Saima Huq
June 07, 2017 1:16 pm
Courtesy of Saima Huq

It’s Ramadan, the month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief. It is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and lasts for 30 days, beginning with the sightings of the crescent moon.

So today, I ate and drank nothing from approximately 3:15am til 8:23 pm (EST). And I liked it.

I did not always want to fast. I used to think Ramadan was literally taking something away from me, and with that mindset, I rarely succeeded with fasting the entire month as an adult.

My feelings stemmed from a lot of things — not just being hungry and tired. I was frustrated with people in other religions comparing and contrasting their own fasts with mine, as if we fasted to see who was hungrier. I hated people saying “But you’re not really Muslim?” — which was weird, because I have never hidden the fact that I am.

But that is the past.

And unlike Dev (Aziz Ansari) in the “Religion” episode of Master of None Season 2, when I fast and abstain from pork and alcohol, it’s not just to protect my parents’ feelings (though that is a good reason in itself).

I fast because I believe it benefits me personally and spiritually.

The Blue Mosque, an Islamic Mosque in Istanbul.

Here are my top reasons for why I fast.

1It is about my own relationship with religion, not the world’s relationship with religion.

Growing up as one of the few Muslims in a small town, I noticed that all of the other girls (many of whom were mean to me) got Christmas and never had to stop eating. Back then, I did not understand the ramifications and fallout of slavery and colonialism, so I thought my religion that  no one had ever heard of somehow made me less than them. After all, I got less respect than they did, and they were never denied anything.

But to paraphrase Mother Theresa, who cares about the mean girls? It was never between me and them anyway. (I’m no Mother Theresa, though.)

2It makes me re-evaluate my health.

Ramadan makes me realize that, despite having a Master of Public Health and years of experience as a personal trainer, I still do not eat that well. Now that I can’t just grab a $1 pizza slice or a cup of coffee whenever I feel like it, I understand just how often I do that — mainly out of boredom, not actual hunger.

I learn that I can pace myself, overcome those urges, and choose to eat more healthfully when I break my fast. My fruit and vegetable intake is way up. And I am steadily ending my dependency on caffeine and sugar.

Rich-Joseph Facun/Getty Images

3It teaches me to have more empathy for those asking for money to buy food.

I know I can get some food at sundown, but what about those who are also hungry — but won’t have a meal later? Just the other day, a homeless man was holding the exit door for passengers at my Brooklyn subway station. I only had a $5 bill on me ,but I immediately gave it to him. I was lucky enough to have started a new job a few days earlier, and my finances were not as precarious as they once had been. I could help feed someone who was hungry, even if indirectly.

He looked at it, and exclaimed “Wow! Are you sure?”

He looked me in the eye for the first time and said, “Shukrun. Assalaimalaikum, sister. [Thank you. Peace be upon you.] I am Muslim, too.”

We introduced ourselves to each other, and I realized I could also give him my time and conversation. We walked down the block a bit further, and he told me how he had made a mistake at the homeless shelter by going after someone who had stolen from him: “I didn’t handle it right. But I was so mad.”

We agreed that all humans make mistakes, and maybe he can go back to the shelter soon. We shook hands as we parted, and I said that I hoped to run into each other again.

He smiled, and wished me a good Ramadan.

Whatever your religion, whether you choose to fast or not, peace be upon you, one and all!

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