I decided to observe Ramadan. Kind of. OK, here’s what’s up.
Ramadan is a serious part of the Islamic calendar and the Islamic faith. Muslims all over the world take it very seriously. The first time I really came to know anything at all about Ramadan, beyond just knowing the name, was last summer while I was in Tanzania. A large portion of the population in Dar-es-Salaam, where I stayed for about a month, is Muslim and I got there soon after Ramadan began so I ended up learning a little bit about it. I am no expert so I’m not going to try to explain it except to say that my understanding of Ramadan is that it is a month of daily fasting, from sunrise to sunset. Observers of the fast get up and pray, eat breakfast by about 4:30 am, pray at 4 other set times throughout the day, break the fast at sunset, sometimes in a celebratory type of way, then pray once more for the day. This month of fasting ends in a “Christmas-like” celebration called Eid al Fitr (Idul Fitri in Indonesia). I say Christmas-like because it’s all about gifts for the kids and lots of food and travelling back to your village and fellowship with friends and family.
My understanding is that the purpose of Ramadan is to focus the attention on drawing closer to God and on being a better person by following the teachings of Islam more closely. I sincerely apologise if I have misrepresented Ramadan in any way – I stand open to correction!
One day about a month before Ramadan was due to start in Indonesia, I was sitting around working as usual when the Holy Spirit just dropped it in my spirit – fast for the month of Ramadan. I answered back, “Say what, now?”
Please understand. I’ve fasted before, always when I felt that the Holy Spirit was leading me in that direction or when I was really struggling with something that I needed full and sustained focus on God to resolve or when I was faced with a big decision that I really needed to hear from God about. I do not fast because I feel like it. I do not fast for Easter (I’ve tried – I always fall off the wagon unless it’s a Spirit-lead decision). And I do not fast because everybody else is doing it. I only ever fast because I’m seeking answers or because I’ve been instructed by God to do so.
However, the longest I’ve ever fasted for is 3 days. My usual approach is to have a cup of tea in the morning, fast all day except for water (I drink as much of that as I want to), then eat dinner at around 6 pm. I’ve never done a complete fast where I eat nothing at all for the duration.
I say all this to make the point that I do not take on a month-long fast lightly and I didn’t approach this idea of fasting for Ramadan as a lark. I never take God-given instructions as a lark. I took the time to mentally prepare. I was ready for it to be difficult. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard, even though it wasn’t easy on some days.
I didn’t wake up and eat at 4:30 am like Muslims do; neither did I just make do with a cup of tea as I usually do when I’m doing my 3-day fast. I decided that since breakfast was allowed, I would still eat when I got up (usually fruits and a peanut butter sandwich) and I definitely still had my coffee, which I would sip on from about 9 am until about 11:30 am. After that, it was water for the rest of the day until it was time to break the fast just before 6 pm. Then I would eat as much as my belly could handle and repeat this cycle the next day. So in effect, I was only skipping lunch, the same as Muslims do during Ramadan, except I had my breakfast hours later than they do, making the skipping of lunch much easier for me than for them.
Since there were several things I felt I needed to focus on with God, I made up a Ramadan prayer roster for myself – I decided what I would be praying about in a focussed way for each week of the fast. In addition to my usual morning devotion time, I stopped about 4 or 5 times each day during Ramadan and read a Bible verse that was related to my prayer focus for that day, writing my reflections on the verses as prayers to God. It was like I was doing a day-long Bible study. This part of my fast was guided by Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough by Elmer Towns, which my aunt put me on to over a year ago.
For a couple of reasons, I’m so happy that I fasted for Ramadan. First, I really liked stopping what I was doing several times throughout the day to have a proper conversation with God, not just a quick word from time to time like I usually do. Second, the focussed reflection on God’s word really helped settle my thoughts on those issues that I had on my prayer roster. And third and most surprising, the observance of Ramadan broadened the relationship between me and the people I live with.
Unknown to me before Ramadan started, they had all decided to fast as well, not for spiritual reasons, but for cultural ones. They felt it was respectful to practice what our students and local volunteers were practicing. By the time buka puasa (breaking the fast) rolled around every evening, we were all ravenous and fell on the food like starving wolves. Then we’d sit around and chat about our pre-Indonesia lives and experiences and just share little pieces of ourselves that we normally wouldn’t because we never otherwise have a meal together. We didn’t become BFF’s (best friends forever, for the oldies among you) but we certainly learned more about each other, which I think is always a good thing.
To keep things perfectly honest, there were a couple of days when I cheated and had a spoonful of peanut butter (I had to teach for 2 hours straight; I needed the energy boost) or a chocolate bar, or some biscuits but I didn’t beat myself up too badly about it. Also, I didn’t fast for the last 10 days of Ramadan, so I did two-thirds of Ramadan (it lasts for 30 days). For me, the point wasn’t to have a perfect abstinence record; the point was to draw closer to God and I think I did that.
Today was the last day of Ramadan. And I’m so glad that I can say my observance of it, in my own way, drew me closer to God and made me a better person through the things He taught me during the fast.
But as for me, how wonderful to be near God, to find protection with the Sovereign Lord and to proclaim all that he has done! Psalm 73:28 (GNT)