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Ramadan: Fasting While Eating

Exceptions are only for the eating and drinking part of fasting - a small part of what Ramadan fasting is all about.

by Deedra Abboud in Mindset, Muslim, Solutions
June 9, 2016 0 comments

Ramadan begins. Muslims all over the world are fasting from before sunrise to after sunset. For weeks, if not months, Muslims have been sharing the countdown and messages of anticipated joy.

The most common references are about not eating and drinking during daylight hours – to which people who are not Muslim often comment, “Not even water?!!”

No, not even water.

Islam specifically allows for those facing medical conditions that require daily medication or regular ingestion of food or drink to be excused from fasting. Pregnancy and diabetes, for example.

Islam allows for other exceptions too, such as travel and any bleeding beyond a pinprick.

Exceptions, like everything in Islam, have a purpose. Medical conditions, pregnancy, bleeding, and travel (even with the easier travel of today) can tax our bodies and weaken our immune systems. God, in his mercy, does not want us to put additional pressure on our bodies when it is already under extra stress from these conditions.

But those exceptions are only for the eating and drinking part of fasting – a small part of what Ramadan fasting is all about.

In addition to fasting from food and drink, Ramadan restricts several other activities during those same hours. Just like eating or drinking (unless by accident) breaks your fast, losing the day, these other activities also negate your fast.

  • No sexual activity. Contrary to popular belief, God has never suggested in any way sex is bad or dirty between spouses. Fasting from sexual relations with your spouse is about practicing self-control and focus, redirecting energies – the same reason many sports figures refrain from sexual relations prior to big sporting events.
  • No sexual thoughts. Again, it is about self-control and being mindful of what is going on in your brain. Sexual thoughts about your spouse are perfectly acceptable, at the appropriate time, and not while fasting. You become aware of what thoughts you have and whether the thoughts are appropriate – gaining clarity about what thoughts you want to have or not, so you can make a decision about them. You are not accountable for fleeting or unconscious thoughts – just those thoughts you continue to entertain once you become aware of them.
  • No negative thoughts. We all have negative thoughts but when fasting you are to be aware of your thoughts and replace them with more positive thoughts. You try harder to find excuses for others, seeing situations differently, and focusing on gratitude.
  • No gossip or backbiting. Many people gossip or talk behind the backs of others without even realizing it – and many people let them by participating, listening, or not stopping them. Yet during Ramadan, suddenly people do it less and, if someone forgets themselves, others remember to remind them.
  • No lying, cheating, or stealing. Like gossip and backbiting, these activities are obviously not supposed to be done at any time – but we are human, sometimes we waiver. “Fasting” from these activities is supposed to help you get back on track, or at least become aware of them so that the activities become a conscious, rather than unconscious, choice. It is about accountability – once you are aware, your accountability increases.
  • No anger. The focus is on patience and mindfulness – learning to recognize and control both anger and frustration. Imagine you are tired, hungry, thirsty, and your mind is a little fuzzy – especially the first few days. This is the perfect combination for causing frustration and anger.

You have to pay attention to your triggers and the build-up because you have to stop it before you express it.

After the first few days, the brain fuzz diminishes and focus actually increases – the natural results of detox.

Fasting is about learning self-control, practicing mindfulness, focusing on gratitude, gaining empathy and patience, and experiencing self-growth.

Self-Control

Self-control is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger you become in all areas of your life. – Billy Cox, author and speaker.

The desire for food and drink is the most basic human urge – part of our natural instincts for survival. We cannot live without it, though fasting teaches us we can survive on less than what we normally consume.

Going without food lets us appreciate food, but not just how food relieves hunger pains. Those who fast often visualize throughout the day how the water will feel entering their mouth and sliding down their throat – that refreshing feeling that also relieves their thirst. They fantasize about the different foods they plan to eat – the flavors, the textures, the variety that will be in front of them. Nothing causes a person to appreciate food and drink more than doing without it.

It also provides the opportunity to break food habits or addictions. Some use the opportunity to reduce their soda intake, get over their addiction to coffee or sugar, curb obsessive eating throughout the day, or any other food choices they would like to control or stop.

Medical evidence now advises periodic fasting for health benefits and several scientific studies suggest fasting can have a positive effect on some chronic illnesses.

Mindfulness

Being hungry or thirsty affects concentration – you have to focus instead of relying on autopilot. That is what mindfulness is – the mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and body sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Mindfulness is a quieting of the brain so you can connect more with yourself and God.

Mindfulness is the perfect state for prayer – which is supposed to also be a form of meditative state, not just a ritual. Mindfulness not only allows you to concentrate but really feel the connection with God, more than just words.

