It’s the month of Ramadan right now during which Muslims fast during the light hours of the day.
It has been very interesting to observe the fast month and to talk to some of my friends who are Muslim. Most of them are very devoted and go to the mosque to pray multiple times a day. This time of year is very important to them. They refrain from food and drink throughout the day and then around 7:15 pm (when it is dark here) they break the fast (in different ways) and then share a meal with family and friends. It actually sounds quite nice. The idea of refraining from something to focus more on God sounds great. And the fact that it is something that is shared with family and friends is appealing as well.
However, as with Christian fasting, I always wonder how many people fast because it is ‘the thing to do’ and how many people are really spending extra time thinking, praying and reading. I think there is a lot of social pressure here, especially when it comes to what is expected of you while fasting. You either need to cook food for a large number of people or you have to bring gifts to the person cooking for you. I know it is about good gesture and respect, and I can appreciate that. However, when someone has little income but is expected to buy an elaborate dress for his granny, it seems strange to me. Social pressure is huge. Expectations from relatives are huge. Maybe this is a part of the sacrifice.
Another thing that surprised me is that although no one eats or drinks during the day, some people actually end up eating more in a 24 hour than they would normally. I know a family who ends up cooking twice as much in the evening, and so, spending twice as much money on food during the fast month. I know they can’t afford this. I don’t understand why this is necessary and to me it seems to contradict the whole idea of a fast. Maybe that’s just me.
It’s also interesting to think about how the fast could be considered to be easier or more difficult depending on where you are in the world. I think in Sierra Leone people can be thankful that they only have to fast for 12 hours. The sun rises at 6:45 am and sets just after 7 pm. In Iceland, the longest fast was on August 1st and lasted 17 hours and 59 minutes. That’s incredible. To be honest, I am not sure I could even do the 12 hours. Not eating, fine, but not drinking anything would be difficult and I’m sure I’d pass out.
I always wonder what kind of impact Ramadan has on the health of children. Not really in terms of fasting, because the children do not fast for the most part, but more in terms of caregivers not bringing them to the hospital, caregivers not wanting to donate blood because they are fasting, etc. I wonder how our patient numbers will compare to the previous month, bearing in mind that the rains are also at the worst this month – meaning, more illness, but more difficulty in patients reaching the hospital.
It has been insightful to experience Ramadan from the sidelines and I’m sure I’ll have many more conversations with my friends here about this. In honesty, it has been a good reminder to me to make sure I spend time focusing on God, whether fasting or not fasting.