The Annual Ritual of Ramadan
Eid Mubarak! Is the traditional greeting at the end of each Ramadan period. It’s a simple translate, Eid meaning “feast” or “festival” and Mubarak meaning something more close to “Blessed”. So, Eid Mubarak, Ramadan Mubarak, and Jummah Mubarak (where Jummah is the holy day of the week, Friday) all make reasonable sense.
Having just finished Ramadan 2021, I wanted to write a little bit about the experience, specifically the difficulty of the experience, because the difficulty has to be experienced to be understood. So, buckle up; this is one girl’s journey through this year’s Ramadan.
Let’s levelset. Most non-Muslims know that Ramadan is Islam’s month long period of fasting. So, it gets equated to the Lenten period that Christians keep. Fair enough.
Non-muslims who are a little more well-read on the topic know that the fast is both strict and obligatory. We don’t eat OR drink anything from sunrise to sundown, and that failing to keep Ramadan is ….. well, let’s just say we expect Allah to hold us accountable for failure in some less than pleasant way, and leave it at that.
Now, let’s get on to the experience of Ramadan itself. What I want to talk about is the more detailed stuff that non-Muslims don’t know about, because it’s, well, experiential. Just saying “fast from X to Y” ignores what a hard walk this can be.
Let’s start in the morning.
The pious Muslim will set their alarm at about, oh, 45–60 minutes before the first proscribed prayer of the day. known as Fajr. Why 45–60 minutes? Well, there lots to do.
First, the aforementioned pious Muslim, on wakening, will make their water ablution and pray a prayer known as Tahajjud. It is a belief of Islam that the best time to offer extra prayers and supplications is in the latter third of the night, and this is the time. Tahajjud takes between 5 and 15 minutes to pray, depending on how we pray it, but time is short in the morning during Ramadan, so in my home, we keep it to a minimum. Figure 5 to 7 minutes.
Why is time short? Well, let’s make this real. I live in Texas. The morning prayer, known as Fajr, must be prayed at around 5:20 in the morning; that means I set my alarm at about 4:30 AM, and I am not happy when it goes off. In the 50 minutes I have before the the morning prayer, I am going to wash, pray Tahajjud, prepare breakfast, eat it, and make the morning prayer, which is actually an hour before sunrise. So, saying “the fast is from sunrise to sunset” leaves out a lot of detail, and its not exactly accurate.
Now, about breakfast, which we call suhoor. Keep in mind that you’re not going to eat or drink again for between 14 and 15 hours. So, there’s a couple of must-dos that you must do. :-)
This is not your normal breakfast, First off, if you try and do a keto breakfast only, you’ll be a wreck by early afternoon because of crashing blood sugar, so you better include some carb and sugar sources. Traditionally these are figs and dates, but I prefer bananas and oatmeal.
Secondly, you need to get a lot of fluid in you. Best choices here are fruit juices and water, and a lot of them; you’re going to get thirsty well before you get hungry. Now, add in some eggs and maybe some breakfast meats for protein, and you’re ready for your morning prayers. Because once those are prayed, you’re done. No food or water for a long time.
It takes between 5 and 12 minutes or so to pray the morning prayers, and it is quite common here to spend additional time in prayer or reading Quran before the actual sunrise roughly an hour later.
- During the first few days of Ramadan, it’s not unusual for the person fasting to have headaches. These usually subside after the first three to five days, but they’re annoying. I get the kind that center in right behind the eyes, and I’ve been known to include an Aleve in my breakfast in anticipation.
- Personally, I usually end up taking a morning nap, generally in the 10–11 AM timeframe. I assume that this is my “ lack-of-sleep” nap; more on the sleep deprivation part of Ramadan later in the article. Anyway, I usually nap here for about 30–45 minutes, depending on what business calls I have that morning.
At about 1:20 or so, its time for the noon prayer, which we call Dhuhr. The obligatory prayers will take about 8–10 minutes; if you do the optional prayers also that are part of this observation also, you pray for about a half hour. I always do them all, unless the business day interferes.
About 3, when more serious thirst and hunger kicks in, I usually end up taking an afternoon nap also. I always think of this as my “crashing blood sugar nap”, but who knows what’s going on metabolically, eh? Anyway, it’s about a 30–45 minute nap. But that’s just me, others blow through this period without a problem.
At roughly 5PM or so is the afternoon prayer we call Asr. It is mercifully short (about 8–10 minutes) which is nice because if I have had to drag myself out of nap-land to pray it, I am teetering on my feet a bit, which is very unpleasant.
At about 8PM, FINALLY, we get to every fasting Muslims favorite prayer of the Ramadan period; the sunset prayer we all Maghrib. It is actually prayed one minute after sundown, so at T-minus-one-minute we reach for fluid refreshment, be it fruit juice or my poison of choice, which is some sort of chocolate meal shake. Drinking something during this 1 minute period has a practical purpose; once hunger is (partially) offset, it’s possible to concentrate on your prayers instead of obsessing over the dinner you’re want so badly.
6–12 minutes later, it’s time for the evening meal we call iftar. In my house, we strive for tasty and healthy balanced meal of roughly normal quantity, which is really all you need. Besides, you are eating late; and eating late is never a great idea.
At any rate, after eating, there’s about 45 minutes before the last prayers of the day, known as Isha. This is a wonderful time for family to reflect on the day, and read some Quran together. You’re physically tired from the day, and from fasting, and frankly, you need to chill out a bit.
In Texas, Isha is going to be about 9:15 PM, takes 8–12 minutes to pray, then followed by a special set of Ramadan prayers called Tarawih, and finally by a night prayer called Witr. The length of these prayers is variable, but again, we keep them on the short side for reasons that will soon become obvious. So, if we’re planned properly, we’re ready to turn in around 10PM.
This brings us to the sleep deprivation part of Ramadan. If you’re been tracking the clock during this article, you know that my morning alarm is going off at around 4:30, and we’re going to bed at 10. That’s six and a half hours of sleep, which is simply not enough; hence the naps during the day. But, folks, you’re on this schedule for an entire month, and it wears on you. Badly. Alarm clocks are often victimized during this period, as sleep deprived Muslims turn violent. :-)
Also, the lateness of the meal coupled with the fasting, for some, results in messed up sleep patterns. It is not unusual at all for me to be wide awake at 2AM, staring at the ceiling, knowing I’m screwed if I actually have to use my brain for anything during the next 24 hours.
But wait! There’s more! The last 10 days of Ramadan contain the holiest day of the year for Muslims, the day called Layat-al-Qadr, and because we do not know specifically which of those 10 days is most holy (don’t ask — this is a very long digression I prefer not to engage in) pious Muslims increase their prayer times even more, almost always at night, and almost always by jacking up that alarm clock another hour or so to 3:30 AM, taking sleep deprivation to new heights.
After reading all that, a reasonable person asks, “Well, why?” Simply put, in Islam, Ramadan is an obligatory period that focuses our attention on our spiritual lives in order to reflect on how we can improve. It is also a period where our annual charity obligations (2.5% of net worth after subtracting certain living expenses) are due, and when we beg Allah for forgiveness of our sins.
That’s why. Asalaam Alaikum to all.