The facts about fasting

UAA journalism student Linda Hardyman is spending a year abroad in Egypt. Each week, the Northern Light prints first-hand accounts of her experiences in the Middle East. This week Hardyman discusses her experience with fasting for Ramadan.

The shops are overflowing with displays of special foods and gifts and busy shoppers stocking up for the holiday. The sounds of carols fill the air, and colored lights have been hung in windows, on the streets and even in the trees. But it’s not Christmas—it’s Ramadan, the Muslim holy month celebrating the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. Adult Muslims are expected to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and having sex from dawn until sunset for the entire month. People who are sick, travelers and women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating are excused, but any missed days should be made up before the start of the next Ramadan.

I’d always thought of Ramadan as a time of suffering and denial, and I’m surprised to see how excited people are. It’s a monthlong holiday and a time for reflection, centering, discipline, self-control and drawing closer to God. Because everyone is fasting together, it creates sympathy for the hungry and a sense of unity and equality. The lines that divide people in to social and economic classes are blurred.

Watching people fast is like watching people eat an exotic food and then thinking you know how it tastes. I want to know what Ramadan feels like, so I’ve decided to fast. I’m not a very religious person, but I am looking to develop more discipline and self-control—especially when it comes to food. I’ve been overweight most of my life, and I have a love-hate relationship with food. I love the way it tastes, the comfort it provides and the fellowship that often accompanies it, but I hate what it does to my body. Thinking about fasting for an entire month is intimidating and overwhelming, so I’m taking it one hour at a time.

I get up at 3:45 a.m. so I can have my coffee before the fast begins as 4:30 a.m. During the fast even water is not allowed, and in first two days I didn’t eat or drink at all. By the end of the day I was tired, hungry and dizzy. The high temperature every day is around 95 degrees and I sweat constantly. On a normal day I drink two to three liters of water, and at the end of my second day of fasting, I felt as if I was going to pass out every time I stood up. My body hasn’t adjusted to the temperature and I’m not trying to make myself sick, so I’ve decided to have water during the day. Even with water, fasting is difficult. I try to not think about it, but I’m hungry all of the time. Some of my friends who have fasted before say it get easier as your body adjusts. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Every day at sundown a cannon is fired and the call to prayer announces it’s time for iftar, or breaking the fast and parties that last all night.

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I went with a friend who is also fasting to celebrate iftar at a mosque. Tables were set up outside and anyone was welcome. As soon as we were seated food was brought to the table: water, date juice, bread, salad, hummus, tahini, baba ghanoush, sweet rice with raisins, kofta, lamb and stuffed pigeon. I had been hoping for chicken and ta’amiyya, but I was so hungry it didn’t matter. The stuffed pigeon looked as good as any Thanksgiving turkey I’ve ever eaten.

As I finished eating, a woman came to the table asking for some food, and I made her some sandwiches that she quickly tucked into her bag before walking away. She returned to our table at the same time as another woman approached us looking for food. Suddenly, it sounded like cats fighting. Rice and bones flew through the air as they fought over our leftovers. It was over as quickly as it started, and they disappeared. As hungry as I’ve been during the day, I knew it was just a matter of time before my next meal. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be that hungry and not know when I would eat again.