The Long Fasts of Ramadan
As Ramadan enters the summer months and the fasts get longer, the real sacrifices begin. Can we remain steadfast?
This article first appeared on Beliefnet in 2007.
As the years have passed, I have been dreading their return more and more. I still remember those days as if they were yesterday--hot, humid, and sweltering. The sun beating down my head, neck, and chest relentlessly, and the very air I breathed suffocated me mercilessly. And there was no relief until the sun set completely; the last few minutes of sunlight held no reprieve. Such was Ramadan in July and August, and those days are coming once again.
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is a lunar month (as are all Islamic months), and as such, it rotates backwards around the solar calendar (which the modern world follows) in 11 day increments. In about 35 years, Ramadan will have occurred in every month of the solar calendar. When I was about 9 years old, Ramadan was in the summer, and we would have to fast from 3:30 AM (dawn) until 8:30 PM (sunset).
Although I didn't have to, I started fasting at that young age in order to participate in the spirit and activities of the month. And it was tough. No food, no drink (not even water) until 8:30 PM. I remember waiting out the last 60-90 minutes until sunset on the couch exhausted (after a long day's play) watching food shows (never really understood why I did that) to pass the time.
Ever since then, Ramadan had been moving backwards into the cooler months with shorter days. The best part of fasting in America was when Ramadan moved into daylight savings time: Poof! The fast was an hour shorter. And the "golden age" of Ramadan was when it was in December, when dawn was 6:00 a.m. and sunset was around 4:20 p.m. The physical part of the fast was a piece of cake, and I would not have to wait very long to have a real piece of cake.
That was about four years ago, and now the physical easiness of it is all over. This year, Ramadan is slated to begin September 13, and sunset will be around 7:30 p.m. at the beginning of the month. What's worse, we will be fasting in the heat, humidity, and won’t be enjoying the benefits of daylight savings time for the next 10-15 years. And sunset will grow a little later each day of Ramadan in coming 10-15 years.
But let’s not lose ourselves in the physical act of abstaining from food and drink. The month of fasting is about many things: discipline, deprivation, spirit over matter, and piety. It is through the willful deprivation of what is normally allowed that the soul is strengthened and piety is increased. Each time I reach for a cup of coffee or a cold soft drink--and realize that I can't have one--I am reminded why I am doing this: For the love of God.
Fasting teaches me patience and to appreciate all that I have, and to realize what many around the world don’t have. And ultimately, my faith in and love for God is increased (that is the hope, anyway). But it is all the tougher when the thermometer tops 95 degrees and the air is so humid you can slice it with a knife. Striving for heightened spirituality and the cleansing of the soul is more difficult when fasting occurs in the summer months.