The month of Ramadan is rapidly approaching and with it, for those who are new to Islam, anxiety. Abstaining from eating and drinking for hours a day may seem like an insurmountable challenge to those who are not trained in the art of fasting.
And let’s be honest, the thought of not eating for so many hours is not on the top of anyone’s wish list. But when you add a spiritual component, as Ramadan is a spiritual feast, it’s a whole other story. Ramadan can be hard for those new to the concept. But armed with a little knowledge, Ramadan can be a month full of spiritual growth and awakening.
Here are 8 things that I wish I knew in my first Ramadan.
1. Start with a Practice Run
The months of Rajab and Sha’ban, the months preceding Ramadan, is a great time to try fasting on for size and see what adjustments need to be made. See how it feels. Maybe start fasting half a day and work up to a full day once Ramadan gets here.
You wouldn’t start running a marathon without any training or stretching. The same goes for fasting. That is why fasting during the months preceding Ramadan is highly recommended. And this is especially true for the new Muslim who has never fasted a day much less a month.
The stomach will adjust and shrink to cope with the emptiness it will experience during the days of Ramadan, but it needs time to get there. It is best to start fasting early and often to get your tummy into Ramadan shape.
2. How to Find the Time for Iftar
Iftar is the end of day when you can start eating again. It is exactly at the moment the sun sets. Many will tell you that you can’t eat/drink until the sun goes down, but they don’t tell you that it will still be light out at the time you need to break your fast.
The thing is that sunset (iftar time) is when the orb of the sun dips below the horizon. But there is still ambient light, meaning it is not completely dark yet. It is kind of like when move a lamp into the next room but you still see by the light that is coming from it. This is what sunset looks like. It doesn’t mean that it is dark.
And here is a hint, iftar is the moment the evening prayer called maghrib comes in.
3. How to Find the Time for Sahoor
Sahoor is the time of day where you wake up to eat before the sun appears over the horizon. Therefore, sahoor is the time before the orb of the sun comes up over the horizon.
If you think that sunset means complete dark you might also think that sunrise will mean it will be bright out. This is not true and surprisingly, sahoor is darker than iftar. All of this can be very confusing when you are looking for the sun in the sky (or the lack of sun in the sky).
But all you need to know is that the moment the morning prayer called fajr comes in, you need to stop eating sahoor. You can find out the exact time of sahoor (before the time for fajr) and iftar (maghrib and after) are at your location on islamicfinder.org.
4. Keep Iftar and Sahoor Light
Knowing when and when not to eat does not make one wiser in knowing how to eat during Ramadan. You are going to crave the heaviest foods while you are in the midst of the fast. This is a trick. Your stomach is telling your mind to shovel fist-fulls of fried, heavy, and fatty foods in your face on both ends of the day.
And as great as this sounds, this will make you sick, lethargic, and undo the shrinking your stomach has done during the fasting hours. When you re-stretch your stomach or even stretch your stomach bigger every day, you will end up hungrier and hungrier, sooner and sooner into the fast.
The good news is that you don’t have to keep away from heavy, fried, and fatty foods entirely. Just don’t listen to your stomach telling you that you need an entire bucket of fried chicken and an entire triple chocolate cake at iftar and sahoor. Simply make the bulk of your meals healthful foods and stop eating/drinking when you feel satisfied and can still move comfortably.
5. Take it Slowly at Iftar
When you are fasting, the digestive tract and in fact your entire system is doing repairs and system updates so to speak. Once you break your fast at iftar, your stomach will need you adjust to the reintroduction of food slowly. So, take it slow at iftar. You wouldn’t expect your computer to turn on in one second after you have updated the system.
Similarly, your body needs time to adjust to the reintroduction to food. The sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet was to eat an odd number of dates when breaking his fast at iftar. Then pray Maghrib. There is a lot of wisdom in this even though it is only recommended practice. Once you break your fast then pray, then your stomach has been given some time to begin digestion, and you can feel free to eat a bigger meal.
6. Drink Water
Fasting can lead to some pretty serious dehydration if you do not pay attention to what you drink in the non-fasting hours of the day. Cracked lips, dark circles under eyes, and headaches are all signs of dehydration. To avoid this as much as possible, try to drink as much water as you can during the non-fasting hours.
Drinking caffeinated sodas or coffee and tea can intensify dehydration if you are drinking them instead of water. These liquids are diuretics, meaning the squeeze extra water from your body instead of adding it. One soda every now and then won’t hurt, but make water the majority of what you drink.
7. Know that it Gets Easier
For someone who has never fasted a day in her/his life, fasting can be a challenge. It is a test of self-discipline and stamina that many of us who are not heritage Muslims will have never faced until our first Ramadan.
You will be tempted to think that fasting will always be as hard as it is at first. But as the days and weeks go by, you will become acclimated. For some converts, it might take longer than it does for others, but it will happen, inshaAllah. With time things always get easier. And with hardship is ease.
8. Don’t be Hard on Yourself
You can only do what you are capable of. Know that Allah is The Most Forgiving. If you slip, don’t beat yourself up. Pick yourself up, talk to Allah about your intention and desire to achieve the fast. Ask Him for strength and ease. And keep going. Allah loves those who turn to Him in repentance and He runs to those who walk toward Him. Take it slowly, and forgive yourself for the bumps along the way. After all, the religion wasn’t revealed in a day. And you can’t expect yourself to get the hang of fasting overnight.
But know that if you do Ramadan right, with the right intentions, you will be hungry, but your soul will feel full of peace and contentment like you have never known before. This feeling will make fasting addictive. And the reward you will receive from Allah will make it beyond worth it.
A word of caution: If you have a medical condition, consult your doctor before you attempt fasting. Not everyone is required to fast if they are not physically capable.