16 July, 2015
Today is the last day of fasting for Ramadan. I said I would fast for the whole month, and here we are, 30 days later, and it is now drawing to a close. I will miss it – something I never expected to say when I began.
The night before Ramadan, I realized what I was getting myself into, and needless to say it’s a bit daunting. Thirty days of fasting were ahead of me, with no food and no water from sun up to sun down. While I’m not a Muslim, there is something about taking part in this universally spiritual movement. Here in the UAE, the country slows down, and while a little sleepy at times, it is filled with cheer and an atmosphere of camaraderie. There is something special about Ramadan, the spirit of kindness is tangible and the hunger around you is filled through acts of giving and benevolence.
The first day is always the hardest and you find yourself internally smacking yourself, asking why anyone would do this to themselves. I had also personally decided to wear my abayyas to work for the entire month- partly to be respectful, modest and a part of the local culture, and partly because I do actually enjoy wearing it.
It was a multifaceted challenge to break my normal routines on every level – but then it gets easier, and dare I say it, enlightening.
Lesson 1: Breaking Habits and Finding Clarity
Over the month, I was confronted with the habits that I had – the general routine of my day no longer consisted of trudging through the day between caffeine fixes, and it no longer consisted of early to bed and early to rise. My nights were longer, and with even less sleep than usual, I had to realign my focus from where my next source of caffeine would be from or what I would eat for lunch. During the day, I found myself with more time to breathe, to reflect, and to look inward. I found a sense of clarity, calmness, peace, and a sense of strength that I had forgotten that I had. This month has taught me a lot about myself. It taught me about willpower, patience, and kindness. A prime example of one my daily lessons from challenge includes the drive home after a long day’s work. Driving when you’re tired, thirsty, hungry, and hot will definitely help you reflect on the importance of kindness, patience, and not running anyone over. 😉
Lesson 2: Charity and Humility
Ramadan is a time that serves as a reminder that we are all in this together. It is a time to give back to charity and to help and support those who are less fortunate. It is humbling to know that after work I can drive home and break my fast with as much water as I want and prepare a meal that not only nourishes me but befits the whimsy of my taste buds -but what about others? While I only had to limit myself for 30 days, there are people all over the world who suffer without water and food for even longer…and there is no guarantee that come sunset, they will have food to replenish and nourish their God given bodies.
Lesson 3: New Routines and Community
Another lesson that Ramadan gifted me was in the form of being open to new routines. The night is alive during Ramadan. I found myself going out to the malls at 10 pm or for runs at an even later time. It was a fun experience to be out at the park (even in the sweltering heat) with a group of my multinational neighbors also out for a stroll at midnight. I was invited to a friend’s home in a neighboring emirate to break my fast one weekend night and they were so welcoming and hospitable, they fed and treated me as if I was one of their family. And this morning, although I went by myself, I didn’t feel alone while I waited in the salon (for TWO HOURS) to get the henna painted on my hands to celebrate Eid (the end of Ramadan). The salon was brimming with local ladies who were hoping to do the same as I, and the spirit of cheer and kindness was palpable. Normally I wouldn’t even fathom waiting for two hours, but I really enjoyed myself this morning. After a month of new adventures and challenges where I found my entire routine during the normal year confronted, I am reminded of the resilience of human nature, and of our ability to change, to grow, and of course to love.
Lesson 4: Peace Reigns
I am reinvigorated in the fact that peace truly abounds here in the UAE and around the world for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In my experience, the spirit of the Islam that I have witnessed here in the UAE is exemplary of what the religion should be. In Arabic, the word “Islam” means submission or surrender and is derived from the root word “salam” which invokes meanings of peace and safety.
Ramadan in the UAE is truly a beautiful experience. Would I encourage others to fast during Ramadan? Definitely. Maybe not for the whole month, but even if for one or two days, put yourself in someone else’s position and experience what those around you are doing and feeling. For non-Muslims it can, and will, change your perceptions completely.
As the days come to an end, I am happier, I am stronger, and I am more at peace with myself and with the world around me. I only had to give up food and water, but in return I got everything.
Happy blessed Eid to each and every one of you.