For the past few months, I’ve been traveling through Pakistan working on a film project. During this time, I’ve also managed to find myself working during Ramadan.
As a non-Muslim working during the Holy month, I’ll admit this has been challenging: blood sugars are low, many people frankly go on vacation- either in reality or in their ‘cognitive workspace’, plus the weather has been very hot in most parts of the country.
Frankly, I’ve questioned the wisdom in trying to complete any project during the holiday. So in a quest to set aside my partial disdain for less-than-optimal working conditions, I’ve decided to utilize my time by going on a bit of a spiritual journey.
Now, I know that Ramadan is a time to focus on fasting, prayer, charity and devotion to faith. But if I’m completely honest, I’ve frequently questioned the need (and wisdom) for fasting: “Where is the practicality of Muslims fasting during Ramadan?” I just didn’t get it.
So instead of being frustrated and run the risk of misjudging others, I’ve tried to get a better understanding of Ramadan and the reasons for fasting, by fasting myself. It hasn’t been easy. Even as I write this, my stomach is protesting due to lack of food.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve continuously questioned the rational behind depriving one’s body of the basics: I’m thirsty during the day and ravenous as we get closer to Iftar. As I become more irritable, I ask myself: Why do this? Why should I voluntarily make myself miserable? What good could this possibly do me?
So I decided to do some research.
Benefits of fasting
It turns out that there are evidence-based health benefits for fasting, but I’ll leave that up to discriminating internet gurus to search the benefits for themselves.
More importantly, there are spiritual benefits of fasting, of which I will briefly share here. And even though this is the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims, as a Christian I thought it’s also important to note that fasting is actually a Bible-based discipline and spiritual tool that Jesus and others used.
The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) also makes the case for fasting:
“The Bible also gives us examples of people who fasted and prayed, using different types of fasts for different reasons, all of which are very positive results. Jesus fasted and prayed. Jesus’ disciples fasted and prayed after the Resurrection. Many of the Old Testament heroes and heroines of the faith fasted and prayed. The followers of John the Baptist fasted and prayed.Many people in the early church fasted and prayed… Fasting is a means of bringing the flesh into submission to the Lord so He can strengthen us in our mastery over our own selves. Fasting in the flesh makes us stronger to stand against the temptations of the flesh.”
My parents, devout Christians, raised me to be respectful of all faiths, to ask questions when I don’t understand, and stressed the importance of experiential learning- learning by doing. So for this Ramadan, I’ve successfully managed to fast for several days, as well as focus on volunteerism and charity (such as seen in the images provided- partnering with Clean And Green Pakistan’s anti-littering campaign and Iftar).
The lessons I learned during Ramadan are: If I can reject the essentials for living, such as food and water, this will make it easier to reject evil or unwholesome things as well. Fasting from food and other less important things, has allowed me more time to focus on others instead of self and increased prayer and meditation. Some of the more tangible benefits I’ve received so far are: my skin has a healthier glow and I’m more focused than before.
The truth is, by immersing myself into Pakistani culture, and observing Islamic teachings, I’ve been reminded of spiritual lessons I’d long forgotten. And even though the Holy month of Ramadan was a bit challenging for me at first, this time has helped me grow as a person. Some of the spiritual benefits I’ve received are: I’m more empathic, less self-centred, and more grateful to God for the many blessings He has bestowed upon us.
In my fasting and prayers, I’ve found an increased sense of peace and happiness.
This article was originally published in Mvslim.com