Since a child, I have learned quite a lot of nonsense about Arabic culture. Now I have been able to realize with my own eyes how misled I have been. In a nutshell, we are used to hearing in the Media and even at school of how backward the Arabic’s are, how they do not respect women, by limiting their freedom, and how dangerous they are to the world. It only by getting out of our comfort zones and getting to know a few of them to start question one thing: who are the backward people?
Honestly, I was not far away from thinking that way. Nevertheless, once in France I got the opportunity to meet with many Arabic students, originated from several countries in the world. Having had the chance to get to know them more, I had many of my preconceptions disrupted. However, this is not the subject of this article. Today, I will talk about one thing that grabbed my attention in all my Arabic friends, their commitment to the Ramadan.
For those who do not know about it, Ramadan is, in brief, a period when all Muslims stop eating during the sunlight in worshiping God. Of course, it is not only about their diet, as my friends explained to me, but Ramadan is also a period of redemption and spiritual cleansing. Therefore, they must save themselves from any type of bad behavior, including smoking, perjuring, lying, having negative thoughts, fighting, and even having sex when the sun is still up. It is indeed a time from self-reflection, from the individual to the collective dimension.
My first fasting attempt
Fasting by itself has been used by many peoples in the past for a wide range of purposes, including healing. What I see is that each culture perceives fasting differently. In my country, Brazil, fasting is done only when there is a medical purpose. For religions purposes, we do fast of meat in the Quaresma. Nowadays, it has become increasingly common in the 40 days preceding Easter that some Catholics decide to cut out one aliment from their diet.
Nevertheless, fasting for 30 days in a row would not be well perceived in my culture. The reason is remarkably simple, food is a big thing. Most Brazilians appreciate food a way too much to just stop eating or fasting for many hours during the day. Besides, it could even consider it a sin the fact of ‘having food, but not eating it’.
It does not go without saying that I have never considered doing Ramadan. First, because I am not Muslim and second because I did not believe myself capable of it. It took me a while to realize that I do not need to be Muslim to try diving into at least one aspect in their culture. Once many students here in Rennes are Muslims and the fact of seeing them so committed to it grew in me an admiration as big as my daily hanger. So, one day I woke up and decided to fast for 24h.
I woke up and made some calculations. My last meal had been at 10 pm of the previous day, so I decided to eat only from 9 pm. Of course, I knew my limits, so I drank water to keep myself enough hydrated. The first 5 hours were the worst ones as I felt myself very week and virtually with no strength to do anything other than reading. It was a day for resting. Unreliably, during the evening I met some friends and I ran as normally as the previous days. The energy was back into my body craving for me to spend it.
At 9 pm, I started cooking and once completed my 24h fasting, I finally ate, having a double pleasure experience. First, I was proud of myself for being able to fast and second, because I did indeed appreciate even more my meal that had better taste.
How about Ramadan then?
As for Ramadan, I chose to follow a friend who is like me not Muslim. He had decided to do it for the first 7 days and the 3 last ones, and I followed him in the latter. The first day was the most difficult one as my body took time to accept not only the absence of food as a different schedule. We are going to bed after 5 am, once we can eat and drink before the sun rises. In the first day, I woke around 3 pm, but got up only after 5pm. I felt very tired, weak, and thirsty. I went to do sports with my friends, but I did not get to do anything, though I still walked for more than 30 minutes. Last Thursday was a blazing sunny day in Rennes, once in the park, I laid down and observed others; my strength was extremely limited, and my mind was focused on one thing, water.
At around 8 pm I passed by in my friends’ room to say “hi”, but having laid down into his bed, I felt asleep for one hour straight. At 9 pm, we started cooking and by 10 pm, we were already eating. Apart from how thirsty I was, it came to my attention that after a while we stop craving for food, and when we can eat, it is easy to be satisfied.
The second day of fasting was much easier. I did not crave as much for water and I woke relatively early (at mid-day). As I had slept well in the previous night, I did not feel so tired and I had a quite normal day, though I felt hungry. I went to the supermarket, bought food, and came home, prepared some Irish scones for dinner, did my paperwork and time passed by quickly. When I least expected, I was already eating and drinking with my friends.
In was then when I realized how much of our time is dedicated to eating. We spend quite a long time worrying about how to feed ourselves. For many people who fast often, one of the reasons they do it, it is to clear their mind from this “food obsession”. Me, as an assumed foodie, can now fully understand what and why are some people are doing it.
As for my third and last day, I took the chance to write about it. Doing 3 out of 30 days Ramadan was for me an occasion to put myself into the Muslim’ shoes. I wanted to experiment a little of what they were happily doing. During this time, I came across with some many of them and never saw one complaining, looking sad, tired, or fed up with it. They all take it as an opportunity for spiritual growth. Although I recognize that my attempt was very humble in comparison to theirs, I got the chance to feel what it feels like and I appreciate this experience.
I remember that before the start of Ramadan, I commented to my sister my wish to do it for few days. Because she was very worried with me, I received criticism saying that I was going crazy, that this was not my culture, and even she threatened me, saying that she would tell my mother and all my family about it. Of course, that she put me off and I quitted my plans, as worrying my parents (who are already worried with this Covid situation), was out of question.
However, time passed by and my inner desire continued. Then, I realized that I am not obliged to be the same person I have been forever. My culture says one thing, I have followed and believed it for so many years, but the truth is that I have changed, I have lived abroad for 4 years, shared experiences with so many people that it would have been a shame to quit this opportunity to try something different just because we are crazy foodies in Brazil. So, I quitted quitting.
Several researches explain the benefits of fasting for the body, mind, and spirit, but this article is not about this subject and I am nowhere near a specialist. If you are interested in this subject, you can check this interview here:
For me, having done 3 days of Ramadan taught me that I can go beyond my set limits, that I must try to overcome my preconceptions of other people’s culture. What I have verified is how kind, thoughtful and with an immense sense of collectivism the Arabic people are. I have seen their gatherings, food sharing and openness to other cultures. Although, in the past, I used to judge Ramadan as a “crazy attitude”, now I see that the crazy one was me whose craving for food was so badly that only the think of reducing it, scared me. It took me a time to disrupting my worldview, to ask several questions to me and at the end to realize that I could have been wrong. In sum, these few days served many purposes in me, but the most important one was to put myself in other people’s shoes before judging their decisions.
At the end fasting it is not a big thing but has indeed a big meaning!
PS: I dedicated this article to all Arabic people for their commitment and respect to their beliefs. Special thanks to my friends in Beaulieu Student Residence.