Ramadan: Naked and Vulnerable

No food during my first Ramadan left me feeling emotionally naked, the same way an alcoholic feels when in withdrawal.

As someone who started down the path of Islam in my early 30s, my first Ramadan fast was an experience for which I was hardly prepared. Unlike those reared in Islamic households, I was more or less bereft of the community support and the personal self-discipline to enter the fast gracefully.

Physical hunger was only a part of this new experience. For a while, I found myself like an armadillo out of its shell: unprotected, emotionally naked, and vulnerable. The spiritual dimension of the fast far exceeded any expectations I had. I experienced a new sensitivity and tenderness. People I knew who were going through the same experience reported similar feelings.

The first year was the hardest. I needed to unload a lot of emotional refuse. In a conversation with a friend who had recently stopped drinking alcohol, I could see certain similarities. Alcoholics are often said to be self-medicating. When the numbing effects of habitual drinking are withdrawn, a whole range of repressed emotional experience surfaces. Could it be, I wondered, that food could have a numbing effect? Don't people also consume food to cover insecurities and anxieties?


Might it be that the fast of Ramadan was pulling back the numbing veil of our habitual consumption, exposing to us what lies beneath?

If this proved true, then fasting is like going cold turkey. Furthermore, fasting once a year would become the opportunity to process a lot of undigested emotions, thus purifying the heart.

After all, the Prophet Muhammad said, "Excessive food numbs the heart."

When we fast, we expose ourselves to our own emotional state--and become more vulnerable and honest with ourselves. Ramadan, then, contributes to overall psychological health.

"Fasting is the bread of the prophets, the morsel of the saints," a teacher of mine used to say.

Fasting is meditation of the body, just as meditation is fasting of the mind. Fasting helps the body purify itself of the toxins that accumulate through the impurities of food and incomplete digestion. Fasting, as long as it is not excessive, is based on a positive relationship with the body, for it eases the body's burdens. Indulgence-whether in food, intoxicants, or pleasures-is a form of cruelty toward the body because of the price the body must pay for our so-called pleasures.

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