I stare absent-mindedly at the monitor, wondering where to begin with the upcoming media release and interviews. Instinctively, I reach for the cup of single origin coffee that’s usually on my desk, only to realise it isn’t there.
And then it hits me; I cannot drink.
In multicultural Singapore, you would probably find at least one friend or colleague who takes part in the yearly ritual of fasting. Ramadan started yesterday and Muslims around the world will fast from dawn till dusk. They abstain from any food or drink until the call to prayer is heard at sunset.
But is that all there is to Ramadan?
Fasting during the month of Ramadan is the fourth pillar in the five pillars of Islam, also known as “sawm”. For a month, Muslims abstain from food and drinks and must control their desires and urges.
We are also strongly encouraged to read up on the Quran and internalise its values, nearing ourselves to the One we believe in.
Hence, during this month, Muslims should embody good character, be patient, and increase their good deeds to those around them. The act of not eating or drinking also allows Muslims to step into the shoes of the unfortunate, and increase our compassion for humanity.
Fasting in itself is not a uniquely Islamic practice. Various religions around the world practise fasting, although in varying degrees and durations.
So you’re a hungry and thirsty zombie for a month?
I’d like to think that we become pseudo-vampires; we wake up before dawn to have our meal and, after a prayer, consume our meal during the call to prayer at sunset. So our digestive systems become vampires: they are awake only when the sun is hidden away.
Yes we do get hungry and thirsty, but we don’t think too much about it. This is our test of self-discipline and quite rarely do people continuously exclaim, “I’m so hungry!” during the fasting month.
Some people actually wonder why Muslims look forward to this month when we are forbidden to consume anything during the day (and especially during the month when some fast food joints give out amazing coupon offers).
Muslims believe that with its arrival, Ramadan brings with it spiritual benefits and goodness not found in the other months of the Islamic calendar. Many, if not all, will take the opportunity to renew their faith and develop their closeness with God.
Unknown to many outside the faith, the community embraces terawih and witr prayers, or night prayers. This supplementary prayer, on top of the required daily five (the second pillar of Islam), is done only during the month of Ramadan.
Another is the Laylat Al-Qadr, which is the Night of Power/Decree. (How cool is that name, right?) It is believed that the first revelation of the Quran was during an odd-numbered night, towards the last 10 nights of Ramadan.
If you reside near a mosque, you might have noticed that there are a lot more people there at night during Ramadan, especially when we get nearer the day we affectionately call Hari Raya.
Am I supposed to stop eating in front of you?
Not at all! Although, waving food in front of our faces during this period is really pushing it.
During the month of Ramadan, just be the kind and gracious people you guys are – don’t invite us for lunch because, well, we can’t eat.
That, however, does not mean you cannot eat in front of us. You don’t even have to be a saint in our presence just because we are fasting.
But if you notice us standing a little bit further away from you as we speak, that’s the effect of halitosis – bacterial build-up in the mouth from deprivation of ingested foods and liquids. That’s bad breath. Well, it’s not you – we’re keeping our distance in case we have it.
Fasting is something Muslims look forward to. It’s what we willingly choose to do, so we definitely don’t want to burden you, our friends, in any way with this choice of ours.
Does fasting make you a saint in the Muslim community?
I, for one love to eat, and sometimes I do get hungry, or develop a rabid craving for pizza at 9am in the office. Our humidity doesn’t help as well, driving thirst levels through the roof.
My language can get very colourful, especially as I ride my motorcycle through our traffic. I have to control myself, not only in speech but in my mind and spirit.
But that’s just the beauty of doing something in faith, isn’t it? That’s the idea of self-discipline.
I don’t actually use the comparison with the poor to explain my fast. I don’t see the need to “see others who have it worse” to build compassion; I’m not better than they are.
I see this lack of food and water as something very real and possible. Today, I might be healthy, comfortable and full, yet in just a twist of fate, I might lose everything in a split second.
I look at my empty cup and back to the screen in front of me.
Ask any of your Muslim friends and they’ll definitely have a hilarious story of how they accidentally drank a drop or ate a morsel of food during the fasting month.
Some Muslims might even say, “I wish every month could be Ramadan” because of the spirituality it brings and the renewed faith of the community.
It’s a holy month, and we don’t need our friends to buckle or not eat; you are not the ones fasting.
So be yourselves. Just wish your Muslim colleagues and friends a good journey this Ramadan, for it’s the kind thing to do.
Oh, and please, don’t order pizza delivery to the office, guys. I will steal a slice. To bring it home to break fast, of course!