this post was written on july 14 at eleven a.m.
i am now on my sixth day of ramadan, at the one-fifth mark, and about nine and half hours away from consuming food and drinking water. i haven’t had coffee in a week, and i’m running on three hours of sleep. so, keep in mind, this post may be riddled with more errors than usual (although i’m fairly confident that most of my posts, having been at least quadruple-checked, are nearly free of mistakes).
a few months ago a friend of mine, who is a muslim convert, and i were talking about her journey toward converting to islam and about the upcoming holiday of ramadan, something with which, at the time, i was only loosely familiar. i have few muslim friends—and, in fact, the majority consists of acquaintances, if anything—and when i thought of the muslim holiday, i knew fasting was involved, but i wasn’t well versed in the specifics. and, actually, when i suggested that i follow ramadan along with my friend, i didn’t quite know what i was getting into.
but as she spoke to me about her journey, me keeping in mind that it is difficult to convert from any religion to another, i realized just how many muslim converts have trouble finding a community after they convert. they experience convert isolation, and they go through it more so during ramadan, the most social of the muslim holidays, in which family and friends often break fast together. a week or so before the holiday was to begin, i had second thoughts about going through with my offer, but then i imagined my friend, alone, chomping on dates before her evening prayers, after seventeen hours of not eating, not drinking water, not brushing her teeth, not smoking, and i realized that, even if i couldn’t physically be there with her, i wanted to share in her experience by abstaining from the same things on my own. after all the advice she’s given me, after what’s she’s contributed to my life as a friend, i felt indebted to her (in a positive way) and, at the very least, that she deserved my support. (by the way, here is a good way to bolster your muslim buddies if you don’t want to do the fasting, no water thing.)
like any good atheist, i strongly dislike being told what to do and what to believe, but instead of seeing my proposal to go through ramadan with my friend as a religious or moral obligation, i saw it as an ultimate act of friendship, as well as a mental challenge. i’ve since had many responses from family and friends about my decision to follow the muslim practices of fasting, among other things, for thirty days. the variety is almost comical, from my mom telling me not to tell my dad because he’ll worry, to some of my friends saying that they don’t “approve” or that i’m “crazy,” to the guy i’m dating telling me it’s “sweet” and that there’s value in doing this (and he didn’t say that just because he likes me; he has no problem expressing his disapproval of some of my other decisions or opinions).
a lot of people said, “oh, i could never do that; i love food too much.” funny, i positively despise food!
anyway . . . often to deprive yourself of something is to better recognize its value. for the next three plus weeks, i have but two times to consume food each day and, because of the fasting, when i do eat, my stomach isn’t accustomed to the amount of calories i used to intake, so i eat far fewer. plus, i need water, so i drink glass upon glass of it when i break fast, which satiates me. my body then knows that it has to make do with a small quantity of food without sacrificing quality. i end up craving, and then eating, healthful, fuel-packed dishes. otherwise, i’d fall down, which would have been especially likely last week, when there was a heat wave (thanks, weather, for your impeccable timing).
are there caveats? of course. have i been running? nope. (would you if you had to run twelve miles without drinking any water during or after?) am i still set to run the marathon in november? yup. am i worried that i’m going to get behind in my training because i’m doing this? sure. do i think i can still run 26.2 miles in november? of course! (but i’m also a little crazy.)
per wikipedia, ramadan “is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities,” and teaches how to “better practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate.” whether you are muslim or christian or a nonbeliever, à la moi, these effects of following the traditions of ramadan can only make our character more robust, our nature more giving, and our appreciation for life, and friends, family, far greater (at least, that’s how i see the process working).
later today, as i was walking to a friend’s apartment a few blocks away from where i’m currently cat-sitting, i saw a man, who had clearly just finished a run, wearing a shirt that read: running is mental. (on a side note, what’s a girl gotta do to have wordpress give her a small caps option here?)
i thought about the obvious double entendre:
- running is mental, as in how british people mean it (i.e. insane, crazy, batty, loony, etc.).
- running is mental, as in running requires toughness of character, concentration and focus, and determination.
my old roommate told me, after i admitted to her that ultramarathons intrigue me and i’d love to try to run one (or maybe several) before i croak, that people who are very into long-distance running are a bit . . . well, mental. chemically imbalanced. she backed this up with “science” (whatever that is; it wasn’t taught in my early twentieth-century american lit class) and, as though to drive the point home, i took her assessment as a compliment and felt honored to be lumped in with a very unique, very exciting, albeit wacky, group. as i’ve said, i’ve heard similar sentiments from folks about my willingness to take part in the holiday of a religion in which i don’t believe, but i’m not too concerned. i know why i’m doing it, and i know why my friend is. i also know why i love running and why, despite the fact that my body isn’t sure, at the moment, how to handle a long-distance run on my current caloric intake, ramadan-ing (as some other friends have dubbed it) has helped and can only continue to help me. going without food for nearly an entire day has made me realize what other things i can do without and how adaptable, and amazing, the human body is. i’m also pretty certain that my friend and i have become closer as a result of this experience. in nine minutes, i’m going to text her to say that i’m breaking fast and that i hope she is eating something gosh darn tasty and healthful.
“the philosophy of fasting calls upon us to know ourselves, to master ourselves, and to discipline ourselves the better to free ourselves. to fast is to identify our dependencies, and free ourselves from them.”—tariq ramadan