Truth be told, the holy month of Ramadan has always ignited a deep sense of curiosity among non-Muslims everywhere. During the fasting month, we wondered about many things like "how early does one need to wake up for sahur?" and "how is it like abstaining from food and water for a day, let alone a month?".
With that in mind, my co-founder Elaine and I decided to step into the shoes of our Muslim friends and challenged ourselves to fast for the first time this Ramadan. While it's only for a day, it's one that is filled with challenges, temptations and trying times, which we learned greatly from. If there's one thing we learned from fasting this Ramadan, it starts with this one...
1. Waking up early is harder than it looks
Elaine preparing sahur in the wee hours of the morning
I know my Muslim friends have to wake up early for sahur, but I never knew it'd be as early as 4.30AM! In Malaysia and Singapore, the Fajr (the first of five daily prayers) begins around 5.30AM. Hence, you need to wake up an hour earlier to prepare for sahur. Since I was determined not to miss it (or risk unleashing a hangry monster in the office), I forced myself to get out of bed and prepared oatmeals with berries, bananas and Medjool dates. Elaine had her sahur with black pepper chicken.
Elaine's cat, Mochi keeping her (and the black pepper chicken) company
Around noon, Elaine said to me "Remember to nap if you're tired. I was so sleepy yesterday!". I stubbornly thought, "Nah, I should be fine. I don't need afternoon naps". Boy, was I wrong!
A few hours later, I remember nodding off while writing an article! If you ask me now, it's admirable how my Muslim colleagues can wake up early and still have the energy to go through an entire day of work. At the same time, it also encourages me to be more understanding when my colleagues are feeling more tired than usual.
2. It feels lonely to sahur alone
Moments before I tried Medjool dates for the first time and loved it!
Since my family is non-Muslim, it felt lonely to sahur on my own while everyone was asleep. The loneliness kicked in when I was so thrilled by how sweet Medjool dates tasted and had nobody to share the excitement with. That time, I thought about our Muslim brothers and sisters who are living far away from their family, studying abroad or have loved ones who have passed on.
That moment made me understand why my Muslim friends enjoy having sahur or iftar with their family and friends (and even welcoming me to join them). It was then I realised that sahur and iftar are always better when you have someone to share it with.
3. Fasting goes beyond abstaining from food and water
While fasting, Elaine browsed for pizza options online. The temptation is real!
The temptation is one of the things we have to deal with during Ramadan, and that moment couldn't more true than seeing Elaine browsing for pizza options online. Even pineapple chunks on pizza sound like the best idea ever!
For me, I had to deal with food cravings that stemmed from habit. Strange right? Like most busy millennials, I'd always start my day with iced coffee. Even though I wasn't feeling thirsty in the morning (yet), I craved for it because I'd normally have them while working. I had to stop myself a few times and asked whether the things I wanted or needed were driven by habit or temptation.
While many associate eating and drinking to be a huge part of fasting, Elaine found it harder to abstain from negative thoughts and actions. "When you’re faced with difficult problems or when you just feel frustrated, it was definitely tough to tell yourself to take a step back and exercise patience," she reflected.
4. The support from our Muslim friends warm our hearts
Khaliesah sharing fasting advice and encouragement with Elaine
A few days before our fasting challenge, you should have seen the number of fasting advice and sahur tips that Elaine and I received. My colleague Iyesha forwarded an article on what to avoid for sahur (I had to say no to my favourite things: rice and salty food!). She also jokingly said that I'll be dealing with a serious case of bad breath (it's true though!). Besides that, it was lovely seeing our co-founders Suzana and Melvin accompanying Elaine to shop for her first sahur meal!
5. It's truly fine to eat in front of someone who's fasting
A funny situation happened when my Muslim friend (who wasn't fasting that day because it was that time of the month) ate a chocolate bar in front of me. When she caught me looking, she apologised so many times that I laughed. It was a funny role reversal when a Muslim apologises to a non-Muslim who's fasting. It reminded me of many moments when I drank water in front of my Muslim friends or accidentally invited them for lunch. While they'd always say "It's okay", we can't help but feeling guilty right after.
6. We learned the true meaning of thirst
Me trying not to think about drinking a mug of refreshing cold water
Before the fasting challenge, the last time I felt very thirsty was when I survived a marathon without a sip of water. Not being able to drink from sunrise to sunset? Elaine and I have never felt so thirsty in our entire lives! I was feeling so parched that I have a bad sore throat right after.
In times like these, I thought about my Muslim friends who have to meet or speak to people on a daily basis. For example, call centre operators, sales executives, waiters, teachers and more. At the time of writing, I still don't know how they managed to do it, and my respect for them increased tenfold.
7. Hangry moments are real
Since I was parched and tired as the hours progressed, there were a few moments in the day that tested my patience. Surviving a hangry moment was more difficult than abstaining from food and water. At work, I raised my voice a couple of times and got annoyed when things didn't turn out well at work. It was then I understood why Ramadan is also a time to practice patience and say kind words when caught in a difficult situation. Besides that, it also made me reflect on how I treated others during these trying times.
8. We appreciate and understand Ramadan even more
Reunited with my dates at Pullman KLCC's Destinasi Rasa Ramadan buffet
To be honest, I never truly understand the meaning of Ramadan until I fasted. Although it was only for a day, I thought about people who don't have access to food and water, work under the hot sun all day, or less fortunate than others. It's a luxury to have food and water, and I always take it for granted because I can buy mineral water from the convenience store or enjoy my Mom's home-cooked meal every day. For Elaine, it made her aware of how lucky we are in our current lives to get our meals and drinks when we need them.
Elaine spent her iftar with Suzana and the rest of the Singapore team
9. You can learn a lot from Ramadan, even if you're not a Muslim
While Ramadan has its deep spiritual purpose, we learned so much from fasting for a day. Aside from having our self-discipline tested while abstaining from food and water, it also taught Elaine and I the importance of having good intentions during difficult and stressful times. While working tirelessly and surviving a hot day, how do we treat others around us? Do we speak kindly to others when things didn't go our way? Besides pushing us to think deeply about our actions, Ramadan is also a true test of character.
Elaine and I have definitely learned a lot from this fasting challenge. It may only be for a day, but we discovered important lessons that will stay with us for a long time. From appreciating Ramadan in a new light to understanding the true intentions behind fasting, there's so much that non-Muslims can learn from this holy month too. From all of us at HHWT, we want to wish you a happy and blessed Ramadan!