I tried the Muslim fast for the first time this year. I probably failed miserably, but maybe you’d like to read my story and tell me if I did.
First of all, I’m not a Muslim. I’m Chinese by race, and Christian by faith. Some would say I’m the natural enemy of the Malay Muslim.
But I’m not. I grew up in a Malay Muslim community, and never had any problems. They’ve always been good to me. Nowadays, when I read stupid statements from extremist politicians, and racist comments on Facebook, it makes me sad.
I’m not new to fasting either. Every Sunday, I stop eating for about twenty-four hours. Only water. It’s called intermittent fasting, and I’m a big fan of it. I do it for health. It allows the digestive system time to rest, while burning unwanted body fat away.
But I’ve never fasted without drinking. So this year, in conjunction with the first day of Ramadan, and in solidarity with all my Muslim friends — I decided to give it a try.
I knew it would be challenging. A few weeks before Ramadan, I had already been thinking about it. And every time I thought about not drinking, my throat instantly rebelled — I would feel an irresistible urge to swallow.
* * * * * * * *
On Thursday, 18th June 2015, I woke up at 5 AM. I had checked with MYsumber.com the night before, and they said Imsak is at 5:31 AM.
Thinking I had time, I leisurely ate my breakfast of milk, whey protein and an apple. I wanted to eat a can of tuna too, but realized at 5:22 that I wouldn’t finish on time. So I switched to two slices of cheese instead.
Scared of the impending thirst, I drank a big glass of water at 5:28.
And so my fast began at 5:31:00. Growing up, I had become accustomed to hearing the call for dawn prayers on loudspeaker. I strained my ears to listen for it, but there was nothing.
My first challenge came at 5:31:05. The irresistible urge to swallow was back. I think it’s because milk and cheese cause mild irritation in my throat. I tried to hold back, because I thought you’re not supposed to swallow. Thirty seconds in, I gave up. My “fast” was over.
Ashamed, I rushed to check the rule book (Google). Were there any clauses through which I could escape? False alarm. Turns out, fasting actually starts at Subuh, which was at 5:41, not 5:31. I learned later that Imsak is the final preparation time before fasting starts. A “final call” for finishing the morning meal.
I was safe. Relieved, I continued reading about prayer times, and before I knew it — it was already 5:41. And I had the urge to swallow again… Uh-oh.
So I looked up the rule books online again. (Pardon me for constantly Googling, but I never had anyone teach me the fine details of fasting). Turns out that swallowing one’s own saliva isn’t a problem. Don’t know where I got the idea it was forbidden or discouraged. Phew!
At 5:45, I sent out a Facebook message wishing everyone a happy fasting month, and then turned on Instagram. A pretty girl dancing suggestively to K-pop music appeared. I watched the five-second clip twice and went to shower. Then I realized, “Oops! Maybe I shouldn’t have watched that…” But I realized my thoughts hadn’t been anything dirty. I was wondering why she hadn’t worn her usual dancing attire. It was more conservative than usual. Maybe she had toned down for the season…
By 6:35, I had probably swallowed at least twenty-five times: So thankful for the rule allowing it.
I finally got ready, and sat down in front of my computer to write. It’s a habit I’m trying to create: wake up early in the morning and write. Like most of my other attempts at good habits, I’m having mixed results.
* * * * * * * *
At 7:15 I got up and left for work. I was feeling a lot sleepier than usual. But I don’t think it was the fasting. It was probably because I went to bed late, and had to wake up at 5 AM. So I slept on the train to work. It was a good nap.
I started to feel hungry at 9:30. I wasn’t feeling thirsty yet though.
At 10:30, I needed to talk to my engineers. But I was worried about bad breath, so I went to gargle my mouth with water. I tried to make sure I didn’t drink even a drop of it. I spent about 30 seconds gargling, and 3 minutes spitting. My engineers didn’t notice any bad breath. They confirmed my doubts about Imsak and swallowing saliva.
p.s. You’re not allowed to swallow someone else’s saliva.
12 Noon. Halfway through and fasting didn’t feel very bad. I realized I had said a politician was “damn stupid” earlier. Then I felt bad. I went back to Google immediately to check:
Q: “Is his fast spoiled by swearing and reviling?”
A: “That does not invalidate his fast, but it does detract from his reward.”
– Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah li’l-Buhooth al-‘Ilmiyyah wa’l-Ifta (10/332, 333) –
I realized because of air-conditioning, I hadn’t felt thirsty at all. I was optimistic. Just another 7 hours to Iftar…
At 12:42, I said my first true swear word of the day. When I read an email with an unreasonable deadline. “F*** you la,” I said out loud.
* * * * * * * *
As the afternoon progressed I started to feel sleepy. By 3:30, I was almost dozing off. But it was a busy day. I didn’t have time to take a power nap.
Sleepiness breeds creativity. I started responding to a few WhatsApp chat groups. Had to stop myself from writing a few dirty jokes. And a few “f***s” which formed in my mind. At 4:00, I said “tiao”, which is basically the Chinese equivalent of f**k.
I finally took a break from work at 4:20. Work momentum had slowed and I felt a little cold.
At 5:00, I again realized that I hadn’t felt thirsty. But I had been indoors all day. I wondered how the early Muslims in the hot Middle East managed to fast. Respect.
I left the office at 6:15 to meet my friend. He was waiting for me at a cafe.
We were supposed to meet at 6:45, but I got there at 7:15. It didn’t feel right, so I didn’t lie to him that I was “on the way”.
At 7:26, the kind workers at the cafe told me it was time to break fast. I said a silent prayer and sipped a cup of water. They didn’t give me any dates.
p.s. That’s turkey ham, not real ham
I tried to fast the Muslim way for a day. It was easier than expected in some ways, but way harder in others.
I learned that it’s easier to keep food out of my stomach, than it is to keep bad thoughts from entering my mind. It’s easier to not drink water with my lips, than to stop them from saying bad words. And it’s easier to keep my eyes open at work, than to close them when a girl in a mini-skirt walks by.
The temptations of the mind are more difficult than the temptations of the body.
And forgive me if I’m mistaken, but in this world of false shows of religion; hypocrisy — that’s something important to remember too.
I’d like to wish all my Muslim friends a very happy Ramadan.
Pic: “Fanous Ramadan” by Ibrahim.ID