Fasting is a method to help you learn the skill of mindfulness for your everyday life, even after Ramadan ends. Many yogis and monks also fast during their meditative states in order to become more mindful.

Gratitude

Nothing will make you more grateful for food and drink than experiencing not having it – “things could be worse” takes on a whole new meaning. You remember your hunger and thirst has an end, unlike many other people. You can’t believe you thought fasting was hard in December now that you are fasting in July. You are grateful that you are only fasting 10 hours instead of 20, like some places. You are grateful you have air conditioning because you realize many people fast without it. You are thankful you have a car to go places instead of having to walk while fasting.

The increased mindfulness helps you separate the things that matter from the things that don’t – allowing you to feel more grateful for the big and small things in your life.

Empathy

Along with gratitude and mindfulness naturally comes empathy.

Even though you have made the choice to forgo food and drink, you cannot escape the feelings of hunger and thirst, causing you to really understand the experience of those who do not have access to food and drink on a regular basis – for whom not eating is not a choice.

You recognize water is the greatest resource and realize many people don’t have it all, or others don’t have clean water.

Increased empathy increases your awareness of those in need and your own ability, even responsibility, to help others. It also increases your awareness of the struggles of others – encouraging you to be more understanding and make more empathetic excuses for the behavior of others due to struggles you may not even know about.

Self Growth

The very first word Angel Gabriel spoke to Mohammad (pbuh) was “read.” Not only was Mohammad (pbuh) illiterate, but there was nothing to read – the Quran had neither been revealed nor written down yet. That is significant.

Muslims are commanded to study and learn. Read. Not just about Islam, but worldly topics as well.

Seek knowledge even if you have to go as far as China. – Muslim proverb

During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Quran; Muslims are encouraged to attend lectures and perform additional prayers.

Ramadan is a time when Muslims are encouraged to focus not only on practicing the religion more but also taking the time to learn more about it . . . and refect.

Realizing you can find time during Ramadan to do these extra activities should teach you how much you can also do on a regular basis.

While many people simply discontinue normal life during Ramadan or turn their sleeping schedule from night to day, this is only a recent phenomenon – historically Muslims mostly continued their normal routines while fasting.

Muslims in the west tend to do that as well because we live in a society where not going to work or school for a month is not really an option.

I became Muslim on November 15, 1998. That year Ramadan started on November 19th, so I jumped right into fasting. [Islam follows the lunar calendar so Ramadan is about 11 days earlier every year.] As Ramadan did not finish until around December 18th, followed by several additional and voluntary fasting days, it overlapped with both Thanksgiving and Christmas parties. The office where I worked had potlucks almost the whole time. I socialized with my co-workers while they ate and drank, both in the lunchroom and at their desks. The smell of food was all over the building almost all of the time – and I was just fine.

I don’t want sympathy because I’m fasting. It’s not an obstacles. It helps my focus, and in fact, expect an increase in performance. #ramadan – Nader @BonsaiSky

It really is mind over matter. If you make the decision to fast, your own decision, it is not difficult. If you are fasting for other reasons (e.g. expectation of others, laws, etc), it can be a miserable experience.

The same is really true of all decisions.

All messages from God focus on freedom of choice, gaining knowledge, and self-improvement. That is a fact.

While traditionally religious leaders of all faiths have attempted to create a population of followers who are dependent upon the leaders to explain the religion to the ignorant masses, Muslims do not have this excuse for their own ignorance.

God gave us direction from the beginning, “read” – learn, analyze, make decisions.

Even people who are excused from the eating and drinking part can still ‘fast.’ They can still learn self-control, practice mindfulness, focus on gratitude, gain empathy and patience, and experience self-growth through the many other practices required or encouraged during Ramadan.

Thinking of Ramadan as simply going without food and water for the day is not understanding Islam at all.

Nothing in Islam is arbitrary. Everything has a reason – usually a spiritual or character building reason. No ritual is for ritual sake alone.

And there lies the biggest problem among the Muslim community.

Muslims may or may not follow the rituals, but very few actually understand the purpose of the rituals. Despite God being very clear that Muslims are not to blindly follow the practices of our grandfathers – the very point of the Abraham/Ibrahim and the idols story – many Muslims are doing just that.

Ramadan is a training exercise. The idea being if you can practice personal control of natural human desires for 30 days during the daylight hours, you are that much closer to controlling urges and thoughts, positive or negative, all the time so you can be the best version of yourself possible.

If you are just going without food and drink, but not getting the real lessons, you might just be hungry and thirsty.

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