It has been a week since the beginning of my Ramadan experience, which means it is time to share some first impressions with you, as promised in my previous article. What started out as a trivial challenge turned out to be much more. At first I looked at fasting as something purely physical, but as some of you pointed out this is not the essence. The physical part is something I got used to rather quickly, so if it were just about that there would be no more challenge. The mental changes are a bit more interesting, but many of these changes were triggered by the physical, so I will discuss both.
Something I didn’t anticipate is that fasting is a social experience for most Muslims. During the day some Muslims may isolate themselves to read and study but after the sun goes down they are all with their family and friends. I still had to study for finals at my university, which means I barely leave my room as it is – except for food and fresh air. Fasting helped me concentrate even longer so I didn’t really need to go out. After a while I got very bored so as soon as could I grabbed my camera and walked through the streets of Antwerp to talk to people about their Ramadan thoughts. This lead to the following pictures and conversations:
Some advice from this kind young man called Mohammed from whom I bought some dates: “Try not to eat too much after the sun goes down and eat slowly. Your stomach shrinks when you fast so you want to start with high energy foods like dates and sweet pastries”.
Abdel saw my camera and asked if I could take some pictures for his webstore. I ended up trading the pictures for his knowledge: “In the holy month of Ramadan the angel Gibriel revealed the first chapters of the Quran to Muhammad. That’s why the Imam recites the entire Quran over the course of this month for all Muslims present in the mosque”.
I also asked some of my fellow Arabic-students if they had any advice:
Ilham put it so well: “Whenever I feel hungry, I think of the poor people. Whenever I feel thirsty, I think of the people in Africa who don’t have clean water. And whenever I feel alone, I think of the people who lost their relatives in wars. If this month is a struggle for a lot of people, remember it’s only for 30 days while for others it’s a lifetime. Therefore I say alhamdoulilah”.
I got some really useful feedback from different social media after my first article. Someone commented that Ramadan is not just about refraining from food and drink; it means staying away from argumentation, backbiting, gossiping and being more merciful and generous to your fellow human beings. I have taken this advice to heart and I have noticed the positive effects from this, not only for my surroundings but for myself as well. Forgiving my enemies made me happier so it’s a two way street. Someone else said: “Poor is he who leaves Ramadan the way he was”. What I can say so far is that Ramadan has taught me patience and appreciation for the things that I usually take for granted. It really puts your life into perspective and it helps you relate to people that are less fortunate.
I was overwhelmed by all the positive reactions and I can see why Muslims form such a strong community in a way I didn’t see it before. To have a common goal creates a bond that is invisible for outsiders and Ramadan strengthens this bond each year. I hope to meet some interesting Muslims on my trip to the south of France next week. Stay tuned and please feel free to keep sending me your advice; I greatly appreciate it!