Ramadan is a time for sharing and giving, abstinence, the reaffirmation of faith and the renewal of purpose.
You may find in this month a drive of numerous charitable initiatives for the disadvantaged, a dramatic rise in Vimto sales, and lavish preparations of differing yet delicious cuisines for the dusk meal in Muslim households around the world. In this very season of warmth and community, however, the fasts can also be a gruelling time for students who whilst observing the month, often away from home, are simultaneously aspiring to ace their examinations.
The impact of fasting cannot be truly appreciated without prior acknowledgement of the profound food culture that our society is embedded in. The length of time and the degree of effort we expend, day and night, thinking of and mulling over food is quite phenomenal. Oftentimes, we find that we build our days around our meals, as though we no longer eat to live, but we now live to eat.
In this month, all Muslims strive to wean out nefarious traits like avarice, arrogance and contempt and attempt to incorporate virtuous attributes such as humility, honesty and unity.
Undoubtedly, a degree of diet consciousness is mandatory for a well-balanced lifestyle, but it is difficult to ignore the bittersweet and slightly dystopian nature of how it is common culture for entire social events to be grounded in the frivolous consumption of food whilst billions around the world, including a countless number of impoverished people in our home towns and cities, are struggling to make ends meet. Fasting facilitates one to consider a low-waste diet focused on necessity and nutrition, in lieu of arbitrary and perpetual grazing. Anyhow, many a person who has fasted will testify to the phenomenon that when habituated and resigned to abstention from consumption for a large portion of the day, there is greater clarity of mind and a sense of freedom from the shackles of the carnal compulsion and yearning for food. For this reason, it is not unusual to see students with examinations survive and thrive during this ordeal.
On the other hand, a student’s daily schedule and diet during exam season is more often than not even more disastrous than it is for other periods of the academic year. The lack of a stable nightly sleeping routine, insufficient hydration and a diet deficient in fresh fruit and vegetables and water-retaining foods may spell difficulty and disaster for someone who, while fasting in such a state, hopes to excel in their exams. With temperatures soaring in the mid-twenties and fasts stretching for as long as 19 hours, adequate hydration is often the principal difficulty.
In such a situation, there is some religious leeway, as Islam prioritises humanity over religiosity, especially in the context of the preservation of health and wellbeing. Without delving deep into the extensive depths of jurisprudence, there is a degree of individual-level judgement based on one’s own circumstance and capability. In accordance with this, some will understandably choose not to fast during the exam period and compensate for the obligation later in the year.
It must be stated, nonetheless, that Ramadan is about much more than abstinence from food, drink and conjugal relations from dawn to dusk. In this month, all Muslims strive to wean out nefarious traits like avarice, arrogance and contempt and attempt to incorporate virtuous attributes such as humility, honesty and unity. The sense of community and togetherness is embodied none more so than in the evening meal where all gather and break the fast, and where everyone is welcome.
The euphoric atmosphere of giving is epitomised by the amount of money that is donated to charities throughout this month; during Ramadan in 2016, British Muslims gave in the region of £100 million to those underprivileged and less fortunate, and in other charitable schemes.
This is definitely the month to ask big favours of your Muslim friends, and whilst you’re doing that, I invite you to partake in an evening meal. I would also recommend that you experience a different perspective, and try fasting for a day, although I suggest you wait until you have finished your exams!
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Image credit: raasiel (Flickr).