Ramadan is an act of worship that is part of being Muslim. The main purpose of fasting in Ramadan is to increase our awareness of and connection to God minute by minute and day after day.  But there are additional benefits of the month-long fast, such as increased self-discipline, patience, compassion, gratitude, and brotherhood, as well as documented medical benefits.  It is a time of spiritual growth, mental focus, physical training, and social solidarity.  I strongly advise everyone to try fasting, even for a single day, to reap some of its benefits.  This article will help you get started.

Rules of fasting
The procedure for fasting in Ramadan is easy: nothing should pass the throat from the crack of dawn (approximately 3:15 am) until the sun has set. Therefore, no foods or drinks are allowed. Some people mistakenly believe that if they could drink water, it would be easier; however, a total fast – including from water – is what gives the digestive system a rest.  Drinking water will make you feel more hungry.

In addition to abstaining from food and drinks, Muslims are required to abstain from sexual intimacy, smoking, chewing gum, and general bad behavior such as shouting in anger. But one can brush his teeth, rinse his mouth or gargle.

Advice for fasting
It is recommended to cut down on caffeine before fasting, since an abrupt interruption can result in headaches. The night before the fast, avoid fatty, spicy and salty foods.  Before you start your fast, wake up at 2:30 and have a light but nutritious meal with plenty of liquids.  The best foods are nuts, beans, fresh or dried fruits, cheese, eggs and of course, plenty of water.  Some people like a cup of tea.

Avoid lengthy exposure to the sun in the early morning as well as strenuous exercise early in the day.  You may feel intensely hungry mid-day but the feeling will pass after a few minutes. Don’t worry if you feel a bit lightheaded or lethargic.  These symptoms are more marked in the first two or three days of the fast until your body is accustomed to the change in eating patterns.  Take it easy and engage in quiet activities or take a nap when you feel tired. Once the sun has set, it is recommended to break fast with some cool (not cold) water and dates (or something else sweet), which will refresh you rather quickly.  Wait a few minutes before having your meal and take your time – if you eat too fast you may get a stomach ache.
Fasting this way for several days has many health benefits; in addition, you will feel a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment on completing a feat of endurance, will-power and focus.  You will be ready to achieve any goal you set your mind to!

For greater achievement
While beneficial for the body, fasting in Ramadan is a way to reconnect with our Creator and reevaluate our lives.  If you want to get the most out of fasting, you should realize that it has three levels and strive to achieve them all.  The first level is to abstain from the things that break one’s fast, such as eating or drinking. The second level is to abstain from all sins, such as anger and gossip. The third level involves keeping one’s mind on wholesome, spiritually uplifting thoughts and deeds. To experience the third level and get the maximum benefit from your fast, follow these tips:

1.    Read the holy Quran since, after all, fasting in Ramadan is in celebration of the revelation of this Holy Scripture:  “The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Quran, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it” (Quran 2:185). Many Muslims will try to read the entire Quran at least once during Ramadan.  The best time to read is before or after the pre-dawn meal, but you could read it at any time.

2.    Engage in prayer and supplication often, since Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said, “Allah is angry with those who do not ask Him for anything”  (Tirmidhi).  Making supplications while fasting is highly recommended.  The Prophet (PBUH) said, “The supplications of three persons are not rejected: the supplication of a fasting person (especially) at the time of breaking fast, of a just ruler, and of a person who is wronged… Allah causes their supplications to rise above the clouds, and gates of heaven are opened for them, and God says, ‘By My Might, I will help you, even if it be after a while'” (Tirmidhi).

3.    Plan to give in more charity during your fast. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “The best charity is that given in Ramadan” (Tirmidhi). The Prophet (saws) was the most generous of people. He used to be the most generous in Ramadan when he would meet with angel Gabriel and review the Quran with him. Angel Gabriel would meet with the Prophet every night in Ramadan to teach him the Quran.  Ibn Abbaas, the Prophet’s cousin, said that when he met with Gabriel, he was “more generous than the wind that brings heavy rain” and when asked for anything at all, he would give it. Remember that charity can be financial and non-financial. Feeding a poor person, animals, birds, preparing a small dish to share with a neighbor, smiling to people, or teaching people beneficial knowledge are all forms of charity. Prophet Muhammad (p) said, “Every good deed is charity” (Muslim).

By following the spiritual and social guidelines of Ramadan, you will experience much more than a physical detox or a chance to reflect on your usual routine.  You will understand why Muslims look forward to the month, feel sad when it passes, and greet each other in Eid with the prayer, “May you live to see it again!!”

Courtesy of the TIES Center, whose mission is to empower Kuwait’s expats through social and educational services that promote a positive and productive role in society, and to facilitate opportunities for intra- and interfaith interactions that promote social solidarity. For more information, please call 25231015/6 or e-mail: info@tiescenter.net.

By Teresa Lesher