As we approach a new Ramadan, Muslims across the world gear up for the holy month that comes with its rewards but once a year. This is a month of worship, a time of reflection and one that you can potentially walk away from with the gift of forgiveness.
Additionally, for those of us that live in the West in particular or indeed, any multicultural society across the world where different faiths are practised, the month brings with it a ubiquitous question being asked everywhere:
“Not even water”?
This question, asked by Non-Muslims is usually followed by a gasp, when we Muslims reply and tell you that when we fast, we abstain from both food and drink from sunrise to sunset and that during our fast we avoid the consumption of, “Yes, not even water”.
It’s the last week of February when I’m asked this very same question for the first time this year. I’m travelling in Seville, sat across a non-religious Slovak whose name is Tina and am eating a tuna pizza.
Seville is beautiful but there’s limited halal food here. It exists for sure but we’re not going to go out of our way to search for it in the middle of the night.
So when needs must, I create my own halal pizza from the pizza shop across the road.
It has tuna on top, sweetcorn too and lots of peppery peppers (I don’t know what they’re actually called but they aren’t the normal ones, they have a kick to them). And my goodness, this pizza is bloody good!
It’s not a new pizza by any means. Because I’m sure lots of other people (including Muslims, when faced with a lack of halal options and wanting something a bit meatier than a Margherita), have come up with and eaten for themselves too.
But it’s a pizza that has on this occasion, prompted a question on my faith and values as a Muslim.
And once I’ve explained the basic premise of halal vs haram food to Tina, I’m asked about Ramadan and the “Not even water’ question, which opens up a discussion on why Muslims fast.
In my everyday life, 50% of the people that I am in the company of or surrounded by are Muslim, while the other 50% are non-Muslim. This means that the topic of Ramadan is one that I have been asked about on multiple occasions over the years by non-Muslims.
But as recently as last year, this conversation on the topic of Ramadan and why Muslims fast, is a question that in all honesty I’d dislike being asked about.
Because I’d ask myself: “Well, what if I muddle my words up and don’t articulate myself properly and then a non-Muslim walks away with an inaccurate idea of Islam”? And I’d answer the question very bluntly for myself too and think: “Well, that’s on you Fahmida”.
It’s a question that I’d rather let another Muslim answer because frankly speaking, it’s a responsibility I didn’t want to take on.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’d dodge the question because I didn’t feel that I was the right person to answer it. I felt I wasn’t the perfect Muslim, nor was I the perfect ambassador for Islam.
But with no other Muslim in our midst to answer the question, when Tina asked me, I sat there in Seville and tried for the first time in years to articulate my thoughts on Ramadan and explain why I’m participating in the holy month in 3 weeks time. So here it is, in my own words, as spoken to Tina that night…
Here’s Why Muslims Fast During Ramadan
“We’ll start with water, Tina, because that’s what you asked – ‘not even water?’.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims who have hit the age puberty (which is 11 for boys and whichever age you begin your menstrual cycle if you are a girl), are meant to observe Ramadan which is 1 of the 5 pillars of Islam and a core commandment from God. You fast for 30 days, from sunrise to sunset, abstaining from eating food and consuming drinks, including water.
Quite a few Muslims might tell you that Muslims go without food or drink in order to feel for the poor. They aren’t wrong because it is important to think of and empathise with the less fortunate in this month.
But while I’m not negating that giving alms and Zakat (charity) is a crucial part of Ramadan and a big opportunity to earn massive rewards during this holy month, my personal view of Ramadan is that:
The underlying theme behind Ramadan is to encourage mindfulness of God. In Arabic, the word for this mindfulness is called Taqwa تقوى. Mindfulness includes making dua and the arabic word dua دُعَاء means to supplicate (so, to worship) and in your worship ask from God whatever your hearts desire.
Because of the heightened awareness that you have from remembering God throughout this month, Ramadan also presents the perfect opportunity to reflect. It helps you ask questions like:
“How has the last year been for me spiritually and what I might I like to ask God to help me work on this current year”?
Questions like this in turn help you ascertain what you want to make dua for when you speak to God in the month of Ramadan. Because as much as dua is an act of worship, at its most basic level, making dua is also simply a sincere conversation that you are having with God.
Maybe you’re also entering this Ramadan without the people who were in your life around the time of past Ramadans. Maybe this Ramadan is an opportunity to remember those who aren’t with us anymore because Ramadan can also be a reminder to honour the guests of our heart and make dua for them/on their behalf.
Fundamentally however, the 30 days and nights of Ramadan are an exercise in control and also a test of your willpower. The idea is, that you give these 30 days your best and the hope is, that the habits that you form during the 30 days are strong enough to carry through beyond Ramadan and across the rest of the year.
And what habits might those be? Well, to name but a few of these habits we have: no swearing, no lying, praying your five daily prayers on time, doing charitable work and; improving your dua and taqwa in daily conversation with God”.
I pause here and look at Tina. She is wide-eyed and taking this in.
“Wow. I never knew the reason behind it all. No-one ever told me this but it makes sense”.
I end this conversation by telling Tina who Ramadan is for. I tell her that Ramadan is for everyone.
“This month and its benefits and rewards…this once-a-year opportunity to get closer to God – it’s not an exclusive club reserved for the most pious and the most perfect of us. The most important thing to remember about Ramadan and about our faith is that you don’t have to be perfect to give it a go”.
I look down as our conversation draws to an end. The pizza is finished.
From inside the hotel lobby, we sit in silence as the golden rays of the sun begin to sweep through the big glass windows of the hotel. The night has come to an end and I realise how long we’ve been sat here discussing my religion.
The sun rises.
And it dawns on me only then, that I don’t have to be the perfect Muslim to explain to someone else what Ramadan means to me and why Muslims fast during this holy month.
If you’re taking part in Ramadan this year, I want to wish you good luck in it. May we enter this month with pure intentions, may our duas be accepted and may we leave the month as better human beings Ameen.