Help Me Observe Ramadan
June 4, 2007 7:58 AM   Subscribe

Help me observe Ramadan

Asking anonymously because the world knows my religious persuasion, and lots of people wouldn't understand.

I want to observe Ramadan. Fasting is a big part of my kind of Christianity, but usually only for a day at a time.

I understand the basics of begins with the new moon, you eat at night, stay away from unholy or obscene things. In short, I know what Wikipedia tells me. Years ago, I had a very good Muslim friend who observed Ramadan, and it struck me as a terrific way to grow spiritually and personally.

Don't ponder why I'm doing it, or suggest that I not do it, please. I'm going to try it. That's all that matters.

But this will be a big change for me, and that's why I'm asking early. Has anyone non-Muslim done this? What kind of meals will my body want after I haven't eaten all day? Would Muslims in my area allow me to observe it with them if I asked (or might they be offended)? And are there any Muslim communities in the Wyoming/Idaho/Utah area? Any tricks for surviving all the fasting?

I know it's a big question.

A couple of important notes:

I intend to be respectful to my (new?) Muslim friends. I don't feel the need to eat halal. My religion doesn't require it. If you think I should, feel free to tell me why. I have a flexible schedule, so a weird eating time won't bother me. I've read this page, with laws of fasting: I haven't yet decided whether I'll read the Quran during Ramadan. I may read a religious book of my own choosing. I must take a pill every morning, and I'm going to. I'm also going to brush my teeth every morning. I don't understand what Qadha and Kaffarah are. Any help?

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Religion & Philosophy (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's admirable that you want to observe Ramadan as a Christian, it's something that many non-Muslims have done over the years and something I did for a few days in 2004 just to see what it was like to fast like that.

I suggest that you approach a local interfaith group about your interest and see if there is a contact at a local mosque you can speak to about joining into the ceremony. I say this because fasting without ritual gets old really fast. Also, eating Halal is not difficult. The most difficult part of Ramadan is eating enough before the sun rises to make up for the fact you will miss lunch and won't be able to drink water to whet your appetite.
posted by parmanparman at 8:05 AM on June 4, 2007

i don't think anyone would be offended, although maybe some would be mystified.

i understand that during ramadan, people wake up before dawn to have breakfast and then break their fast at night with spicy vegetable soup and then a hearty meal.

i imagine you will want protein, fats, and fiber in the morning, which leave you satisfied longer, and more carbs in the evening, when you are really wanting to assuage your hunger fast. nothing too sugary in the morning--you don't want a sugar crash (in fact, i would probably avoid all sugar). probably a good breakfast would be a big omelette/scramble with lots of vegetables and cheese. at sunset, i'd probably start with bread and soup, and then a good, hearty, nutritious meal.

from my own experience during yom kippur, i would suggest not scheduling much of importance during the afternoons, because you'll be spacey and cranky.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:12 AM on June 4, 2007

watch your calorie intake, starving all day will make you hungry and you will likely eat more than you need to if you're not careful. You want to grow spiritually not physically (though personally, I dont quite understand how starvation and dehydration will help you grow as a person)
posted by missmagenta at 9:24 AM on June 4, 2007

I'm a non-Muslim who did this a couple of years ago, so perhaps I can give a different perspective to the Muslim mefites. My husband is Muslim and most of his family & close friends thought it was a cool thing I was doing, trying to understand their culture and joining in. I'm not Muslim, so I didn't pray, although I did take the opportunity to take part in some programs for non-Muslims at the local mosque.

It was really very, very tough but was made significantly easier by the fact that I and my better half felt we were "in it together" (if you have a friend who'll support you the same way may be easier), and support among our buddies when breaking the fast together with dates etc, and all the family custom that went along with that. I was living in Astoria, in NYC, at the time and a lot of the small business owners I knew were fasting too, as were some work colleagues. Overall I found it much more community-centric and friendly and less strict and humourless than my previous assumptions (the people I shared this with are all first-gen Bangladeshi immigrants) - but reading Burhanistan's description my in-laws and friends may be the more "decadent" Muslims he describes. No matter, it was a good experience.

I imagine it may be harder if you're somewhat isolated with nobody around you doing the same thing, so I'd urge you to connect with friends, neighbours, whomever. If a local ethnic store is distributing calendars with Ramadan times on them coul be a good way to strike up a conversation. The biggest pain in the ass was explaining to people at work what I was doing. Don't feel bad if you screw up or don't make it all the way, there's always another year. If I can elaborate on any of this, drop me a line.
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:12 AM on June 4, 2007

To be honest, the first thought I had upon reading the question was 'Crap! Is it Ramadan already?!' Phew, it's in September. Okay, this is going to be long but I hope it will help.

I'm an Atheist from a Muslim family who does this every year, so I somewhat fit in with your non-Muslim demographic.

