I remember the first time I tried fasting, I was quite young around five years old, and I knew that fasting was important in Islam. I saw my parents fast so naturally I felt I had to as well. My siblings and I mustered up the determination to start our fast. We headed to the mall, which in hindsight meant a clear sign for failure. Ultimately the smell of chicken fingers caught my attention, wafts of fried goodness tantalized my senses from across the food court, so naturally I succumbed to the temptation.
A year later I figured I would try fasting again. I was offended when my mom sent me off with lunch, “Are you kidding me?” I questioned. I felt that my dignity and pride were at stake. “I will fast the entire day!” I said defiantly. However, my kind mom informed me that she had no doubt I could fast the entire day but to take lunch just in case. My mom packed spaghetti that day so again, naturally I succumbed to the temptation.
I did not actively and earnestly commit to fasting until I was 19-years-old. I wanted to renew my faith and vigor in Islam by partaking in a holy ritual. I will say, probably like some of many of you who are reading, fasting has not been an easy path to follow. In fact you may be among the individuals who do not believe in fasting or choose not to fast. Although that causes a tremor within the community, I am here to tell you that that is OK (queue communal heart attack and old aunties fainting).
Believe it or not (it’s not hard to believe), fasting is perhaps one of the greatest jihads a Muslim deals with because it is an act greater than we are. In Islam, the importance of fasting has been underlined in many hadiths and surahs.
“Oh you who have believed, fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may attain taqwa” – Surah al-Baqarah (2:183).
In this surah the implications of fasting for a Muslim are blatant. It is prescribed by Allah (SWT) that as a Muslim we must fast, as it is one of the pillars of Islam. Fasting is not only an important ritual as a Muslim but it is also one of the only actions we ascribe to for the sake of Allah (SWT).
“Every deed of the son of Adam is for him except fasting; it is for Me and I shall reward for it.” Al-Bukhaari (Book of Fasting 1761)
Naturally, fasting is an integral part of the Muslim identity but I am not here to tell you why it is important. Instead, I want to draw attention to my jihad (remember that this means “internal struggle”) – how I struggle with forsaking food and water for the sake of God because I prioritize my immediate desires. In essence my jihad with fasting stems from the sheer recognition that I have been blessed by the Lord’s bounty to the point that I cannot forsake these blessings for sake of God Himself.
Fasting (especially in North America) is an 18 hour ordeal, a process during the long hot summer months. How I phrased the last sentence itself is set in a rhetoric that perceives fasting during Ramadan as a challenging and laborious obligation. Immediately my jihad is rooted in this negative perception that fasting is hard and tough. It totally is. But I am viewing it through a negative framework that implies that this demanding ritual is too much for me to actually want to do. I see fasting as an obligation that I reluctantly partake in. But what if I reframed that perception so that instead of being a reluctant participant, I become an happily willing participant? However, before I expand on that, it is important to look at the reasons why fasting has become a tumultuous jihad.
…I struggle with forsaking food and water for the sake of God because I prioritize my immediate desires.
Like many of you, I imagine when you were younger you associated Ramadan and fasting with the holiday spirit of Christmas. I know I did. I even looked forward to Ramadan because I was able to partake in a ceremony that made me feel part of a community. We even set up “Eid” lights while others set up their Christmas lights. It felt like a Hallmark holiday.
Fast forward a decade later and Ramadan becomes a dreaded holiday as it now falls during the summer months. Damn moon. Fasting is approached reluctantly, and in all honesty, with anger for some people. The sense of community is forsaken and is replaced with a heightened sense of judgment.
Are you actually fasting?
Did you wake up for suhoor or did you start breakfast late?
I fasted the entire day and you didn’t!
Oh you totally broke your fast by swearing / shouting / not praying / [insert more judgemental comments here].
These words act as lashes. Each judgment slamming down a sentence on your morality or true sense of faith. It happens in every family. Ramadan is apparently the time where every Muslim becomes a bonafide Imam, where family members deem themselves the acting authority on Islamic code and moral law. It is this culmination of negative energy that detracts from the true essence of fasting and impacts how I, and many others, perceive it.
