My 30 day fast for Ramadan – as a Christian
June 8, 2020
This year I decided that I would fast for the full 30 days of Ramadan. I did this because, living in Bradford with such an amazing Muslim population, I’ve always had the privilege of celebrating Eid and attending Iftars with friends without actually taking part in the fast. This year I set a goal to fast and stuck to it all the way through. This was both a very challenging and extremely rewarding experience, as you might think. There were a host of reasons alongside this, such as to learn what it is like to fast, explore my own faith, and to be in solidarity with my Muslim friends and colleagues during this period of COVID-19.
So my fast began… the day before, I ate a normal amount for dinner; then slept and woke up at the usual time, still not a 100% sure I was going to do this! However, I managed to keep going all day, experiencing the headaches people talk about due to dehydration, which was probably the hardest period for me physically. Shortly before sunset, I went to my local Lahore Grill and bought myself a feast of food – enough to eat for a day and to keep me going the next day was my thinking. I opened fast with a date at the correct time; then ate most of the food I had bought, and drank 2 litres of water and a can of cherry Pepsi max. This day was long and really taught me what it is like to go without, I had reflected a lot about how lucky I am and began to appreciate what I did have – the first sip of water could not have tasted better!
It was important for me to fulfil the spiritual side and to take this opportunity to pray. As a Christian I wondered how what I was doing would be viewed by others. I chose to pray to God/Allah and be sincere in doing this. I prayed for my family, those with us today and those who have passed. I prayed for people I had encountered that day and most of all, I prayed for those who had done me wrong and not apologised or asked for my forgiveness. This was hard, but necessary – as I followed this with prayer for my own forgiveness and the strength to be a better person and a good Dad. This made me think deeper – was I doing this to get something in return or for the right reasons?
The first day came and went. I have to admit it was hard, but not as hard as I thought it would be; and it gave me the confidence to know I could do this. Once I got into a routine and got used to not drinking during the day, I was ok. The next day was similar, except I prepared less food. I had not eaten since the day before – unlike Muslims getting up to pray before sunrise and have something to eat, I slept right through the night. My fasts went from sunset to sunset, although I did occasionally get up, or stay up to pray.
Many friends and colleagues got to know of my aim and supported me in this, offering me food and encouragement. After a few days some congratulated me and indicated I had done enough. But I had set a goal and needed to stick to this, because of my mentality and because of my character – when I start something, I must finish. This is sometimes a flaw in me. I always focus on the end goal and envision myself there already, then block anything that might hinder me. This has sometimes been a failing, as in life you must be prepared to change and adapt whilst enjoying the journey and each moment. In all of this, I have learned to be mindful – to take time to reflect, appreciate, be grateful and enjoy the moment. My kids are excellent at doing this. My oldest told me he would get me a medal for completing the full 30 days. He always melts my heart and really, I should get him a medal.
Someone told me that fasting is only between you and God, which I agreed is correct. As I carried on, I knew that God was watching me and that if I didn’t keep to my fast, I was only cheating God and myself. Each night, I thanked God and asked that my fast be accepted in His name.
What have I learned from my experience? As I progressed through the fasting period, I yearned for spiritually, an awakening and a moment of revelation. Each night I pondered on being grateful and conscious of those who have less. A Sunnah (teaching of the Prophet PBUH), tells us that we must want for others what we have for ourselves. The Bible tells us to treat our neighbours as we want to be treated. Both have the same sentiment. I began to think about the current situation with COVID19 and how we are all working together to help each other. This spirit is certainly there in Bradford – no matter your religion or lack of, everyone is pulling together. I have helped others and have also been helped many times during this period.
The more I progressed into the fasting and Ramadan, the more my determination to successfully complete it grew. I was getting food dropped off by Muslim friends and really felt part of something. This really helped with my mental health. Last year I had a breakdown and went to see my GP as I was not sleeping, whilst suffering severely from anxiety and depression. This was mainly triggered by my divorce and changing jobs, with a sudden realisation that I was actually all alone, apart from my two beautiful sons. In reality, of course, I was not actually all alone. Being part of Ramadan, I felt part of something and each day I had a goal and purpose, and this really boosted my life determination.
Half way through I knew I was going to succeed. Having made it this far, it was part of me as I was part of it. I was around many Muslims talking about fasting, for instance at the shop or while helping with food parcel delivery, who did not know I was also fasting. I listened to them share their experience. I listened and thought about things they said and things I had heard in the past, I began to compare this to my experience. Sometimes I shared that I was fasting, other times I didn’t. But my unconscious bias and theirs became apparent as I learnt more about Ramadan and fasting, more about myself, more about Islam, and more about how others viewed me as a non-Muslim. Really, we all have prejudice and the only way I can see this overcome is by learning and experiencing life together.
