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!
Revealing Ramadan: Samar Jarrah - “Fasting in a Place Like No Other”
» download [mp3, 4:28]
Trent Gilliss, online editor
One of the more difficult decisions of turning a group of 16 interviews into a limited-run podcast series within 24 hours was deciding who should be the voice to open the first day of Ramadan. Samar Jarrah eloquently captured a sentiment that we heard from many foreign-born Muslims who immigrated to the U.S. — that being a Muslim in America is to practice her faith, to fast, to pray, in a way like she would not have in Kuwait or Jordan or Egypt.
And, she expresses such joy and delight in discovering Islam anew. You can hear it in her tone. She’s still excited, and it’s been 20 years since she moved to the U.S. Hearing her story about rushing back from the Middle East to celebrate Ramadan in her adopted country makes me proud to be an American; but, she also makes me realize how tiring it must be to answer the same questions over and over again — about the veil, Islam as a violent faith, and so on.
We’ll be releasing her complete interview and essay in the coming weeks. Until that time, please enjoy this charming woman and her Ramadan reflection.
Revealing Ramadan [podcast]
So many wonderful Ramadan stories. Only 1 hour of radio. Let them sit + collect dust? No! But what to do… Hmmm… Create a new project: Revealing Ramadan. 1 story per day for the month of Ramadan. And, share your story and images.
Of Veggie Omelets and Cognitive Dissonance
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
I woke up this morning around 4:45 a.m. to eat before my day of fasting. To keep myself from passing out into my leftover veggie omelet from the night before, I turned on the TV. It was about 4:55 a.m. The first thing that confronted me as I scooped food into my mouth was the destruction of Haiti. People standing in mud, broken. Helicopters dropping off bags of food, long lines, the complete absence of buildings. The government has apparently stopped counting the death toll. Without numbers, the reporting on Haiti is going to end up even further down from where I found it: the last report of the hour.
Following the report, the beautiful, dark-haired host smiles with her moist lips and signs off, wishing me a good day. A good day? Are you mad?! I’m ready to intentionally deny myself food to try vainly to understand where I stand in this world. As I’m eating, there are people on the other side of the glass who are traumatized after three (or four?) hurricanes. And the host has the gall to wish me a nice day? Did she even watch the segment that just aired? The cognitive dissonance was a bit much, but there I sat with my leftover veggie omelet, my juicy organic yellow peach, my full glass of milk, and my disgust of the human race, cursing at the screen. I heard Heschel blaring at me, at the newscaster: “Some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
At 5:30 a.m., I went back to bed, to catch a few more hours of sleep before heading off to work. I lay there wishing for a red cape and blue tights and the chance to fly across the continent and do something. But you never see Superman fighting systemic poverty, or downgrading hurricanes by flying in a counter-Coriolis trajectory. He fights Lex Luthor.
It’s the afternoon now. I’m still hungry, but come 7:23 p.m. tonight, I’ll eat. I can. Yet today, my life feels like the platitudes of that news anchor. I saw something horrible, yet I got on with my day.
In conversations I’ve had with friends on this subject, the answer is invariably that it’s my duty to live my life more fully and more appreciatively, that the more tempting response of sullenness isn’t going to help anyone. Instead, bring your earnestness into whatever else you do. Working here is important to me because I can integrate my skills and energy toward something that is, in my view, part of some larger solution. And that’s good. Still, every time my cheeks stick from thirst, they drag my thoughts back to this morning, faithfully as a dog on a leash.