You probably wouldn’t assume a Christian-born, German university student is fasting during the month of Ramadan. I never even thought myself that I would not eat during day light hours for an entire month – and actually enjoy it so much to want to do it again! My motivation probably stemmed from my innate need to belong… something that exceeds a teenage wish to be part of the cool clique! I have spent some important years of my adolescence living in Qatar, years that ultimately shaped my character, personality, desires and ‘foreign’ tendencies. So when I find myself literally growing into what used to be a strange place - completely dissimilar to the familiar Germany – and what has become my home, I inevitably undergo some processes of acculturation. That never means inventing an entirely new person and leaving loved traditions behind, but taking new things in, and perceiving different ways of living just as ‘right’ or appropriate as others.
Now going to international schools, volunteering here and there in local institutions and working in a Qatar-based and Qatar-founded company, as ILQ is, means that my friends and colleagues are as beautifully diverse and unique as the birds in Qatar’s sky. And many of these lively people are Muslim. I thought “if everyone around me fasts, why shouldn’t I?”. I thought it could help bring me closer to understanding how Muslims fast and maybe feel some of the things Muslims feel during this month.
This year will be my third year fasting and I wanted to share what it can be like fasting and embracing aspects of Ramadan as a non-Muslim.
The shared experience, one of my main motivations, turned out to be just great fun. You can tease each other about the hours to go till iftar, you can withstand temptations together - such as cupcakes in the afternoon, anticipate sundown and share meals and dinners with one another. Hosting an iftar for your friends is one of the most satisfying feelings of accomplishment; you spend a couple of hours cooking or preparing food and can’t eat or taste it in the process. When you finally made it to 6:36 (or whenever the sun sets) it feels so much better breaking the fast with your friends in your home, not having cheated – not even a little. Spending time with family and friends is greatly emphasized during Ramadan. I simply couldn’t shake the feeling of collective effervescence; being one collective, feeling, thinking and doing the same, and being connected.
Fasting, or not eating and drinking for the whole day, is probably considered the biggest part of Ramadan to most of us. I thought I could never go a month without food during the day, but wanted to prove myself wrong. You learn about your willpower, discipline and your limits. I had to break the fast multiple times for water, because I get dizzy very quickly due to my awful circulation and blood pressure. Still I followed through, which is a super great feeling! I also learned that going grocery shopping while hungry is a bad idea; all of the sudden you bought 5 different kinds of cookies and none of the things you needed. It’s not only food you restrain yourself from though. I left out my favorite sweets, macarons, TV shows and other pleasures. After a month of cutting out your favorite guilty pleasures you find a new appreciation for them – as cheesy as that sounds. Recognizing the things you don’t really need, and that many people in this world have a lot less, where a fast does not end with sunset but can continue for days and weeks is more valuable than some video you come across on social media demonstrating the disastrous living conditions of humans just like you.
After you’ve cut out all the TV shows you can never ever miss or those you now binge-watched for the third time in two years, you have so much more time on your hands. Giant holes in time are created throughout the week, that would otherwise be filled with the cement-like shows. I decided to use this time for seeking knowledge, a significant aspect of Islam itself that becomes even more pronounced during this month. You can seek knowledge in many ways like reading twice as much as you already do, or reading a couple of more articles in the newspaper than you usually would, and going to public talks and lectures. There was always so much to do in Ramadan to enhance my knowledge I still did not have the time to do everything. Something I’ve also tried is when encountering an unfamiliar concept, dish, word etc., I would read up on it, but reaaally read up on it and learn everything there is to know. This got me more curious, plus I’d end up with a little more knowledge than prior to Ramadan.
Finally I learned some unexpected things. I learned that while I am not the most disciplined person, it’s not an innate characteristic but something that can be acquired by anyone. I might have given up in the past too soon, thinking I just can’t do it, but fasting showed me that I might need to push myself the extra mile to get where I want to be. Self-reflection, something Muslims want to practice during this month comes more naturally in reality than anticipated. When you abstain from food, drink and guilty pleasures, cut out tv and other things, you spend more time with yourself and with your thoughts. I started to think more holistically, seeing the whole picture rather than the individual pieces. You may think about the things that make you happy and things that result in unhappiness, or about your achievements and how you would like to achieve more, and be the person you always wanted to be. Zakat, charity and giving felt more like a sentiment than a chore, with all the thinking I did, I didn’t leave the action part undone. I tried to see what I can do to help people of the community, people in Gaza or other warzones, or the immediate people around me. And this concern does not stop existing after Eid but can be the water to your flowers.
I hope I shed some light on my memorable experience of fasting as a non-Muslim. This month enriches me as a person with new knowledge, new experiences and understanding every year. It is very hard to fit all of my reasons for why I love this month into one account, there is so much to feel within the body – that isn’t just hunger – to create a unique and remarkable time. The purpose was of course not to live the exact experience of a Muslim, because it’s not ours to take, but to come a tiny bit closer to understanding how extraordinarily moving Ramadan can be.
Maybe after reading this, you’ll try it for the first time this year as well. It may be worth the try! If you gave already fasted as a non-Muslim, share your experience with us! Is there anything we missed that you felt was important, or maybe your experience was completely different. We’d love to hear it and expand on our ever-growing knowledge!
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