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RAMADAN 1437: 4 – ON ‘FIRST TIME FASTERS’

Most of us born Muslims take Ramadan for granted – everyone else is doing it and we have been fasting since we were children. So…

Most of us born Muslims take Ramadan for granted – everyone else is doing it and we have been fasting since we were children. So sometimes we are oblivious about those new Muslims (in especially non-Muslim climes) who fast for the first time, sometimes all of 20 hours. So, as we bid Ramadan bye this week, let us share a couple of, let me say, rather hilarious experiences of “First Time Fasters” from other parts of the world. (Articles abridged for space). Enjoy:
THERESA CORBIN: “5 Mistakes I Made In My First Ramadan” 4th July 2014
“Ash-hadu an la ilaha ilallah, wa ash-hadu anna Muhammad Rasulullah,” I said for the first time one evening, a day before Ramadan. “It’s Ramadan now, so you should start fasting tomorrow,” said the person witnessing my shahada. “Whaaa…” must have been my response, because I can’t remember what came next through my rising panic. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best advice to give to someone who had just become Muslim. What happened to baby steps?
But I was game – I was going to give it my best shot. With almost no guidance as to the when, what and how of it all, I jumped in like a frog into hot water. Looking back, the “mistakes” I made seem pretty silly to me. But to someone who knew very little about her new faith, much less anything about not eating all day, it was a pretty big deal.
Missing iftar: On that first day of fasting, I was so unaware about how the sun and the earth work in their daily dance that I missed iftar by an entire hour. I knew I couldn’t eat until the sun went down so I kept looking out the window to see if it was dark yet. It took forever to get dark, well past what I thought the time was supposed to be. I ended up fasting an hour longer.
Missing sahur: On the other side of the day, for the morning meal, I was not sure when the dawn would break. Now, you might be thinking that I would wait until it was fully light outside, seeing my confusion with the sunset. But you would be wrong. Not knowing when I had to stop eating led me to not eat in the morning at all.
Heavy eating at iftar: But don’t fret, once the confusion over time was cleared up by some super awesome sisters, I was on track to fasting the right amount of time. But knowing when and when not to eat does not make one wiser in knowing how to eat. Armed with little knowledge of nutrition and the fasting stomach, I would fill my stomach up with the unhealthiest foods my body craved. With my stomach stretched out by foods that had no staying power, I became hungrier sooner and weaker for longer.
Not drinking enough water: With all that I had learned in such a short time about Ramadan, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Until, that is, I started to notice physical changes in my face. My eyes became sunken and the purple hue around them made me look as if I had joined some sort of Ramadan fight club. After talking to a sister, she said, “You are dehydrated. Drink more water.” It was so simple. I had no idea my life-long love affair with caffeinated soda (which I consumed vigorously and exclusively outside of fasting hours) had caught up with me.
Not knowing that it would get easier: With the timing and the nutrition situations straightened out, things were getting better. For those who grew up with fasting as a familiar concept practised in gradual stages through childhood, culminating in the full fast in adulthood, it’s not so hard. But for someone who has never fasted a day in her life, fasting is tough. Not even the extreme dieting I did during my adolescence prepared me. For some converts this may take a few years of Ramadan to adjust, but it will happen. After all, the religion wasn’t revealed in a day.
ROLLO ROMIG: “Confessions Of A Ramadan Rookie” August 16, 2012):
The other day in the middle of the afternoon I wandered up the stairs of the New York Public Library and into an exhibition on the history of lunch in the city. I haven’t eaten lunch in almost a month, and was excited to see what I was missing…The reason I haven’t been eating lunch is that I’m fasting for Ramadan, which is what you’re supposed to do when you’re a Muslim, which I became nearly four years ago.
Technically, becoming a Muslim takes about as long as ordering a Swiss-cheese sandwich. All that’s required is to recite the brief Islamic creed-there is no god but God, and Muhammad is His prophet-with genuine intention. In Islam, there’s lots to do-scripture to memorize, prayers to perform, charity to disburse, a pilgrimage to take-and, during Ramadan especially, lots not to do.
The first year, after three days of fasting, I decided that it was too hard to do my job without eating. My very livelihood was at stake, I told myself; surely no God would want me to get fired over unforced office errors due to low blood sugar. The next year, my wife was exempted from fasting because she was pregnant, and I decided that it was too hard to fast alone. On the days I did wake alone in the dark to eat the pre-fast meal, I found myself eating to beat the clock, standing over the sink and stuffing whole hard-boiled eggs into my mouth.
This year, though, as Ramadan approached, I had stopped looking for an escape clause. I knew that it would be the first Ramadan I’d try to fast for the full thirty days. Of course it would be hard. But I remembered what my grandfather used to say when I didn’t want to go to school: half the work in the world was done by people who didn’t feel so good today.
The next morning at 4:10 A.M., I drank a final glass of water to “seal the fast,” and wished aloud that I’d had a second cup of coffee. But the day was easier than I had worried it would be, maybe because living with an infant had raised my threshold for frustration. My main struggle was keeping from unconsciously jamming food into my mouth whenever I passed through the kitchen. (This is also true when it’s not Ramadan.)
Around the middle of the month, though, it occurred to me that, despite successfully abstaining from all food and drink, I was only meeting the bare minimum requirements of the fast. During Ramadan, Muslims are also expected to refrain from gossip and complaining, to avoid anger and lust, to increase charitability. I thought of my father, who always had single dollar bills ready in his pocket to hand out to anyone who asked as we walked around Detroit.
I thought of a Muslim I know who makes turkey sandwiches every morning during Ramadan, as though he’s preparing his lunch as usual, and then passes them out to the hungry. I’d been focussed on the fast’s physical challenges, but it dawned on me that Ramadan is really about developing new habits, of thought, action, routine. The extremity of the test is what it makes it so vivid.
So there! And may we have witnessed Lailatul Qadr, amin.
 

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