Every year, before I know it, the holy month of Ramadan approaches. It always seems to come at the right time ― just when I feel the itch to reinvigorate my relationship with God and myself. It’s the type of spiritual high that I rely on to get me through the year.
As long as I can remember, I’ve fasted during the month of Ramadan. As a kid, I couldn’t wait for the month to just come and go because I didn’t really know what it meant besides skipping some meals. It wasn’t until around high school that I realized that Ramadan is more than just being hungry and thirsty.
Year after year, however, many of us find ourselves regurgitating the same script to explain to non-Muslim colleagues and acquaintances what Ramadan is all about. And inevitably, we run into the age-old question: “You don’t even drink water?” Now, it’s not an offensive question and most of us are happy to answer and educate. But let’s be real: Explaining is emotional labor.
The more I understood why we fasted ― it’s believed to enhance spiritual reflection, self-discipline and self-improvement ― the more I would long for Ramadan’s arrival. But being grown comes with the stress of adult responsibilities; we have to find balance while fasting. How can we do that in a society that doesn’t collectively understand what this month means to those who practice?
For anyone fasting this season and looking for a little support, here are some of the ways I’ve been able to maintain my well-being while fasting during Ramadan.
Request Flexibility At Work
If you practice, you might have to do a lot of explaining at work — especially if you weren’t taking prayer breaks before Ramadan. I once had a boss wonder why I went “all religious all of a sudden” and thought I was just trying to scam extra downtime.
So start the dialogue early. It might help to explain Ramadan as a New Year’s resolution to better ourselves. Give your boss a heads up that hunger could get the best of you during work hours and you might take a hit on productivity. Make it known that this is important to you and your well-being, and that you’d appreciate adjustments to schedule or outcome goals this month. The work-from-home shift in culture has been a blessing for many Muslims during Ramadan, but do ask for accommodations if you need to, for the sake of transparency. And then use the flexibility afforded to you to balance work with worship.
Balance Your Social Life
Your non-Muslim friends might be wondering why you’re not as available as you normally are, and explaining why is a bit different than the conversations you’ll have with work colleagues since it goes beyond fasting. You’ll want to break down, clearly, why you’ll be MIA at night too.
Ramadan is more than just giving up food and drink ― it’s about devotion, selflessness, generosity, self-discipline and empathy throughout the month, even outside of fasting hours. Tell your friends about your relationship with the month and what it means to you.
I do this by sharing examples of what I voluntarily gave up in years past, like social media or television. I usually explain to my friends that worship goes into the night, even after I’ve broken my fast, and that I’ll be spending most of my nights this month praying at the mosque or in other acts of worship. If they’re your friends, they’ll understand ― and even perhaps see you as a more nuanced person.
Carve Out Time For Yourself
I never feel as connected to my Muslim community as I do during Ramadan. While it’s beautiful that we all go through this together, I try to make sure I am mindful of my social battery and how it affects my mood and health. Between daily iftars, tarawih at the mosque, late-night chai at Qahwah House and the occasional 3 a.m. suhoor gatherings, it’s easy to get bogged down in the interactions and burn out.
Once upon a time, the younger me wanted to be everywhere during Ramadan, and while that’s fine, fasting during the pandemic changed that. I found the iftars at home alone the most peaceful and rewarding and made it a point to ensure that I have that time to myself throughout the month to recharge my battery. Find your equilibrium between social time and solitude during Ramadan — it’ll look different for every practicing person.
Tailor Your Lifestyle Around the Fast
If your body feels strong during this time, your mind will follow suit. Your physical state will have a direct impact on how happy and energetic you feel, and it’s easy to let the motivation you start Ramadan with die down quickly.
Establish a routine at the start that you know you can realistically maintain throughout the month. I remember Ramadans during summer breaks and college when I would go completely nocturnal, which pretty much defeated the purpose. That’s not something that I can get away with as an adult with a demanding career. Make sure to sleep early to get those eight hours in, and try to take a short nap midday as well. It’s Sunnah.
Also, try not to overindulge in your iftars in a manner that would make sleep difficult for you that night. Getting enough rest should be a priority.
Ironically, despite our hunger while fasting, food sometimes feels like an afterthought. Staying hydrated, meal-prepping, portion control and balancing your diet will do wonders for you this month. It’s easier to focus on worship when you have to worry less about what’s for iftar. Plan out your meals in a way that ensures you are getting enough nutrition.
And stay active, but don’t try to make this month about weight loss and fitness. Try to go to the gym or complete some sort of exercise for at least 30 to 40 minutes a few times each week, but don’t go overboard, and take rest days because your body isn’t running on as much fuel as normal. Whether you join a weekend Ramadan basketball league or do some Youtube Yoga, find what you can manage and stick to it.