This is a guest post by Hesham Hassaballa.
As Ramadan approached, I had no small amount of dread. Fasting, of all the ritual practices of Islam, is the most difficult for me to do. I am not happy to admit this, but this is one of my (many) human weaknesses. Add to that the long, hot days of summer, and you get dread on my face and in my soul. In fact, I addressed this fear in a poetic letter to my soul just before the month began.
Now, Ramadan is here in full force, and I will just have to suck it up and fast. It is strongly recommended to eat a pre-dawn meal/snack called suhoor, and it is for good reason, too, especially in the long days of summer. But, I usually do not do so: I don’t feel well afterwards, and it makes the entire rest of the day even more difficult. I remember once during Residency, I ate gyros for suhoor, and I regretted it SO much. I had horrific heartburn the entire first half of the day, and I could not take anything to make it better. Never again, I said to myself. Mostly, my suhoor is a large heaping of water to help keep me as hydrated as possible for the coming day of fasting.
Yet, no matter how much water I will drink before the time to stop eating and drinking, it is inevitable that I will get thirsty as the day wears on. So, I change some of my routine: I stop working out in the morning throughout Ramadan. I could – theoretically – get up at 3 AM and hit the elliptical…but that is madness. I need sleep more than I need exercise, especially during Ramadan, when I stay up a little later to pray special prayers. So, no exercise for me. Last year, when I was training for the Chicago Marathon, I also skipped my Ramadan runs. And, I was still able to finish the race with a time of 5:37, thanks be to God.
Also, I frequently have “Ramadan stashes” in my lab coat pocket for after sunset: it might be a small pack of M&Ms, or – like yesterday – a piece of Ghirardelli’s chocolate, or a small chocolate bar. The Prophet (pbuh) used to break his fast with dates, and I definitely do that as well. Yet, I take it to the next level: I make a date/milk delight: I soak dates in an ice cold cup of milk for several hours before sunset. Many times, I will also add some walnuts. It is AWESOME. Things such as these makes sunset something to which I look forward, and it makes breaking my fast all the sweeter, both literally and figuratively.
One good thing about fasting during the summer is that there is a lot of time for spiritual reflection and recitation/reading of the Qur’an. And that is the whole point of the fast of Ramadan: to take away food and drink for just enough so that you can think “upward,” and reflect over the enormous blessing of having food and drink every single day and not even thinking about it. Thus, I should be motivated to help the poor and hungry who – many times – do not have even one square meal a day. And suprisingly, many said people are right here in the United States.
And, Lord, are there blessings in Ramadan. Everything seems to go much more smoothly during Ramadan. In fact, many of the most important things in my life have happened during Ramadan. My medical school interview was during Ramadan: I was accepted three months later. I had a very important high school track meet during Ramadan also. My coach told me that, in order for our team to win first place, I had to throw the shot put 42 feet at least: my distance was 42 feet and six inches. Just yesterday, coming home from vacation, the airport security experience was the easiest ever. Yes, I have to not have my coffee in the morning, but there are so many good things that come with the month of fasting.
All in all, Ramadan is a very good thing, but it is not without hardship and dread on my part. All I can do is fast to the best of my ability, try to clean up some of the bad habits I have learned throughout the year, polish my spirituality and improve my ritual practice, and pray that the Precious Beloved Lord accepts my efforts. Knowing how Beautiful He is, I am confident He will do just that.
Hesham A. Hassaballa, MD is a Chicago doctor and writer. He is co-author of the Beliefnet Guide to Islam, is Deputy Director of Illume Magazine, and blogs at God Faith Pen. His book, Noble Brother, is the story of the Prophet SAW told in poetry.