What I’ve Learned From Fasting

by Wahid Al Mamun (15A01A)
Photo credits to On Singapore

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Over the last month or so, I have undergone the ritual of fasting as a practising Muslim – the tenth year in which I have done so. This is the period where all Muslims abstain from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset in accordance with the holy Islamic month of Ramadan. In the process, I have been asked many questions about the entire ritual, many of which are out of pure curiosity. “Can’t you even drink water when it’s too hot?” some people have asked me in exasperation. Naturally, to see a group of people voluntarily give up all food and drink for an extended period of time is bewildering to many.

However, one day somebody asked me what the entire point of fasting was. Truth be told, it was a question that I’ve never really paid much attention to before. Instinctively, the answer that rose to my lips was the fact that fasting is stipulated as a compulsory act for all Muslims in the Quran. The more I thought about this, though, the more I realised that this wasn’t exactly an adequate answer to the question. “I don’t really know,” I had to admit to my friend.

Even today, I still can’t give you a very good blanket reason as to why people fast  or what the point of fasting is  –  isn’t faith an essentially personal pursuit, anyway? Nonetheless, I suppose that, if I were to look at the month of Ramadan not as a religious compulsion but as an individual exercise, there are many things that I personally take away from the whole ritual.

Firstly, this month of fasting has taught me the value of self-control and moderation. Simply put, it is not easy to abstain from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset. This is especially so in a school context, where one is expected to participate in physical activities such as PE lessons and CCAs. Seeing your friends go for recess every day while you hang around awkwardly is difficult, too! However, by successfully repelling these little temptations to break your fast before sunset, one is able to gain some form of self-control and discipline over one’s life. That being said, though, I feel that the exercise of fasting is useless if people choose to observe it from sunrise to sunset, only to gorge themselves once the sun sets. I suppose the lesson of self-control becomes valuable once it is applied to everyday life, and not merely to a period of one month every year.

I’ve also gained a heightened awareness of the lives of people around the world who cannot get constant and proper access to food and drink on a regular basis. These people live a life of suffering on a daily basis, and to understand their struggles is one step closer to understanding the complex issue of poverty with which they are beset.  By partaking in a fast out of solidarity for the poor, I remember those who are in the same situation as I am, only that the hunger and thirst that they feel is forever. They do not have an assured meal at sunset like I do at the end of a long day. Nor do they have ready access to clean water whenever they like.

And, crucially, I feel that the practice of fasting offers a very simple avenue for religious dialogue between people of different faiths. The practice of fasting and Ramadan may not necessarily be well known to most people. Hence, they ask questions about these rituals and seek to gain a better understanding about other religions. Already in this month, I’ve had more questions about Islam from my friends in this month alone than the rest of the year. Given the context of our diverse and multicultural society, it is important that we accommodate and accept each other’s differences, and the first step in doing so is by gaining a better understanding about these differences.  At the end of the day, the most important thing is still to accept other people’s choices, beliefs and faiths for what they are.

As the festivities of Hari Raya roll on in all their gaudiness and grandeur, I feel that it’s important to remember these lessons and to apply them in the context of my regular life. It’s all fine and well to say that I’ll abstain from food and drink in the name of self-control in the month of Ramadan. The important part is to remember to observe self-control even when I’m not obligated to do so by religious doctrine.

For me, that starts from today, as I try to stop myself from gorging on Hari Raya treats.

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