Thoughts on Ramadan from Humans Around the World
My own Feelings About Ramadan Through the Ages
With each year that passes, for me, Ramadan seems to bring a new set of thoughts and feelings. (For those that don’t know much about Ramadan, check out my post ‘Why I Fast’.) I remember being so excited about keeping a make-believe ‘half-fast’ as a 5-year-old little girl, just because I was in love with the holy month and the excitement it brought with it (despite, at that age, not really knowing much about it). It was a month where I remember my whole family being united as one for the pre-dawn and post-dusk meals and prayers, and it brings back nothing but good memories.
Then I remember being aged 21 and being the most lost and distraught I had ever been in my life. I remember dreading Ramadan coming around because I didn’t want to fast, and I didn’t want to pray. I wanted to remove myself from myself as far as I possibly could, in order to avoid sinking deeply into the black cloud that hung over my life. I felt guilty and confused and torn – and the fact that Ramadan was looming just made me feel even worse.
Aged 22 however, the excitement I felt as a child for Ramadan had returned; this time because I had awakened and truly found my own path to God. I couldn’t wait to nourish my soul with meditation and prayer and the month gave me the perfect opportunity to re-align and reconnect. That was a truly wonderful Ramadan for me.
Then, aged 24 and pregnant, Ramadan brought with it strange yet comforting feelings. As I was carrying a child in my womb, I felt God closer to me than ever before and Ramadan heightened those feelings of proximity and connection. It was strange, as I wasn’t actually fasting, but beautiful in a whole new and different way.
Finally, I must mention last Ramadan, as it was my first Ramadan in my new home country – having moved from the UK to Mauritius around 8 months prior to this. I remember looking forward to it keenly, as with a 5-month old baby and a 3-year-old child, I’d been neglecting certain religious practices as I just couldn’t seem to find the time with so much else going on around me, and I was looking forward to reconnecting and finding a new routine in which religious practices were included. Yet at the same time, I wondered what the month would bring as the fasts in Mauritius are much shorter than in the UK, and I would be so far away from family and friends – with only myself and my husband observing the fasts together. Looking back, I can tell you it was so different to any other Ramadan I’ve experienced before, yet such a beautiful time spent together as our small family in our new home, in our new home country. It was a bit weird not having neighbours knock on the front door with a plate full of pakoras just before – but I’m not complaining!
Muslims and Non-Muslims Share Their Views
Anyway, with Ramadan 2018 right on our doorstep, it got me thinking about how other people around the world were feeling about the upcoming holy month, so as per usual, inquisitive old me took to social media to ask my Muslims friends and followers how they were feeling about Ramadan this year. At the same time, I asked my non-Muslim friends and followers what they knew of Ramadan or if they had any thoughts to share on the holy month, too. The response was amazing, with people sharing their thoughts from Iraq, Morocco, Canada, the USA, Mauritius, the UK and even more.
I’m so happy to share with you these diverse thoughts, opinions and feelings, and I honestly believe that sitting and listening to what each other have to say will lessen the spaces we create between us, as human beings. Enjoy!
“For me I see it as a complete life detox, not just about food. It’s a time to press pause, sit back to reflect, repent and reset. It means I can reflect on the last year and see what I have achieved, what I’ve done wrong and what I need to do more. I also feel more at peace because I’m thinking about myself, my actions and religion.”
Read Nadia’s blogpost about her own thoughts on Ramadan here.
“I lived 6 years in the Maldives where Ramadan is a very important part of their lives and very impactful for those who are not Muslim. In the sense that, the expats working in the Maldives are involved in Ramadan protocols like the observance of fasting during daylight – you as an expat are able to reflect on the true sense of respect in those days as you should avoid eating or drinking in front of Muslim colleagues and same for the clothing. To ensure a more conservative and respectful attire during this time, remembering that it is a time of fasting and praying for them. I think it does make you reflect on the true sense of human respect.”
Vicky Hall-Newman, Non-Muslim
“I have no idea about Ramadan other than they can’t eat from sunrise to sunset. I just took my daughter to Turkey and she is so curious about the religion now. We were lucky to go to the blue mosque and Hagia Sophia but she is curious of the religion and wants to know a woman’s place in the religion. She is 8 years old. Now I have her asking questions, I feel ignorant that I have such little knowledge of the religion.”
Lydia Grace-Daley, Non-Muslim
“As a non-Muslim, what I think I know about Ramadan is that it is a month to get closer to Allah, count your blessings, and help those who have less. Muslims give money (is this called Zakat?) to charitable funds, and fast to experience what it is like to go without.”
“As Muslims we have lost the true sprit of Ramadan. We were blessed with Ramadan to detox our bodies and souls, be thankful to Almighty GOD for everything we have, and to feel the pain and help the less fortunate. In reality we eat and spend more on food, instead of helping the less fortunate. We fast and pray (it’s important) but we forget the rights of others.”
