Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What was I Doing Fasting for Ramadan?

Yantra Interfaith Mandala

With Rosh Hashanah just ending and Yom Kippur approaching, I have had a chance to reflect on my experience fasting one day during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. The idea for the interfaith, online group fast was the brainchild of my friend, Amanda Quirishi whose work in finding common ground among members of various faiths encouraged the event. She also urged participants to share their experiences on Twitter which is where I first heard of the event.

Q as she is commonly known on the internet is a prolific writer and social media specialist who uses her online influence to connect folks together in new ways like the dawn til dusk Ramadan observance she organized. Q warned us we would run through a gamut of emotions while fasting and we should reflect upon those who routinely battle hunger.  The primary purpose of the month-long observance in Islam is to understand what it means to live with hunger and appreciate the bounty most of us enjoy.  A few other things happened as well…

After carefully setting my alarm, for 5am in the morning (before the sun rose), I slept though the alarm and missed my opportunity to eat a meal before my day began.  I was not to drink water, brush my teeth (that was gross) or even drink the water in the shower.

 I thought, “I am Jewish, I have fasted for Yom Kippur before, this will be a snap…I think”

I could not have been more wrong.  First, Yom Kippur allows us to break the fast at sundown after one day of fasting. The dawn to dark rule actually makes for a longer fast.  Reform Jews like me often drank water even though it was officially not allowed.  It was a challenge fasting in strict Islamic tradition while attempting to go about my day like it was any other. By mid-morning, I was already wondering if I could make it until the sun went down after 8pm that evening. I had a couple of stories to write, a client meeting and a game to cover for the newspaper that evening. 

How the heck Muslims do this for an entire month, I wondered? One day fasting was a trial. An entire month? Now THAT is commitment to your faith. Already, I had a newfound respect for Islamic folks. They must have a deep understanding of human suffering that non-Muislims could only imagine.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, various participants were comparing notes with each other and offering support.  Participants shared their experiences on Twitter in real-time at Q’s suggestion. She hoped the online encouragement and support would make it easier to negotiate the day while running on empty. 

Here are some examples I pinched from Q's Blog:

I had a similar experience

Seeing others having the same thoughts helped somehow

While the tweets above demonstrate the physical difficulties of fasting while trying to carry on a work day, the mental demands seemed greater. I found myself reflecting upon others experiences more. The homeless folks at traffic intersections begging for money, vagrants downtown waiting outside Caritas and comparing their lives to my own rather blessed one.

I realized once again, the differences between people were far less significant than the similarities. Our religions, cultures and values as human beings are rather close in ideology regardless of religion or race. 

This is a realization one often arrives at after traveling overseas for any length of time. The exercise had it's intended effect. I marveled at the Islamic people around the world who did this for an entire month. One day of Ramadan was a trial enough for me.

 In the end, I found myself covering a preseason football game as the sun set over Central Texas. I wandered down to the snack bar and ordered a water and hot dog. Not sexy, but it was just about the best thing I could imagine at the time. 

Thanks to Amanda Quirishi, Jennifer Jones, Holly from Seattle, GenevieveJaime Weaver and Sarah Vela for sharing the experience with me. 

Have you ever fasted for religious purposes? What was your experience like?