First of all, I would recommend visiting the doctor or nutritionist for advice. The doctor to make sure you are fit enough to fast the full 30 days, and the nutritionist to help plan your food intake. I started when I was 10 and fasted only half-days for practice. Why not start slowly by fasting half-days (say till noon) for a few days? Fasting is not something that you get used to, but the experience will help gauge when to break the fast in an emergency. If at anytime you feel faint or unwell, break the fast immediately. Ill persons should not be fasting anyway.

I would suggest you contact the local Mosques in your area through yellowpages. Better yet call the nearest university and ask to speak to the Muslim student union. Explain your interest in Ramadan and your limits. Anytime anyone outside the faith takes an interest in Islam, a Muslim will be duty-bound to help. And if you're lucky, you may find a family/student willing to sponsor you for the month. By sponsor I mean help you with questions (like is it okay to swim during the day?) and to break the fast with. Don't forget your copy of the Ramadan schedules - this is a list of prayer times and include times for sunrise and sunset for your particular area.

Breaking the fast is a big deal and the community will often get together as much as possible. This often means potlucks at houses, mosques, or barbecues. It also means you'll meet loads of new people who will be initially curious, but embrace you nonetheless because you've shared the experience. I've broken fasts with kimchi brought by Korean Muslims and homemade pizza by American Muslims. At the end of the day, all differences should be left aside since everyone is there to eat. Don't be shy about asking questions around this time, like why Muslims traditionally break fasts with dates or sweet things.
Personally, I wouldn't worry about eating only halal food during the month. To my family that just means no pork products. The only thing I would suggest to abstain from is alcohol. It's been suggested that intoxicating substances will undo all your hard work; there will be no drugs and sex either.

The first day is always the hardest, and it really doesn't let up until at least 10 days. You'll feel lethargic, famished, and cranky. But don't give up. Ramadan is the holiest month and it is believed your actions during this time will determine your character. This is because people fasting are expected to be clean of mind and body. I've always been told that fasting is not about your suffering, but about recognising the suffering of others and knowing you are not alone. There exists a sense of community that transcends all issues - just go online and during Ramadan you'll see pictures on Yahoo of happy Muslims ready to break their fast at the end of a long day. That should boost your spirits :)
And trust me, one day you won't even feel irritated at having to eat a late dinner around midnight, or wake up a few hours before sunrise for a very early breakfast. Don't worry if you miss a day. Like jamesonandwater said, there's always next year. If you would like to go the extra mile, you could work off the missed day by donating food, money, or time to deserving charities.
posted by sweetlyvicious at 1:21 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've done this, as has my brother. He was stricter about it than I was, but neither of us are Muslim.
The later in the year Ramadan happens, the easier it is. Try to relax about it, and I found it really helpful to eat a lot of complex carbohydrates and proteins, along with a fair amount of fiber, so that I'd both feel full and regulate my blood sugar better. Drinking the water in the morning is really important, as is avoiding too much exertion.
Aside from that, it really helps to have Muslim friends and community around— they form a support network, and it's totally a bonding thing. You can all bitch about it together ("Oh, man, I got offered a kit kat and totally wanted it!")
posted by klangklangston at 3:41 PM on June 4, 2007

"Has anyone non-Muslim done this?"
Of course. Westerners have been dabbling in this stuff for centuries.

"What kind of meals will my body want after I haven't eaten all day?"
Anything it can get its hands on, but soup is probably a good start.

"And are there any Muslim communities in the Wyoming/Idaho/Utah area?"
[4-second google research] Yes.

"Any tricks for surviving all the fasting?"
There's nothing to it. Fasting during the day, as long as you're eating at night, is not going to endanger your survival. It's uncomfortable, but that's kind of the point.

I'm a bit confused why you'd, as a self-identifying Christian, involve yourself with a religion which is implicitly (at least in terms of Christian doctrine) heretical? I'm not trying to stop you, and I think it's a fine experience, but dabbling in Islam seems directly at odds with a belief in Christ as a deity.
posted by mullingitover at 3:59 PM on June 4, 2007

Mulling, pretty sure the OP said don't worry about his reasons for doing it.
posted by SlyBevel at 4:20 PM on June 4, 2007

I had a Christian friend who did this for a while, to support her Muslim friends. I don't think she lasted very long though - she is quite the gastronome.

I come from a Muslim family and have done this, though not anymore (not having food for the whole day makes me ill and lethargic). It is largely a matter of patience. Don't gorge yourself in the morning and during the fast-breaking - it'll just sicken you. Take your time to eat when you can eat.

Distracting yourself during daylight periods will help. You can incorporate the community spirit of Ramadhan by doing volunteer or charity work. I'm sure a local mosque or Muslim group has some things you can help with.

Good luck; you are a stronger man than I!
posted by divabat at 12:03 AM on June 5, 2007

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