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Fasting for the First Time?

EsinIslam Ramadan Explorer

By Idris Tawfiq

Every Muslim looks forward to the month of Ramadan.

It is a time when all of us renew the seed of faith within and try to help that seed grow.

Little children look forward to Ramadan, even though they have no idea what fasting entails for their parents.

Muslims all over the world fast once more for Allah's sake and so hope to gain eternal blessings. Even those who have not said a prayer all year see Ramadan as a chance to come back to the practice of their faith.

In the midst of all this, then, those who have only just embraced Islam will be feeling slightly daunted by what lies ahead. Will they be able to fast? Will they be able to keep up the fast for the whole month? What will the effect be on their work? Will this be a test of how committed they are as Muslims?

All of these questions, and more, may be going through the minds of those who have only recently embraced Islam. So how can they cope? What are the practical dos and don'ts of fasting?

The very first thing to remember is why we fast at all. Muslims fast during Ramadan for no other reason than they have been commanded to do so by Allah Himself. We read in the Quran:

{O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye that ye may ward off (evil)} (Al-Baqarah 2:183)

There is nothing more disheartening for those who are new to Islam to be told by everyone else how great the month of Ramadan is going to be, when all they are feeling is hunger and thirst.

Remember, too, that all the additional things which take place in Ramadan, like getting up early for the meal before dawn (sahur), getting home in time for breaking the fast (Iftar) or praying Tarawih prayers in the mosque in the evening, are all recommended and praiseworthy things to do, but the most important thing is to fast.

If you manage to fast from the dawn prayer to the sunset prayer you will have achieved something very great and you will have done what Allah asked of you. That will be a great achievement.

Don't get all worked up about trying to do all the extra things which Muslims who have been Muslim all their life are quite used to doing. All of these other things can come with time.

You will grow into these the longer you are Muslim. To begin with, you are asked to fast. So how can you manage to do this, when maybe you are the only one in your family or in your workplace who is doing so? It is so much easier to fast when all those around you are doing the same.

If all the restaurants and cafes are closed during the day, it is not too difficult to avoid going into them. If, on the other hand, your friends and colleagues are eating burgers and drinking fizzy drinks right before your eyes, it is a bit more difficult.

Practical Tips

So what do you do to help yourself to fast?

Well, first of all, make sure that you stock up before the fast begins. It may be that you have not even yet got into the routine of getting up to pray the Fajr prayer.

Your first Ramadan might be just the time to start. Set your alarm for maybe half an hour before Fajr is to be called. When you hear the alarm, don't delay. Get up straight away. If this is a problem, ask your friends to help. Call one another on the telephone to wake each other up.

If you don't even know any Muslims yet, ask your local telephone company to give you a call. The important thing is to make sure you get up.

When I first embraced Islam, I had so many alarm clocks in different places around the house that it was impossible to ignore them. Once I had toured the rooms turning off the alarms, it seemed only natural to stay up.

Eat Quality Food

Once you have got up, then have your sahur meal quickly. Sahur is the pre-fast meal that Muslims take to keep them going throughout the day. It might be a good idea to have this prepared the night before, or at least get all the things ready so that you are not stumbling around looking for them when your body feels you should be fast asleep.

By the way, if you are not used to eating at that time of the day, a heavy meal of chips and steak should not be on the menu. Yoghurt is good. Perhaps some eggs, bread, cheese and milk. After a day or two, you will know what your body needs. It goes without saying that you need to drink something.

In the evening, too, there is no need to go overboard in eating so much that you feel sick, but you should eat enough to help sustain your body for the next day's fast. Enjoy the gift of food and drink which Allah has given you, but don't give in to excess.

Lessons behind Fasting

Remember all those in the world whose fast ends with the call to Prayer, but whose hunger will continue throughout the night and into the next day.

Fasting during Ramadan is not a punishment. It is not meant to be impossible for us. By fasting we learn that the body and its desires do not control us, but that we are in control of them.

In a world given over to excess of every kind, Muslims learn during Ramadan that it is possible to escape from this mindset and to live our lives constantly in the presence of Allah.

Let us remember, too, that we are not perfect. We were not created as angels but as men and women. If it should happen during this first Ramadan that you cannot last on one day without breaking your fast, don't give up altogether. All it means is that you failed on this occasion and that you can try and try again.

There are rules as to how we can make up for this lapse when Ramadan is over, but don't think that because you break the fast this once your whole fast is now a waste of time. Admit your mistake and your weakness and then carry on, for Allah's sake.

Take your fasting one day at a time. For those who smoke, it will be doubly difficult, but maybe this Ramadan is the time to give up such an unhealthy habit anyway.

Each morning ask Allah Almighty to make you strong. During the course of the day, think of those without food or drink or the luxury of cigarettes. Remember, you are not fasting as a whim or as a novelty. You are fasting because Allah has told you to.

And when you hear the call to Maghrib prayer and you end your fast, you will be able to thank Allah for the gift He has given you of being Muslim and for all the other gifts in life which we so often take for granted.

May Allah make you strong. Enjoy the feeling of what it is to be Muslim.

First published in November 2008.


Idris Tawfiq is a British writer who became Muslim a few years ago. Previously, he was head of religious education in different schools in the United Kingdom. Before embracing Islam, he was a Roman Catholic priest. He now lives in Egypt. For more information about him, visit www.idristawfiq.com.

 

EsinIslam Ramadan Team

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