Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you many learn piety and righteousness. (Quran 2:183)
The Ramadan fast is a prescription in every way as it purifies the heart, refreshes the mind and trains the body to withstand the most basic of human desires, mainly hunger and thirst.
While detractors of Islam may view the fast of Ramadan in a negative light, not all non-Muslims perceive it in such a way. Many non-Muslims, around the world, are inspired by the spirit of Ramadan and choose to fast as well in solidarity with Muslims.
The beauty found within the annual month of fasting, and the sheer joy that comes with breaking the fast every day just after the sun has set, is indescribable. It can only be put into words by someone that has experienced it.
As Muslims, we know the grandeur of Islam’s holiest of months and the tranquility that descends upon all households upon its arrival. Many non-Muslims, who have experienced the Ramadan fast, have a similar experience.
The month of Ramadan is the one time in the year where there is a strong sense of connection within the Ummah, or community of Muslims. Muslims from all over the world are striving and struggling to keep up with the hectic Ramadan schedule while trying to balance family and work life.
For Chonleedonya Odum, a non-Muslim living in Knoxville, TN, she has learned firsthand the triumphs and challenges that come with fasting in Ramadan. This year marked her second Ramadan experiencing the Ramadan fast.
She chose to fast for the very first time last year after the encouragement of Muslims she met online:
“I was just beginning to learn about Islam when a few of my Muslim friends from Facebook asked me if I would participate. I had no idea what I was getting myself into!”
Prior to her first Ramadan fast, Chonleedonya had never felt connected to a community before:
“Having so many people doing the same thing as you’re doing and understanding the struggles that come with it all was a big thing for me,” she shares.
Sense of Belonging
The holy month of Ramadan is a great redeemer in that it brings this world and our lives into perspective. It gives us the chance to slow down aspects of our worldly existence and instead focus on worship, which is the whole reason for the creation in the first place.
As Allah Almighty says in the Noble Quran:
And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me. (Quran 51:56)
From the first day of fasting all the way through to the end, Muslims from all walks of life increase their worship and try their utmost to reach out to fellow Muslims as well as other faith communities under a shared banner of humanity.
Chonleedonya was surprised by this when experiencing her first Ramadan fast:
“Even as a Christian I never felt that sense of belonging which was very strange since I’d been a Christian my entire life at that point. The Muslim community is a very strong one despite the negativity they receive and it was amazing to participate in that.”
The Reality of Fasting
Every Ramadan, it takes our bodies a day or two to adjust to the new schedule of eating and sleeping. Pangs of hunger and thirst are common in those first few days as our usual intake of food and drink now revolve around the rising and setting of the sun.
However, Ramadan is much more than abstaining from food and drink. It is about being able to understand the daily struggles of the less fortunate. And this is just what Chonleedonya learned for herself while fasting in Ramadan:
“The hardest thing was always being thirsty and the schedule was very difficult to get used to. The first year, the sun rose around 4:57am and it set around 8:55pm which was very tough to get used to, then I was always so thirsty,” she shares, “But someone sent me a video of a child who hadn’t had food or clean water for several days. The thought of others having to do with less gave me great motivation.”
A Lasting Impression
Embarking on anything new can be a bit intimidating. A non-Muslim partaking in the Ramadan fast can also be daunting. However, for Chonleedonya, it was those very Muslims who encouraged her to join in on her first Ramadan fast that offered her support each step of the way.
“I’m forever changed by the experience. I’ve never been so welcomed into anything before in my entire life. The Muslim community has been the most supportive that I’ve ever seen,” she shares, “They gave me advice the whole way through and made me feel like we were all in this thing together. It was amazing!”
Unfortunately, Chonleedonya did receive a fair amount of push-back by some misguided Muslims who thought she had no business participating in the Ramadan fast in the first place.
“Always ready to help, many of my Muslim friends would defend me against those who can be a bit imposing about the religion. I was shocked to see how many came to my rescue when someone wasn’t being very nice that day.”
As the holy month of Ramadan prepares to leave us once again, let’s keep in mind all the lessons it has taught us in patience, humility and human kindness.
With a renewed sense of purpose and faith, let’s make every month like Ramadan in our dedication to worship and the plight of our fellow man.
Most importantly, let’s remember to welcome non-Muslim friends to learn more about our faith just as Chonleedonya was welcomed herself. She was able to see past the stereotypes and says about Islam:
“It’s a very peaceful and understanding faith and although I don’t follow any religions at all, I respect this one very much.”