Living in Malaysia, you can’t avoid the month of fasting for Muslims. You hear it everywhere, you see it everywhere, from the closed Malay restaurants to the tired looks of Muslims. Practicing as a therapist in Malaysia for the last 5 years, I have become sensitive not to offer drinks to my Muslim clients during this month. And I am also sensitive to their differing levels of energy throughout the day.
As a non-Muslim, I am not physically affected during this month. Well, except for the increased traffic jams during the late afternoon when Muslims go back early to prepare food for breaking fast. I have the freedom to go about my day regularly. So why am I asking whether I should fast? For one reason: to learn what the experience is like for my Muslim friends and clients.
So, I googled “how to fast during Ramadan.” Before the end of the second article, I realised that it is not going to be possible for me to really empathise with my Muslim friends. First of all, it is a spiritual and faith-based experience. It is not just about abstaining from indulgences, it is about your relationship with Allah. Well, as a non-Muslim, I can’t (and don’t know how) to utter the prayers. And if I were to do it, I would not be doing it sincerely if I didn’t profess to enter into Islam. So is there any point in fasting?
I called a couple of my Malay friends and spoke to them about this. The most important thing I learned from them is that fasting, while obligatory for Muslims, also has the aspect of personal growth for the self and for others. I was told that during the month of Ramadan, hell or demons are locked up. So whatever you do, it will not be due to temptations from an outer, evil source. Whatever nastiness you embark in will be because of you and you alone. You can’t blame it on the devil. The idea is that during this month, you learn to discipline yourself to avoid the indulgences of sinful behaviours so that after the month of Ramadan, you will be more able to live a holy life.
While fasting, Muslims are to avoid not only food, but all forms of indulgences. One of my friends has turned his Facebook profile picture black as a symbolic gesture to indicate that he will not be indulging in social media this month. And in place of indulging in all sorts of behaviours, he will be spending more time reading spiritual writings, contemplating, and also focusing on improving his relationship with God, family, and friends. As a spiritual person, I can definitely relate to this.
The other key point I learned is that fasting is an act to help us to empathise with those who are poor and have little to nothing to eat. So if I fast during Ramadan, I will not only be empathising with what Muslims are experiencing physically, but also take part in their social conscience. Now that is pretty cool.
So should I fast?
Well, according to my two friends, I would need to be eating before 5:30am or 5:50am (depending on your school of thought), and I would not be able to break fast until 7:30pm. No food and water, and no other “bad” indulgences throughout the day — and I assume for the evenings too.
But, I said to my friend — and it’s a big BUT — I have my workout appointment with my fitness coach tomorrow at 8am! And he had promised to work me hard tomorrow. So, how in the world am I going to be able to go without water throughout and after a hefty workout???
Both my friends suggested that since I have not abstained from food and water before, that I begin by doing lesser hours. One suggested that I start with 4 hours, and then increase gradually. Once I have reached 6 hours and find it hard, I should stay with 6 hours for a few days until I am comfortable, and then stretch it longer.
Well, I suppose I could do that. Fast from food the entire day, but from food and water in increasing durations over the month. And yes, also to be very mindful to avoid indulgences. But will I do it?
Stay tuned. Ramadan begins tomorrow. Selamat berpuasa to all my Malay and Muslim friends!
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