A Day of Living Ramadan-ically
Mitch Hanley, senior producer

Ever since we started interviewing Muslims for our Revealing Ramadan program and podcast, I’ve been curious about what it would take to fast from dawn to dusk. The clarity that one attains while fasting, which many guests had talked about, sounded intriguing to me.

Feruze Faison mentioned a Turkish doctor who theorized that, when you eat, all of the blood rushes to the stomach to aid in digestion, so when you fast, the blood can be used by other parts of the body, e.g. the brain. I’ve never fasted before and was excited to try. But how does one prepare for it?

I’ve been told what the requirements were for Ramadan: you get up in the morning before the sun rises and eat a meal. You go back to bed and get up when you normally would, or later, if possible. Your day consists of no food or water until the sun goes down, at which point you break your fast (often with a date; I had none) with what is called an iftar dinner.

Since I was doing this on my own, I was a little worried that I would eat the wrong things at my iftar. Hilarie Clement talked about her first Ramadan when she was in Dubai — breaking the fast with greasy pizza resulted in a night of vomiting. I wasn’t sure I was ready, but it was this past Tuesday night that I realized I only had until Saturday to attempt my day-long Ramadan fast. But first I had a bit of research to do.

I checked the local news weather page to find out when the sun was rising: around 6:30. Ok, so I set my alarm for 5:30 with the fallback plan of turning it off and going back to sleep, should I lose interest while drowsy. Did we have any food in the house for breaking the fast? Well, no, but that could be dealt with later. At this point it is 11:30 pm and I decide I should get some sleep. I would be attempting this fast with less-than-adequate amount of rest — brilliant planning.

5:30 AM: my phone alarm wakes me up and l leap out of bed leaving my wife and dog sound asleep. A quick check of the fridge for protein results in cream cheese toast and several scoops of vanilla yogurt. Water: drank two large glasses, which is more than I drink on a normal day (I know, bad!). Fully invested in my experiment, I updated Twitter to start off the day:

5:53 AM Attempting a day-long fast today: just got up to eat protein-rich breakfast with large amount of water.

I returned to bed to my wife, half-awake, asking, “Why are you fasting, are you converting?” No, not converting, just curious, I guess. I got up at my normal time and went to work. What follows are my tweets (updates) for the remainder of the day.

9:26 AM last tweet made no sense, so let me try again: I’m attempting a sun-up to sun-down fast, so I got up before dawn & had breakfast & lunch.

11:34 AM starting to get hungry, hell, I AM hungry & Wednesday is “church lunch” day where the church next door serves a fab hot lunch.

12:44 PM hard to remember that I can’t go get some water when I’m thirsty. This experiment makes me think about those w/o H20 everyday.

1:17 PM In denying myself food, I’m realizing how easily I take it for granted, yes, even the food court fare. Never imagined that.

3:31 PM there’s saltwater taffy in the kitchen @ MPR, in case you wanted some. I observed that they are yummy vanilla & brown flavors.

5:53 PM In Minneapolis the sun sets at or around 7:20pm these days, in case you were curious. I was merely curious, so I checked.

At this point I knew I had no “real” food in the house and my wife wanted to watch ”her shows”: So You Think You Can Dance and Glee, so I made the decision to take myself out to dinner down the street and run an errand to Target.

7:06 PM Multi-packs of Little Debbie snack cakes are on sale for $1.25 at Target, if you’re curious. I’m just sharing my observation.

Killing time on Lake Street, watching the sun go down in my rear-view mirror, I snapped a photo before the sun plummeted into the horizon.

7:12 PM Watching the sun kiss the horizon and Carly Simon’s “Anticipation” comes on the radio—I’m not kidding!

7:25 PM Breaking the fast at a great local spot—The Craftsman. The day of fasting was incredible. If you haven’t tried it you should!

I sat at the bar and a glass of water was placed before me. I looked at it with amazement, still holding off, as if the safety were still on. I took a drink and it was intensely thick, it was a meal in itself. The water had substance, it was savory, it felt as though I could go back out the door and fast for another couple of hours. Eventually my meal arrived and afterward I stopped by Dairy Queen for dessert, went home, and collapsed in my bed.

For a guy who doesn’t really have any regular rituals and feels a bit at a loss for it, the entire day was full of wonder, but also a bit of regret. The saying about absence making the heart grow fonder came to life for me. I realized that there is food constantly around me, whether it be the sweets around the office or the tomatoes that I am able to freely pluck from the garden out back, there is nothing special about the grazing or harvest. I am hungry (or not) and I put something in my mouth. Done. What does this mean? How am I honoring my body with what I am putting into it, and how am I honoring the craft and creation of the food or water? And with a day-long absence of food, I really became aware of just how thoughtless my food intake has been. I also am prepared to grant that a lot of aspects of life might be done thoughtlessly. What would it take for me to realize the richness of those aspects?

I did not perform the prayers throughout the day and my iftar did include a beer, so it was not really a day of adhering to all of the requirements of the faithful. But it was a truly eye-opening experience and one that I hope to do again next Ramadan. Insha’allah, I won’t be doing it alone!

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