I have fasted during Ramadan – for the first time in my life. Out of solidarity with my Omani host family? Rather out of curiosity. A part of my Bosnian family is also Muslim and some family members fast regularly.
Having grown up in Germany, I found it crazy that they “do this to themselves”. Not eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset?
Hard to imagine in my German way of life! I even felt sorry for my Muslim friends and colleagues that they had to go through this.
Nevertheless, there was a little bit of envy for this mastery of body and soul, something I would hardly believe myself to be capable of.
“I admit. There were times when I found it rather “irresponsible” to expect people to do what Ramadan demands of them. I couldn’t understand why people would do this to themselves voluntarily. But at some point I came to the conclusion: before I continue to criticize, I want to experience it myself and then judge it.
Fasting in my host family
Now I live in Oman. For months people here have been looking forward to the month of Ramadan. Whenever this event was mentioned, a smile shone on their lips. How could such a “physical torture”, as it is seen in the West, bring such joy? The solution to find out: try it yourself.
So I told my Omani family that I would be fasting with them. “Really? But you do not have to. We have no qualms about it. We have breakfast and lunch every day because of the children and our housekeepers. So don’t worry about it.”
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. According to Islamic view, the Koran was sent down in this month.
“Yes, I will fast with you.” They are impressed and some of my brothers even smile, because they can’t imagine that I can endure it anyway.
Let's go - How strict is Ramadan in Oman?
Day one of my first Ramadan. Ramadan in Oman is quite “humane” in terms of time. Sohoor, the breakfast, is taken until around 4 in the morning. Fotoor or Iftar, the breaking of fasting, around 6:50pm.
The times that are respected in Ramadan in Germany are breakfast until 2.45 am and dinner from 8.30 pm onwards. In addition, eight hours of work at full power are necessary in Germany as usual.
In Oman, there are only five hours of work left during Ramadan. Universities and colleges are still active and exams are also written. So no mercy for the students. I also have to keep going to language school.
I get up shortly after three o’clock because I want to prepare my own breakfast. My Omani family eats pure rice with yogurt and drinks a yogurt-milk-mixed drink with it. Bananas are served with it and of course the healthy dates should not be missing. Very important: drink plenty of water. I’m generally not a breakfast type, but I know that I need to eat something. To do without food is not a big problem for me, but to do without water as someone who is trying to stay hydrated?
I decide to stick with my usual breakfast: Almond milk banana avocado shake with ginger powder. I also drink a lot of warm water with rose water and eat dates with it – always in an odd amount.
The first Day
If I don’t have classes or a deadline to meet, then I definitely sleep longer. During the day I avoid going outside in the midday heat, as it currently gets up to 42 degrees Celsius. Physically, however, I feel surprisingly well on the first day! Also my water balance seems to be good!
In the house it is quieter than usual and awakes to life only in the late afternoon. In the kitchen people work hard to prepare dinner. There are delicious soups with oatmeal and lots of vegetables, samosas, stuffed puff pastry rolls, as well as crepes with honey and Gheimat, a kind of curd ball with honey and sesame seeds. And of course plenty of water with rose water and dates, with which the breaking of the fast is opened. Everyone is in a good mood, smiling and eating together in gratitude for the fasting together. Around ten o’clock in the evening there is a classical dinner. As dessert many fresh fruits are served. My family is very conscious about nutrition.
I feel very good! Of course, this can just be the initial enthusiasm. I’ll see what happens next within the coming days.
Fasting - Time for Reflection
But even during the next days I feel well. But one thing changes: my attitude. Because I don’t add anything to my body to eat and drink, I have a lot of energy because I don’t have to digest anything. This energy is now used by the mind and throws me brutally into thoughts about myself, my life, my present existence … and what I really want?
For years I have not dealt with myself so intensively. Sure, I have fulfilled my dream, gave up some things and moved to Oman in order to learn the language. But also to get to know the traditions and to live with them.
However, what are my deepest wishes? Most of the time we don’t even perceive them and if they do appear superficially they are repressed because they are “absurd and unrealizable”.
We deal with many unimportant things, but with ourselves the least. Well, fasting forces you to do so – because there is no escape.
These were my personal experiences. During this time, I did not think about eating and drinking, that became secondary. The soul and the body wanted me to deal with them.
Doubts about myself come to me. Do I even know myself? Who am I? What have I ever achieved in life. Am I viable? Do I even deserve this life? That was anything but easy. I had the feeling I was going crazy. I thought I was going crazy. Should I at least have a drink or even eat again? No, the body and mind don’t want to! They force me to continue to deal with myself. Well, I will jump into the cold water and do it!
What I have to consider: Fasting is only allowed to someone who is physically fit. Sick people, pregnant women, nursing mothers, women with periods and children are excluded. By the way, it is a wrong perception that menstruating women are considered impure during the fasting month and therefore must not fast. The reason is very simple: bleeding weakens the body and the majority of women experience pain. Therefore they are exempt from it.
Since it would be too strenuous to keep the times, travelers also do not fast. The missed days are made up for during the year.
The cold withdrawal
But then I have to travel and break off the fasting for three days. At first I thought it would do me good. But the opposite happened.
I miss it because I feel that the confrontation with myself is not yet finished! I am glad than I can continue when I return! On the plane on the way to Oman I start fasting again. I enjoy getting up so early and listening to the prayer under the moon and the stars before I go back to bed to sleep. Sometimes, on weekends, I go through the night to sohoor. I don’t like to go out in the evening – too much traffic. We do everything in the morning or right after breaking the fast. The streets and tills are pretty empty then.
For the Community and Society
My family asks me how I experience Ramadan. I tell them the truth. They reassure me and confirm that everyone feels the same. This is what the month of fasting is for. It is not about taking food and liquids away from the body. This process gives our spirit the strength to find itself. One also spends a lot of time with the family in the evening to strengthen the sense of community again – also to the society out there and that worldwide. During this time we are made aware again that all people are equal and that love and respect are in the foreground.
My Resume - to live and let live
Ramadan is over. I am thankful that I was able and allowed to follow it in every turn. This intensive time with myself has changed me – for the better. I now have greater respect for myself and I trust my body even more! And I pay even more attention to my soul!
Overcoming the superficiality of everyday life, which can be marked by materialistic things and unimportant worries, felt tremendously good. But what it has taught me above all: Humility towards all the Muslim citizens who practice fasting and that adapted to our daily work and life rhythm without losing their smile. I am ashamed that I did not take them seriously before, or even considered them irresponsible. But this is also Ramadan – to recognize the truth without neglecting everyday life, which naturally is an important part of our daily life and the continued existence of the international community.