They say there’s a first time for everything, and being that I had never fasted before, I can truly say that this has so far been one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had the privilege of undertaking in my life. One common misconception I (and apparently others?) held is people who are fasting can consume fluids, or at the very least water – wrong. Lol. Discovering this new fact put a nice, little twist on this experience, and even though it made me nervous at first, it also made me more anxious but in a good way.
The night before my first day (August 8, 2011), I was suggested to consume things that contained a lot of protein, and even though I had actually remained awake all the way through until 5:00 AM on that Saturday morning, I didn’t eat anything. Was that a mistake? Well, looking back at it now, in fact not really. After waking up, my first day of fasting included over an hour of commuting to meet with my Muslim friend Yazeed as we had decided to at least fast together this weekend.
Before I left, I was immediately tantalized by a water bottle sitting in my room, followed by bits of food and snacks in my kitchen. It was really tempting at first to just take one quick sip or nibble on a small snack – no one is watching, no one else is around – but I just as quickly dismissed my desire first out of pure discipline and second out of pure respect. Not only had I made a decision and was committed to stick with it, but I also was and am devoted to respect and observe this holy event, as it holds a great deal of meaning to me.
I (well, more like my stomach) drew a lot of attention towards myself as it very openly protested for nourishment…and this was essentially on repeat throughout the entire day lol. What really began getting to me more and more throughout the day, however, was my thirst, and it eventually became my “respectable nemesis,” for lack of a better term. After meeting up with Yazeed, he told me with a laugh, “Brother, just wait until 7:00 PM, that’s when you’ll really get hungry. That’s when everyone does.” 7:00 PM was about an hour before iftar here in New York City…and yeah, he couldn’t have been more correct with that statement.
We decided to take the subway into Brooklyn to one of our favorite Yemeni restaurants, and if anyone has waited for the subway in New York City during the summer, you know it’s essentially an oven down there that doesn’t know the meaning or existence of circulation. At that point while we were waiting, my hunger and thirst really put some things in my life into a different perspective. The events of the drought in Somalia along with many of the pictures I had seen of those suffering first came into mind. I then wondered, “Who else around the world is suffering who we don’t know about? Why? What caused them to be in their dire situations now? What can we do? I can only imagine what it would be like going to bed and waking up as I am feeling now on a daily basis…does it really have to be like this?” Delving deeper into my thoughts, I became somber realizing that perhaps life itself inherently brings with it suffering and struggle.
Eventually we took our seats at the restaurant and my friend began telling one of the workers a whole bunch of food in Arabic which I could not understand aside from when he said “Shukran.” They brought out a dish of dates, samosas, and falafel to start. I was expecting my body to react accordingly…but I had actually found myself in a surreal state of mind. A few days prior to this fasting, again as my timeline on Twitter was flooded with talks of Ramadan, the memory of my high school friend Taimur Ashraf, who unfortunately can no longer physically celebrate Ramadan with any of us anymore, came to me. It would’ve truly been great if he could have also celebrated with us, but all I could do was post another small dedication on his Facebook wall. Sure I was thankful that we could finally break fast and eat to our heart’s (well, stomach’s) content, but I was and am really thankful for the fact that I’m still alive, I’m doing relatively well in life, and just thankful for what I have, as well as the fact that the means are also available to me to attain what I want. May he rest in peace [August 14, 1990 – October 4, 2009]
When the time to break fast finally rolled around, I took one last look at all the food in front of me, had one last recollection of all my thoughts, and slowly ate my way back to a full self. It was extremely invigorating; three random side-notes I’d like to capitalize while I was eating:
- I think dates have a holy aura within them. It was the first time I had them and I admit I’m quite addicted to them [^_^]
- Tomatoes typically taste like water to me…maybe it was because of fasting, but I could really taste the tomatoes in the salad my friend got us.
- The same goes for olives for me as it does with tomatoes.
The feelings I had after I had finished eating were just as surreal as the feelings I had right before I ate. I couldn’t quite organize them at the time, so I decided to sleep on it.
Today as Sunday draws to a close, even though I feel much more exhausted today than yesterday and have been struck by a headache, I had continued my consecutive fast, but it has also allowed me to really sit down, gather my thoughts, and reflect upon my experiences thus far, along with the help from some of my Music Bites. Shortly after today’s iftar as I was leaving my friend’s apartment, another surreal feeling overtook me: a sort of re-new awakening or animation. It was something like a new me had been born. I think to say that I am grateful, thankful, and truly humbled by this entire experience would be massive understatements. Muslims and non-Muslims alike engaging in fasting around the world deserve the utmost reverence and respect, but especially those who fast not out of choice but because they have no choice.
This fasting experience has given me a whole new meaning to “discipline,” “respect,” “patience,” and “awareness.” The saying really is true that you don’t really know what you have until it’s gone – sometimes it is necessary to take away something to truly appreciate what you had. Two of the simplest things in life have the most complex meanings and fulfillments of life itself. And it’s the simple things in life that make all the difference.
Recently I was also informed of the iftar and taraweeh services the Islamic Center at New York University (NYU) at 371 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10014 is holding throughout this great month. Inspired as much as I am, I plan to fast the following weekend and volunteer to help at this community center.