating one meal a day and not drinking alcohol.
- The power of gratitude is such a transformative energy. It elevates you to a higher state of being. Over the past month, I have felt immense gratitude for friends, family, sunshine, and food – from animals to fruit and pasta.
- I developed more compassion for the homeless population in Denver. I remember being in Pakistan and being struck at how much my friends would give to the homeless. The practice of depriving yourself of food and water helps you develop more empathy for those who cannot afford basic resources.
While I do not claim to be some religious know-it-all or have the answers to any of life’s hardest questions, what I do know is that every-time I embark on a practice of self-restraint, be it giving up pornography, alcohol, or food, I not only learn things about myself, but it brings me closer to God. I feel less like a programmed machine, and more like the Divine creator of my own life.
Though I may have fasted for just one quarter of the time that many Muslim teenagers around the world do, I still feel proud of what I accomplished. I was able to incorporate daily prayer and gratitude into my morning ritual for a month. These tools have unquestionably helped me live a life more directed by my heart than my head, which feels good. I still love learning about other people’s cultures and religions, and I trust that my curiosity will always lead me to exactly where I am supposed to be.
*For more resources about Ramadan, as well as who can and who should not fast, please see: