Fasting in Ramadan ... no-one ever said it was
hard. Muslims told me it was a blessing and a privilege and one of the five
pillars of Islam but they always said, “it’s not hard”.
As a convert to Islam about 12 years ago, my first Ramadan was
in the height of summer. Long, hot, dry December days found us breaking our fast
at around 9pm. I thought if I can survive this one, it can only get easier as
Ramadan slips back ten days each year, out of summer and into the shorter,
cooler days of spring and winter.
I loved my first Ramadan but I struggled. I had
‘rehearsed’ a couple of times previously. Prior to converting, I had flirted with fasting a day here and there, but
nothing had prepared me for the rigours of a whole month.
I continued to work as usual at my administrative job, and as
Ramadan coincided with Christmas and New Year that year, I was invited to many
parties, most of which I declined. But I did attend office Christmas functions
and felt odd refusing the trays of party food passed round. On New Year’s Eve I stood on my cousin’s balcony and watched the
fireworks over the city with orange juice in my hand once 9pm arrived (not
champagne!). A sweet shop in a city arcade was handing out treats to Christmas
shoppers and I had to stop myself before sampling the fudge. Fasting was hard
enough in Ramadan and I still had one foot firmly planted in the Australian
‘festive season’. So for the whole month, I was hungry, thirsty, fatigued
and steadfastly resisting the culture of a lifetime.
My new Muslim friends and in-laws invited me to many iftars.
No-one ever asked “are you finding it difficult”. I was puzzled. My new
husband never directly asked me if I was finding fasting hard. I tried to engage
them all in this question, in various ways. They all continued to say fasting is
easy and beautiful. Why wouldn’t they say it’s hard?
My non-Muslim friends and family were stupefied: “It must be
so hard. How do you do it?” My brother Mark said: “What! Not even water!? I
could never do that”. The words of the Muslims would echo in my head and a
voice would whisper insistently: “Don’t tell them it’s hard!”
Easy or hard? In later years, I developed a satisfactory
answer for the non-Muslims, and for me.
Once and for all ... fasting IS, of course, hard. There would
be no point doing it if it wasn’t. However, it is the commitment that makes it
easy and beautiful. If Mark were to get up tomorrow and start fasting, without
commitment, just to experience what his sister goes through every Ramadan, he wouldn’t
last the distance. Commitment in Ramadan is the essential ingredient, the
critical dimension. It is, after all, a contract with Allah. I understand now, and Mark understands. The Muslims had understood all along.