HOUSTON – When Maher Shakora was a young boy, he often spent fasting days in sleeping for hours and staying up late into the night, taking his time eating as the night allowed.
Now that he’s a 21-year-old college student and working full time at an accounting internship, his schedule still includes late night, but he admits he doesn’t know how long he’ll be able to keep it up.
Shakora, who lives in Houston, breaks his fast with his family and attends Taraweeh prayers in the evening.
It isn’t until around 1 am that he makes it to the gym, where he puts in an hour or so of exercise time, often not getting home until 3 in the morning. He then eats an early-morning meal before hitting the sack, only to have to wake again at 7 am to prepare for work.
With such a grueling schedule, he questions how long he’ll be able to sustain it.
“I’ve definitely been sacrificing my sleep in order to fit in everything and keep everything going, but I know it’s going to catch up to me and I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do it,” Shakora told AboutIslam.net.
Many Muslims face similar challenges during Ramadan, particularly those who are fasting in non-Muslims countries like the United States where there is no societal push for lighter daytime workloads or shortened school hours for youngsters who may be fasting for the first time or dealing with tests on no food.
As a result, American Muslims must work a bit harder to effectively allocate their time, making sure to make space for suhoor, work, school, prayer and sleep while their non-Muslim peers go about their normal routine.
Sarah Graves, who works in insurance, said the toughest part for her is the midday slump, which not only leaves her lethargic, but the lack of food makes it hard to concentrate on her work, as well.
“That’s the hardest part for me,” she said.
“Especially when I’m dealing with customers and I have to stay sharp and answer their questions and handle their problems. At around 2 or 3 o’clock I find it gets really hard to focus on what I’m doing.”
Despite the difficulties, some Muslims insist that keeping to their regular activities and not upsetting their schedule is part and parcel of the Ramadan experience.
“You have to keep on doing what you normally do,” said Ali Abbasi, who works an 8-5 work schedule.
For him, after-work naps are key to keeping his hunger and headaches at bay.
“My wife stays home so I make sure to tell her to get in some daytime rest before I get home so that I can sleep, and we both feel better during the days like that,” Abbasi said.
Still, for some who have to work all day then come home to face responsibilities with children and iftar dinner, finding time to sleep can be nearly impossible.
Hannah Bakri is a full-time teacher. She said her first day of fasting was miserable and she was in tears from a severe headache by the time she returned home.
“We were moving around a lot of the chairs and desks at school, so I was doing a lot of physical work. Plus the air conditioning was broken so it was very hot, which didn’t help,” she said.
Knowing the next day would bring more of the same, Bakri made sure to sleep as soon as she broke her fast, eating a heavy meal and a generous suhoor. The extra rest and emphasis on protein-heavy food, along with a working AC system, seemed to do the trick.
“Alhamdullah the days after that couldn’t have been easier,” she said.
As the Ramadan month goes on and the summer days get longer and hotter, some Muslims find even the best of planning falls short and look to their coworkers or employers for support when they feel they might need a break.
Both Abbasi and Shakora said they would likely be taking a few days off toward the end of Ramadan in order to sleep a few more hours in the morning and have a relaxing day or two before getting back into the swing of things.
For Shakora, it’s likely his boss won’t have any objections. His employer was aware he’d be fasting even before he told him, and, in a considerate gesture, asked the other employees to limit how much they ate in front of Shakora.
Though he was touched by the offer, Shakora said he made sure to tell his colleagues not to feel as if they couldn’t eat in front of him.
“It’s nice to have the support of my coworkers, and it was nice that they were knowledgeable about what I was doing, but I told them to go about their day (in terms of eating),” he said.
“I told them I can handle it.”