Past the halfway mark, the days were getting longer, and sunset getting later, but this did not matter as I was in a new routine now and doing this together with my Muslim brothers and sisters. The thought of having something to eat and drink was now unthinkable. I was getting so much encouragement and good wishes, that my fast was as much for everyone, as for me and God.
As I talked to others, including friends on the phone and through zoom! in India, I reflected on how the fasting was unifying – ensuring a global togetherness and shared experience. This time, of course, COVID19 has been, too. Challenge and adversary really do bring people together and in a strange way, boosts morale sometimes. Happiness has seemed easier to achieve when your expectation is lower – at least it feels like that to me. When you do not want what others have but are grateful for what you do have, you feel more at peace.
Listening and learning: my journey continued, and I approached the last week. On the Thursday night, I looked forward to the next day knowing it would be the third week, and the weekend after would be Eid. I then heard that, maybe, Eid would be on different days and some might celebrate the day after. I wondered whether I should fast an additional day to ensure I followed it through with all to the end, but I was informed that this was not Halal and that I should keep to the fast I had started. In the end the moon was sighted and Eid was the same day for all, and this dilemma was evaded. I must admit, I thought we should all fast the same days and we should come to an agreement on this. I understand that this has been debated around many Muslim tables for years.
As we got into the last week, on Saturday, I was taking part in a fundraiser called Fasting Friday and focused towards this. As Friday grew closer, I could see the end goal. But on Wednesday night, I hit a bit of a wall. The end was in sight and suddenly the days got a bit harder. I was eating after 9pm at the correct increasing time each day and suddenly time seemed to slow, the days were a bit hotter and I began to struggle the last few days. I was also having my kids most days (a real blessing) and feeding them all the time. I heard other Muslims talk about struggling the first few days but then finding it getting easier. I was relieved to hear some say that actually they found the last few days hardest. I was not alone again. It was nice to hear that others feel the same. This was also mental health awareness week with the theme of kindness and my goal was to be kind to everyone, which gave me more focus.
During this period, I was working and looking after my kids most days which was an added challenge. On reflection, I wondered if I would have been able to work and commute during Ramadan if not in lockdown. I expect this would be much harder and I was grateful to be working from home and able to stay in my pyjamas some days.
On Fasting Friday I was able to share with others and hear about their experiences. We even had a zoom! call joined by many faiths, including our Bishop Toby Howarth who gave a blessing. This was an amazing moment where colleagues, who had been working in solidarity to tackle COVID19, came together. People from many faiths and different beliefs. Everyone shared in good spirits, the experience of fasting and being different, but together. This is the essence of my work in the team of Bradford For Everyone. It was a special moment which gave me a feeling of calm and slight euphoria, as I felt peace and reassurance that we are all ok and actually everything is ok with the world and me, at that time.
I sat and reflected, and exchanged messages with friends. Tomorrow is the last day. What have I learned about Ramadan? Watching my Muslim brothers pray throughout the year, knowing they are doing this each day, their dedication to their faith and sincerity made me realise again the peace of Islam. It also made me think deeper about my religion as a Christian and how committed and sincere I am to this. I read the Bible throughout my fast, and attended my usual online church services. I was also given a beautiful English copy of the Quran to read, which I did. And I reflected on life, religion and God. Surely if your intentions are sincere, then God will accept you.
The last day came. I woke up having not drunk as much water as I could have the night before. The count down was on to the final fast opening. The day was surreal; I was feeling a lot and nothing at the same time. Playing with my boys and watching some TV. I fed them at 6pm and then started to think about my final fast opening. I realised I hadn’t bought anything for my breakfast for the following day! The last few hours seemed to slow right down. It felt good to slow time down. About 8pm, I got a feeling that I could just have something to eat now and it wouldn’t matter. That I had done it anyway. It was a temptation: a horrid feeling to do something you shouldn’t, and then suddenly you slap yourself metaphorically and think …what on earth, where did that come from! Of course, I did not just open early, I waited till the correct time.
The last few minutes came and I was prepared. I had my meal ready. My fruit and water and dates. I prayed what I had usually been praying and it came time to open my fast for the last time.
I did it. I opened fast. Then the realisation hit me – I had done it, I had kept all 30 fasts. I actually punched the air slightly and felt proud of myself. At that moment my heart sunk and I got this feeling that all 30 days just got wiped away. Was I just doing this for myself and praise? Or was I doing this for a higher purpose. I apologised to God and thanked him again and asked again that my fast be accepted. I was filled with a feeling of revelation, that moment I had wanted. I realised I must think about why I do something – is it for me or something bigger than me and for others? Certainly the latter should be the way for me, we are all part of something bigger and doing things for others gives better reward, if done sincerely. This is a juxtaposition of faith and fasting, to do for nothing, but appreciate that this brings great reward. This is an important lesson that I learned during my 30 day fast.
Now having done this, I feel closer to others, I have learnt more about others’ experience and have renewed my purpose to help. I am more grateful and more sincere.
My only regret is that I lost very little weight – it was only 2 llbs!