But that does not mean I am free from blame. To the contrary my jihad and struggle with fasting stems from my own selfish intentions. I’m going to be real for a moment and say it– fasting really impacts my social life. While a good chunk of it stems from the fact that I cannot eat (especially now during food truck and festival season, ha…), another aspect is that my family (ahem, mom) expects me to stay home all day. If the hunger doesn’t kill me then staying home all day doing nothing or alternatively helping make all the delicious food for iftaar (breaking of the fast) is what really kills me. I resent the fact that I am unable to go out as often or even break iftaar with friends (who aren’t Muslim). It absolutely affects the way I view and feel about Ramadan.
So, in analyzing the factors that lead me to struggle with fasting, how can I (and whoever else is in the same boat) overcome this jihad? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – fasting is not easy. Especially in this day an age where the days are longer and you may live in a society that isn’t as accommodating to Ramandan (#MinorityStatus). There are a lot of challenges that prevent us from committing fully to fasting and in the end we become complacent and give up. In reality, a lot of these challenges are a matter of perspective versus actuality. In order to have a fulfilling Ramadan and commit to fasting with sincerity, you must change the way you frame the act. So to help you, I have a few pieces of advice.
Be a child again
Remember that dedication we all had when we were younger? The combination of excitement, community and spirit all helped to create a positive environment for fasting. Adopt that same awareness again. And when we failed as kids, what did we do? We tried again. Why? Because we recognized the importance of fasting and we wanted to be part of that bigger whole! So if you falter in your strength, just know you have it in you to try again. And if it is your first time fasting then do a half day. I know tons of people are probably going to dispute this advice and deem it “un-Islamic”, but just know that we all start somewhere. You can’t jump into the deep end before you learn how to swim and ease yourself into the pool. If taking half days help you to commit to a genuine fast, then by all means – go for it!
Take it easy
Fasting takes a toll on the body, and while it does have its health benefits you still need to pace yourself. Do not try and do 10 million things during Ramadan. Yes, keeping busy is good, but physically exhausting yourself helps no one. With that being said, I also want to remind you to take it easy on yourself spiritually. Your soul is resilient but your thoughts will still impact you. Just because Fatima seems to be slaying Ramadan or Abdullah seems to breeze by it, doesn’t mean you are failing because it’s not as “easy” for you. Fasting is not a competition and it is far from a maker of being a good Muslim. You may earn a few gold stars for fasting but if all your actions throughout the year speak to a terrible character then what is the point? We work towards perfection but it should not be your final goal. You are doing just fine– don’t let the “Fasting Police” (i.e. aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters, Instagram, moms, dads or any other random Ahmed) tell you otherwise.
Set your intention
Again this may not be a popular piece of advice among some people but I will let you in on a little secret, fasting as well as any other action you commit throughout your life, begins with an intention that you set between you, yourself and God. Ramadan is a time of introspection, reflection and sincerity. The act of fasting goes beyond abstaining from food and water. It is about abstaining from actions and thoughts that stain your character. During this time the intentions you set go beyond fasting, it is about the promises you make to better yourself, even overcome or tackle your own jihads. So in the end if you do not fast, that is up to you, that is the intention you set between yourself and Allah (SWT). If you do decide to fast, whether for the whole 30 days, for part of the days or even try half days then that is between you and Allah (SWT). The most important thing is that the intentions you set are made with sincerity and authenticity.
Ultimately when it comes to fasting and this personal jihad, you should not let someone else try and dictate the intentions you make. Fasting is hard, and it is OK to feel the feelings you do. You are human. We all are. Although many of us will admit it, every single Muslim has felt the same way about fasting at some point in their lives. If even for a few seconds. You know why? We are imperfect. We are flawed because we do have our own personal desires. And that is what makes fasting so unique, it is the one action that we commit to that is not done out of our own personal desire. Fasting is an act done for God. In the end if you decide it is still not for you, again, that is OK. Jihads are personal struggles that should be overcome through our own means and purpose. The next time Ramadan comes around and you are faced with the dilemma of fasting, try to remember the things that Allah (SWT) has given to you, it may help you view fasting in a new light.