Ramadan is an important time for Muslims and I have early memories of taking part in it when I was a child and it was always viewed as a positive time. A time to reflect, to be thankful and to become closer to God. As a child you aren’t required to fast – it’s not obligatory according to the Qu’ran – but when I was young I was intrigued by my parents doing it and I wanted to take part as well. Needless to say, I often only lasted a day because my self-control left a lot to be desired. At the end of school, I’d run to the shops and buy loads of chocolate to eat after sunset, but by the time I got to breaking my fast, I didn’t feel like eating any of it.
As I’ve grown up, the experience has become easier because I’m more aware of the reasons behind the fast. It’s an experience I enjoy as it gives me a chance to reflect on my life, my character and, in essence, get closer to God and be more aware of him. For example, if I’m on my own and I think about having a sneaky chocolate during the fast, I know God is watching and I’m therefore more aware of his presence in general.
There are a lot of misconceptions around Ramadan and people don’t understand the reasons Muslims do it. It’s not a negative experience and the focus isn’t on taking anything away or missing out; the purpose is in fact to avoid things that usually distract us from working on ourselves and worship. Most people think that just refers to food, but it also means we’re more aware of how we treat others and how we act in the community. Ramadan is a time when I’ll try and be kinder to people, whether that’s shouting less at the kids or baking for one of my fellow Muslims to provide some treats for when they break their fast.
People often believe that we fast all day for 30 days, which would be extreme. It is a brutal detox but it’s not 24 hours a day! We only fast from sunrise to sunset, which is around 19 hours in the UK. And yes, that is still a very long time (in countries where the sun never sets in the summer, there are different rules such as breaking the daily fast when the sun sets in Mecca.)