A blog written by Amina, Subeyda and Maryam (Assistant Editors of InSPIre the Mind)
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Ramadan is a special time for Muslims all around the world and comes only once a year, taking place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, is when Muslims across the globe abstain from eating or drinking (yes, including no water!) from dawn to sunset for the entire month, otherwise known as fasting.
But there is so much more to Ramadan than just refraining from food and drink. Most importantly, Ramadan is a month of reflection, focusing on our faith, giving to charity, connecting with our community, and exploring how we, as individuals, can improve ourselves, despite the challenges or struggles we may be facing in the months leading up to Ramadan. One of the most beautiful aspects of Ramadan is that everyone’s reflections and learning from this month are unique and personal to them.
As Ramadan has come to an end, Subeyda, Maryam and I (Assistant Editors for InSPIre the Mind) would like to provide a personal insight on this blessed, joyful and spiritually uplifting month, explore research on mental health and Ramadan, and lastly, share our own reflections with you. We might make you a little hungry by the end of this blog!
What does a typical day of fasting look like?
Usually, a typical day of fasting during Ramadan consists of waking up very early in the morning, a time known as Suhoor: the meal before beginning your fast. Muslims would observe the morning prayer after Suhoor; this prayer is called Fajr, which is Arabic for dawn. This is also when fasting begins, and throughout the day, daily activities would consist of the five daily prayers and reading Quran (holy book for Muslims). During the night, Muslims usually attend the mosque for a night-time prayer called Tarawih.
The beginning of Ramadan is always the most difficult period as your body is slowly feeling the physical effects of not eating or drinking during the day. However, fasting gradually becomes easier.
“The most challenging and rewarding part of Ramadan, in my opinion, is pushing yourself to be a better individual, both physically and mentally” — Subeyda
Mental Health and Ramadan
The unique feeling of contentment throughout the month of Ramadan makes it incredibly interesting to explore research on mental health during this month. In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) introduced spirituality, religiousness, and personal beliefs as components of quality of life. One recent study found a significant reduction in stress levels after Ramadan in those that were fasting. Similarly, severe depression, anxiety, insomnia, and blood pressure were all found to have improved from Ramadan fasting amongst an elderly population in Egypt, Mansoura.
Fasting in general has also been linked to increasing mood as research by the Journal of Nutrition Health & Aging whereby after 3 months of intermittent fasting participants had reported improved moods and decreased tension, anger and confusion.
Furthermore, fasting may also improve microbiota disturbances and intestinal inflammation through decreased inflammatory foods intake and decreased blood flow dedicated to digestion.
These findings show that there is a potential health benefit to fasting, but also that Ramadan does not only have a spiritual significance, but can also result in a positive change in overall health as well!
What does Ramadan mean to me?
Subeyda: Ramadan is a very special month for me as it allows me to disconnect from the world and solely focus on my spiritual wellbeing. Ramadan is something I have always observed from a young age, as I understood the importance of this month worldwide for Muslims.
This month is a time of reflection for me as it encourages me to look internally, self-reflect and become a better person. It also makes me more grateful for the everyday necessities and resources, which we may often take for granted, such as having easy access to clean food and water.
I spent my last ten nights of Ramadan in Saudia Arabia, which was such a beautiful experience for me, as Muslims worldwide travel to Saudi Arabia for Umrah, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. I had the opportunity to meet a range of people from different cultures and backgrounds, which was amazing!
Coming Together during Ramadan
Amina: One of the special moments for me during this Ramadan was being able to share our meals and food prepared with family, friends and especially with my neighbors in my community, as we all break our fast together. Here in the UK during this month, mosques in local communities would hold Iftar gatherings whereby members of the community (anyone is welcome!) could come together and enjoy eating together.
Sharing these moments with everyone allowed me to appreciate these small moments that we all share together and reminded me of the importance of being compassionate and kind towards each other. This is one of the beautiful and remarkable essences of Ramadan and it brings so much joy and unity.
Culture and celebration during Ramadan
Maryam: Ramadan, despite being a difficult (yet wholesome!) month, has always been a unique way to connect with my culture and heritage. My family are from Cairo, Egypt, which is an Islamic country, and as a child, I had the opportunity to experience Ramadan in Egypt, which was wildly different from observing Ramadan here in London.
When celebrating Ramadan in the UK, I find myself missing the vibrant and lively atmosphere in Cairo. The streets come alive at night with colourful Ramadan lanterns (known as Fawanees, sg. Fanoos), enchanting fairy lights, and sounds of laughter and people enjoying each other’s company. We would visit family and friends across the country to share Iftar and joy, as well as our plans and hopes for the month.
Luckily, I still get my fill of Ramadan in Egypt indirectly whenever I visit my grandma’s house. We would routinely watch Arabic soap operas, specials during Ramadan, and enjoy all of the interludes of Ramadan and Eid songs.
For the first time, I was able to share my Ramadan experience this year with my husband, which made waking up super early for Suhoor, consistently fasting and sticking to my five prayers a day a lot easier. Being on this journey together with my husband reminded me of the significance of Ramadan and how we can always strive to be better in ourselves and how we present to the world.
Ramadan teaches us that we can simply enjoy the small things in life, as they matter the most, and to always try to be a kinder and more giving person to those less fortunate in the world. Ramadan helps to strengthen our faith and to understand the importance of being compassionate towards one another. Until next time, we are all truly grateful to have experienced this beautiful month and had the opportunity to share our stories with you.