Anisha Kohli, Non-Muslim
“An interesting thing for me as a non-Muslim to understand was how different Ramadan is in different parts of the world. I moved to London from India and Indians celebrate Ramadan a little differently and I learnt that from friends I made in London who celebrate Ramadan here. For starters, we call it ‘Ramzaan’, the food is different and a very big part of it since Indians don’t celebrate any festivals without food! I have also found that due to many religions in India, there are customs (like using flowers in shrines or for prayers etc.) that is not practiced by Muslims outside India. Iftaar parties are a big part of Ramadan in India – I have not really heard of that here. It’s been an interesting, eye-opening experience for me!”
“I am not Muslim, but when I think of Ramadan I think of one of the best soups I’ve ever had (and still make to this day). In Morocco they break the fast each day with Harira soup. Absolutely amazing!”
“I always think of the huge effort it takes and the level of commitment I have witnessed. I have seen colleagues struggle but remain steadfast. I have always found it very admirable. I can’t even do Lent!”
“I’m excited for Ramadan… looking forward to the detox and release from everyday life. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with my prayers insha’Allah (God willing) and connecting with my Deen (faith). May Allah accept all our prayers and fasts. I feel like I need a break and I’m hoping this is what my soul is looking for.”
Lieze Neven, Non-Muslim
“I will be moving to Dubai this summer for at least 2 years. I studied Arabic in my first year of Uni. Arabic culture was one of the courses I had to take so we learned quite a lot about it. I don’t think there is anything I don’t understand. I am just looking forward to moving to and living in a country where Ramadan is enforced so heavily. I heard that it is very disrespectful to eat on the street, that a lot of the local cafes and restaurants are closed but just as well that if you have Muslim friends, there is a high chance you will be invited to an a-ma-zing Iftaar meal. Apparently, there are also special sweets, cookies and other foods that are almost only eaten in or available in Ramadan.”
Tanya Barrow, Non-Muslim
“I lived in Saudi Arabia for six years back in the 90s and I loved Ramadan. I didn’t know a lot about it but loved that it was not a “you must do this type of thing; so women menstruating, families travelling, young children etc. didn’t have to take part. It wasn’t just about “not eating” either; it was really about focussing the mind on what is important. I also loved how the working day shifted, so if the fast was broken at 1pm people came in to work at 3pm, until 11pm and shops were open until 4am. It was so much fun to be a part of for six years.”
Fozia Shah, Muslim
“As a Muslim I feel like I’m meant to say the ‘correct’ things…like ‘Oh I am so looking forward to Ramadan’ ‘Can’t wait’ but in all honesty the long days always make me nervous. Fasting for 18 hours ends up taking its toll with the lack of sleep but still having to go through your daily routine. But it generally ends up easier than you think; you do get a strength that helps you get through the fasts and after the first few it becomes normal as your body adjusts. However I look forward to it in the sense that it helps ‘recharge your batteries’ faith-wise. It’s a peaceful month if you keep it simple.”
Sophie Le Brozec, Non-Muslim
“I first met someone observing Ramadan when I was in my early 20s and living in France. I remember I was all “wwhhhhaatttt??!” as my life revolved around eating and drinking at that stage. I was so impressed as I thought I had strong willpower but there was no way I could handle that. I’m fascinated by other religions and beliefs, and the incredible power of mind over physical; I’d love to hear more from Muslims who observe Ramadan.”
Newaz Chowdhury, Muslim
“Ramadan for me is a time to come together with family, friends and human beings. It’s a month where we try to neglect our sexual desires, addictions, anger, cravings, etc. to achieve enlightenment with God. For me, it’s exactly this and more. Fasting helps curb certain types of thoughts, especially as a male. The purpose is to become straight, calm and focused for the entire month.
You could say it helps you reach a moment of “zen”. It’s a very spiritual month to connect with God and the fellow Muslim community.
My parents are from Bangladesh and their perspective might be a little different since they follow their cultural version of Ramadan. Like ‘Chaand Raat’, where Bengalis drink, dance and listen to music the night before of Eid.
Honestly, I’m very secular and not much of a practiser myself. I consider myself more spiritual than religious. I fast on and off. I usually try to fast at least half the month. I run a company called Powerphrase. I need to drink water and eat food to do business. It’s really hard not to but I try.”
Sara Syed Hasan, Muslim
“I’m only dreading the summer heat. But more than that, the parking at taraweeh (nightly Ramadan prayer) is a nightmare!”
Clare Robinson, Non-Muslim
“I live in a very mono-cultural, rural area, but my neighbours who run the Indian restaurant are Bangladeshi and practicing Muslims. In Ramadan they always bring us food in the evening when they break their fast. I really appreciate that they share this with us. Equally we share some of our cultural practices with them. It’s a lovely way to truly be neighbours.”
“Ramadan is a really interesting time. It’s like an old friend who comes to visit. It’s usually a time for increased prayer and acts of worship, which is great, but I try not to enter a state of duality with it i.e. only performing certain acts during the month of Ramadan and not at all throughout the year. I’d rather stay at a constant throughout the year – to be in a meditative state as often as I can and not just in the daylight hours of Ramadan.
