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Areesha Malik
June 22, 2018

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Being born and bred in Dubai, Ramadan has been my most favourite month of the year, the month of being spiritual, volunteering, spending time with family and friends, the month of socialising and let’s not forget the shorter working hours!

When I moved to the UK in August 2017 though, I was scared of fasting. Everyone I knew had made such a big fuss of it being super long hours (standard UK hours) with everyone around you eating…” temptation is all around!” they said.

And I have never missed home as much as I have during Ramadan. Being able to go to work an hour later and getting done two hours earlier was definitely the best thing ever. As cliche as it is, sometimes you don’t realise the good things until they are gone. Despite following Ramadan in the UK, I still vouch for it being my most favourite time of the year.

But what is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran (the holy book) to Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H).

This year, the holy month of Ramadan began on May 17th, which means fasting during daylight hours and breaking the fast in the evening, which is called Iftar.

The fast begins at morning prayer time (about 3:15 a.m.) and goes on till the evening prayers (about 9:10 p.m.), not only is that a long time to go without eating and drinking, as the day goes on, it also becomes more challenging to keep operating at 100%. Not being able to consume water, food and my biggest concern, caffeine, for over 18.5 hours can definitely bring your productivity level down.

When asked how Ramadan is going? All I want to say is “I am tired!”. It is only natural to feel that way when your sleeping and food pattern changes, it takes a lot to change so much for that 30 days.

But why do Muslims fast?
I have come across plenty of questions over the years about fasting, the most common ones so far have been, ‘Why do you fast?’, ‘Do you not feel hungry?’, ‘You aren’t allowed to eat anything?’, and ‘How can you not even drink water for 19 hours?’. These aren’t stupid questions, I cannot be the voice of every Muslim, but this is my ‘why’.

Fasting is one of the five pillars underpinning the Islamic faith (charity, prayers, Ramadan, pilgrimage, faith). Fasting involves abstaining from all food, drinking, and smoking from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan is an opportunity to focus on the soul rather than the body, we get through the day trying to be more spiritual, as well as seeking to improve our behaviour. We empathise with those in need and thank the Lord for blessing us with food at the end of the day when millions of people don’t have that luxury.

Ramadan for me means exercising that self-discipline. It has never been about losing weight, yes, it definitely is an added bonus, but it is about abstinence, focusing on purification and charitable acts (this year found I volunteered with Humanity First, serving food to the homeless). It is something I follow very religiously every year. The biggest benefit is the effect post-Ramadan, where you feel you’ve just gone through a boot camp of discipline, focus and patience which carries you through the rest of the year. No one is forced to fast though. Fit and able adults are asked to fast, but those that are exempt: children, elderly people, when travelling on a journey or sick.

When does it End?
It ends with the sighting of the new moon which is typically 29 to 30 days after Ramadan starts. Bear in mind that within the Muslim faith, this can differ slightly based on the sector you follow. The end of fasting month is celebrated with a big feast, exchanging of gifts and celebrations, known as “Eid-Ul-Fitr”, bringing families and communities together, kind of like Christmas.

Companies nowadays can be flexible and be understanding for a short period enabling all fasting Muslims to work more productively. The key to achieving this is being able to communicate this openly and freely. I am blessed in many ways, working with Difrent has made the transition from fasting in Dubai to fasting in the UK much easier. I have been working remotely for most of my days during Ramadan which has helped me function better. I am glad to have an organisation that allows remote working to happen (it’s encouraged), remote working enables me to get an extra hour of sleep, avoid the rush hour commute on the tube, and spare the extra hour of travelling back home, saving all that energy and time that is super valuable when fasting.

Yes, it is definitely longer and tougher compared to Dubai, with regular working hours and it not being made special, but for me, it has never been hard, once I set my mind to something I pretty much do achieve it. The help from those around me has definitely eased my fears for my next fast. Don’t be afraid to ask your Muslim-fasting friends and colleagues questions — education leads to knowledge and understanding which leads to better environments and better connections.

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