Thursday, August 8, 2013


There are few efforts in my life that have precise beginnings and endings. Even fewer are those determined by the moon. Today is the final day of Ramadan, the month of fasting Zach and I have just experienced with our friends here in Morocco and believers around the world. 

Ramadan is the most sacred month in the Islamic Lunar calendar. It commemorates the Muhammad receiving revelations recorded in the Quran. 

Chapter 2, Revelation 185 of the Quran states:
The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.[Quran 2:185]

Because the lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar used elsewhere, Islamic holidays move each year according to the gregorian calendar. All muslims over the age of puberty, except those who are ill, traveling, pregnant, breastfeedingdiabetic or going through menstrual bleeding are expected to fast as one of the five pillars of Islam. Fasting includes abstaining from food, water, sex, smoking, and other less visible desires or behaviors from dawn until sunset, 16 hours this year in Morocco. It is another story when the sun goes down and fasting turns to feasting as you can see in my foods of Ramadan post. 

Unlike everyone we interact with here and 23% of the worlds population, it was our first time fasting for Ramadan. Our own religious tradition encourages fasting, something we generally do at least one day a month. This is something we've had experience with since we were children, but Ramadan was a different story entirely. 

Day 1-2: Over 120 degrees. Checking the clock every half hour to see if I can have a drink of water yet. Headaches. Dizzy. 
Day 3-15: When fasting monthly, if my day wasn't deliberate, mindful, or prayerful accompanying the fast, I would say oh well, I'll try again next month. During Ramadan, if I wasn't mindful or fell short on goals I'd set, I could say, "I'll try again tomorrow...and tomorrow, and tomorrow." There was something uplifting about the daily struggle. For someone that struggles with personal commitment, it was a new and powerful experience to feel physically weak but otherwise in-control. Also, staying up all night watching movies and sleeping in every day felt like a fun sleepover with my BF every day. 
Day 16-20: Ok. Since when is a month this long? 
Day 21-30: Adapted. It became habit. The easier it was to not eat or drink, the easier it became to lose other motivations, gratitude, patience. It is funny how that works. 

One benefit of having this experience in a Muslim country is the world around us conforming to the challenge. No one eats in public, likely having something to do with it being illegal. Work, shops, government buildings open late and close early. Your expected to wake up at noon and go to sleep at at dawn. Our youth center was open from 10pm-midnight. Friends, neighbors, and strangers invited us almost daily to break fast with them. It was important to them that we were fasting. Eyes lit up; jumping and hugging happened; people called to check on us; women yelled out their windows to tell their neighbors. We wouldn't have had the same experience back in America, and I have a new respect for those in America silently slipping out of the cafeteria at lunch hour or carrying a date to break their fast on the go. 

Despite steady encouragement otherwise, we are non-muslims and are aware of our ability to take these religious practices on and off. We are aware of the hope they give many and the pain and despair they give others living in a world where, literally, "everyone is doing it." This being said, these were our reasons for participating: We fasted because we now live, work, and associate almost exclusively with muslims in a country where these beliefs permeate every aspect of their, and our, lives. We fasted because we want to learn and to understand that force. We wanted to feel empathy for those in the world that don't get to call their hunger fasting, that don't have a feast to meet them at sunset. We fasted because our new friends have become dear to us, and because we want to be with them, whether that is collaborating on a project or the hunger pangs before the sunset. But most of all, we fasted because we enjoy fasting, and we wanted to access spirituality in a new way to draw nearer to the Divine. 

In these aims and more, we got what we put in, well, didn't put in. The month of Ramadan was an experience unlike any we've had before, and we can only reflect on it with the fondness that comes with a shared experience bringing people together and inspiring us to be kinder. 

Funny, but it is the opposite in a lot of cases. Turns out binge eating at night doesn't aid weight loss. 


Amy Lee Scott said...

This is such a beautiful and thoughtful post. I live in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, where 40% of the population is Arab American. Ramadan is a big deal here and I have enjoyed learning more about it (though it did make things hard when I had to teach a class of fasting students :). I came across your blog randomly and am so excited to explore! We just got back from Oahu and loved BYU's campus. So pretty! I am jealous that you guys got to wake up in paradise everyday you were at school.

Niken said...

Hai Julie,
I just found your blog and i really enjoy reading your experience and adventures in Morroco. I'm from Indonesia where the biggest population of muslim in the world live. but it always fascinates me to hear what people from other culture and religion experience about muslim environment and culture. I want to travel to Morroco. it seems like a very interesting place.

Julie Hawke said...

Amy, thank you for your support! We would love to find a community of Arab Americans when we come back to the states. Oahu is a dream. So glad you could visit.

Julie Hawke said...

Niken, look us up if you make it to Morocco! We really hope to go to Indonesia; maybe we can trade places!

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