Muslims who Fast for Ramadan in the United States Find it More Difficult

By Kira Barrett
For Unwind magazine

As internships and vacations creep up, so do 30 days of holiday and spiritual cleansing.

Ramadan lands at the beginning of summer this year, which has its benefits and drawbacks for Muslims who choose to fast. For those who do, it will mean refraining from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset. While this year the holiday doesn’t fall during exams or classes, it’s also the hottest time of the year with the longest days, in contrast to the winter when the sun rises and sets earlier.

“You don’t get as thirsty [in the winter],” Arabic professor Dina El-Hefnawy said. She prefers not to teach in the summer, as all that talking can make you thirsty. El-Hefnawy mentioned that one summer she did teach, but being around everyone eating and drinking all day proved to be challenging.

To some, though, longer days of fasting can be more rewarding, sophomore Sarah Tayel, a family science and psychology major, said.

“A winter Ramadan would be nice,” she said. “Sunset would be much earlier in the day, but I believe that I wouldn’t reap as much benefits as I would when it is during the summer.”

For Muslims, the effort and difficulty of fasting each day is a part of the joy and spiritual challenge of it, as this was the original intention behind the holiday. Ramadan is considered a holy month because it is when the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. The fasting helps remind those who celebrate of the less fortunate, to put yourself in their shoes, freshman Yasmeen Brooks, a public health major, said.

Ramadan celebrates the revelation of the Quran. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

“Everybody is thinking spiritually, and thinking of God,” El-Hefnawy said.

Not only do Muslims refrain from eating and drinking in the daylight hours, but many also dress more conservatively, refrain from listening to inappropriate lyrics in music, avoid cursing and try to pray more often.

“Fasting during Ramadan means changing your lifestyle dramatically – for the better,” Tayel said. “Basically, you work towards becoming more aware of your actions and behaviors, bettering and controlling yourself.”

According to Tayel, there are some tips and tricks to make fasting easier. Eating watermelon in the morning can quench your thirst throughout the day, as opposed to eating salty foods, like chips. Also, keeping hydrated with lots of water assists with not feeling fatigue. Overall, fasting for Ramadan isn’t as extreme as people think, especially when what you’re going to eat is planned out.

“The first day is harder than others just because it is a matter of getting used to … but you end up just eating two meals rather than three,” freshman chemical engineering major Salma Ghorab said.

Ramadan can be difficult in the United States, in that a majority of people do not celebrate the holiday and aren’t abstaining from food.

“There’s more temptation to break [your fast],” Brooks said.

Imagine walking through Stamp with a rush of smells coming from Chic-Fil-A, Panda Express, and McDonald’s all at once. In some majority-Muslim countries, people of different faiths participate in the holiday in order to make it easier on those celebrating.

“Non-Muslims in Egypt respected Ramadan, and abstained from eating and drinking in public, even though nothing could stop them from doing so,” Tayel said in reference to when she spent Ramadan in Egypt.

El-Hefnawy jokes with her family in Egypt that they’re not ‘really’ fasting over there because the atmosphere makes it much easier. Not only are most people fasting in some other countries, at least in public, the whole country is in celebration-mode.

Every sundown at Iftar, the time when Muslims break their fast after a long day, family and friends will gather to eat and pray together. Young adults will go out at night after their meal, and then have a late night snack afterwards. Work hours and store hours change as well, to accommodate to a fasting schedule. There are even special Ramadan programs on TV, special desserts sold and decorations everywhere, much like Christmas in America.

Ramadan decorations in Jerusalem
Decorations in the streets of the Old city of Jerusalem at night during Ramadan. In Muslim countries, Ramadan is celebrated like Christmas in America. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

“Everything feels so warm and happy,” Tayel said.

While the United States may not be decked out with twinkling lights and other Ramadan decorations, for Muslims who fast it will still be a month of celebration, humble restraint and religious rejuvenation.

Brooks feels a special connection to the holiday in that it allows her to get in touch with her heritage. “It makes me feel more spiritual, it makes me feel at peace … I’m actually putting the effort in, and I feel better about myself.”

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