Intermittent fasting has become quite topical of late, especially with those looking to increase their productivity and well-being – including those wanting to enter a state of ketosis, where the body burns fat instead of sugars. It’s fascinating how fasting has been a key spiritual practice for thousands of years. A practice that benefits the whole being in body, mind and spirit.”
Laura Creaven, Non-Muslim
“I live in Birmingham, UK, so Ramadan is pretty well known here, but it cheered me to no end last year when the bus driver stopped the bus to break his fast, but not before offering everyone else on the bus some food. There was a lady sat up front who was also breaking her fast and they shared food. Never in all the years of living in Birmingham have I seen that before.”
“I’m excited about Ramadan but worried about the implications it will have on my anxiety. Fasting makes me overly anxious and somewhat depressed. It’s weird and it’s horrible. I’ve been focussing on myself and my mental health for the last year and I’m afraid fasting will undo all the work I’ve done. My anxiety and OCD tend to creep out when I’m tired, hungry and have low blood sugar. It’s just a horrid situation to be in, but I’m going to try and fast weekends and see how I get on.”
Rebecca Charlotte, Non-Muslim
“We went to Dubai during Ramadan a couple of years ago – it was a really positive experience with the hotel making a special tent for us to enjoy the traditional treats once the sun had gone down. I’m so impressed by anyone that can fast in the heat!”
You can read Rebecca’s post on visiting Dubai during Ramadan, here.
Mariam Hassan, Muslim
“I think the health aspect of fasting is important. It’s just another form of physical endurance in a way, a bit like long distance running! Having to go without food and drink for about 19hrs (in Europe) definitely takes some stamina, but benefits to ones internal system are massive. On a side note, it’s amazing that when it’s time to break the fast, how little food you actually need/want to eat. I find Ramadan is a month to “press pause” on a lot of things and take stock and it’s nice to have something else to focus on, something spiritual as well as physical. One of my (non-Muslim) colleagues actually fasts with me, albeit not for the full day, but he does about 12 hours, which is impressive.”
Pınar Rawlins, Muslim
“I am a Turkish Cypriot Muslim and growing up my Dad is the one in the family who fasts. Both my parents are TC but they are not as ‘strict’ as other Muslim families, but growing up we were taught about being thankful to Allah & all the celebrations etc. and to this day even married to an Englishman, I still do the same things that my family do with my children at Ramadan: food, family gatherings, prayers etc. I have tried fasting before but due to chronic migraines I can’t go more than a few hours without eating or drinking without an attack, so every Ramadan I give up a luxury or something that will make me thankful, instead.”
Kim Long, Non-Muslim
“Since living in London there’s always bus adverts this time of year for Muslim Aid. I didn’t realise that charity played an important part before. Also, I remember when the World Cup was on and they said that Muslim players could defer fasting to another time. Does this apply to other careers? Like what if you’re a pilot or a surgeon?”
Holly Rachael Homan, Non-Muslim
“HI! Non-Muslim here. I don’t know a huge amount. I guess I know that it’s a holy month of abstinence to get closer to God and test your own dedication to Allah. It’s not just about fasting from food but abstaining from luxury, like Lent originally was. I’d imagine that it’s to test your own self-will, reflect on your life and be grateful for what you do have. I’ve seen a lot of people in London who work charitably in Ramadan, i.e. feeding the homeless in ‘Iftaar in the Park’. I’d like to know how people feel after. Do you feel invigorated? Exhausted? Grateful? Does it make you more dedicated to your religion? Do you find enlightenment on something you’ve been struggling with? I could go on for hours!”
Thania Kiron Uddin, Muslim
“The way I practice during Ramadan has changed for me every year because I’m learning new aspects of Islam and my relationship to it all the time. My focus on Ramadan this year means building a commitment with Islam on a daily basis. I mean that in a more ritualistic sense, my faith has never wavered but that I struggle with remaining consistent with my prayers.
Ramadan also pushes me to explore my relationship with Allah and reflect on my past experiences and the lessons Allah was trying to teach me. I am learning to lean on Allah not only in times of sadness or show gratitude during moments I am so elated, but developing taqwa (God consciousness) at all times.
This year I will be celebrating Ramadan for the first time outside of London and I feel quite down about missing out on my families’ traditions and antics during this time. Another aim of mine is to find a community here I can celebrate with. I didn’t grow up in a family that went to the mosque so the thought of going alone is quite daunting for me but the social anxiety I feel is something I want to overcome.”
Andy Clark, Non-Muslim
“When I was in Qatar they explained to me the charitable aspect of Ramadan. I don’t think a lot of people know about that.”
And there we have it! What all of the above has shown me is that as Muslims we are not as misunderstood as we think we are and on the other hand displays that more and more open discussions like this need to be had, to bring us all closer together and unite us as human beings.
A big thanks you to everyone who contributed to this blogpost and for being so open and honest. If you made it this far, I truly hope you learned something new.
Feel free to share your thoughts/feelings/knowledge on Ramadan and respond to any of the questions left by some of the non-Muslims above, in a comment below.
For all observing, I wish you a blessed Ramadan 2018. May it bring you the peace and contentment that you came from, that you deserve and even more.