Q&A: An expat fasting for Ramadan
Many see Ramadan as a Muslim thing. Sure, expats living in Middle Eastern countries are affected somewhat, but when compared to those who are fasting, the adjustments we have to make can’t really compare. Most people are happy to leave it like that. Not Brooke. An Aussie girl who’s lived here for 4 years, she made the decision to take part in the Ramadan fast during her first year here.
After much pushing from friends and followers she’s started a blog about her life in Qatar. It’s a great read but I can’t wait for more updates – I need my questions answered now! Below are the first few questions that came into my head when I heard her Ramadan experiences. If you have more questions after reading this, stay tuned to her blog.
According to your blog you fasted the first time because you were curious. What was the rationale behind future fasting years?
I realised how much more exciting the month seemed to me than to people who hadn’t fasted. Then I saw that was because they couldn’t really get in to the swing of it. They see it as a month of missing out rather than a month of enriched opportunities.
Do you look forward to it or dread it?
I look forward to the social gatherings, being introduced to new food etc. On occasions I fear the long days without water, and as I’m currently in the midst of ‘Operation Lose The Fat’ I don’t want it to affect my progress.
Is going without food or water in this heat really hard?
As an office worker it’s not too bad. I go from great air conditioning in my home, to the car and then to the office each day. Force of habit can be more of an issue when you go to eat or drink out of boredom. I really feel for people who are on their feet all day or being out on construction sights – the heat must be unbearable. Similarly I feel for Mothers who are looking after their energetic children throughout Ramadan. Preparing their food as well as keeping them occupied inside must be incredibly draining!
Apart from fasting, what other Ramadan customs do you take on? E.g. Do you stop listening to music?
I don’t stop listening to music, though I do turn it down and try not to sing the particularly saucy RnB lyrics! I do think more about what I say and how I speak about people/things. I go to the mosque most Fridays during Ramadan for prayer. We participate in Garangao with our neighbours. I’ve got a swear jar to try and curb a fairly bad habit for the month!
How do you feel physically?
A bit light headed or tired, occasional hunger pains, more than anything lately I’ve just been getting a tickle in my throat which might be psychosomatic as I know I can’t drink!!
Do you lose weight?!
I usually lose a kilo or two across the course of the month, perhaps because I’m so focused on drinking a lot of water at night.
Do you exercise?
This year I will be exercising more than usual – I have a few personal training sessions right at the time I should be breaking fast, which is obviously not ideal! My trainer and I have modified those sessions so I can still get a good workout without risk of hitting the floor. The rest of my workouts will be at about 8 pm, I’ll be mostly doing low-impact cardio to maximise my time and not feel sick with a full stomach.
Talk me through your routine once the sun goes down. Do you prefer to eat at home or go out? Do you go to bed after Iftar and Suhoor? Do you wake up at 3 am?
I have a sleep post work, then getting up to break my fast with 3 dates and at least 1 L of water
About 30 minutes later I’ll have something like lentil soup or a salad. I prefer to break fast at home as I just can’t handle getting up, showering and tackling the roads sans food!
Dependent on the day I will go to the gym or for a walk at about 8 or 9 pm. Later I like to catch up with friends or members of the urban family for juice, coffee and shisha. This year I’ve been eating while I’m out instead of when I get back home. That way there is time for it to digest before I sleep.
I usually get to bed by about 1 am – taking a big bottle of water with me so I can drink it until call to prayer starts our fast again. Some nights I don’t wake up so I don’t have as much water but at least if I do I’m prepared.
Are you working full-time this year? Is it hard to concentrate? Do you now agree that nothing gets done during Ramadan?!
We’re working from 9am-3pm so not full-time. It is harder than usual to concentrate though some colleagues tell me they feel more focused. Part of it I think is missing my usual routines – not calling in to Jones the Grocer for a coffee en route to work feels strange. Not having water in meetings gives you one less distraction when they become boring! Not being able to go out for lunch with colleagues gives you less of a mental break and social interaction than we’re used to. I agree things can be challenging during Ramadan but I generally get the majority of my work done. Perhaps that’s because I want to get out of the office as quickly as possible when the clock strikes 3!!
Do you wear an abaya? If so, why?
A couple of days per week I’ll wear one in to the office. They’re comfortable and helpful as I really try to cover to my elbows and wear long pants during Ramadan. Plus, some of them are really pretty so I appreciate the chance to wear them so I can give myself an excuse to buy more! I don’t cover my hair because my choice to wear the abaya isn’t religious.
What is the reaction from fellow expats?
Most think it’s odd. I’ve had a few snide comments about whether I’m hoping to marry a local – trust me, I’d need to change many more things about myself than just Ramadan if I was to ever convert! There’s a tendency to get so swept up in the expat life that people forget you’re actually living in a country with its own religion, culture and traditions – we should embrace or at least appreciate them rather than believe ours is the only way.
Do you expect others to abstain from eating and drinking in front of you?
Absolutely not!! The whole idea of Ramadan is that I’m fasting from something I could otherwise be having. So if nothing is available or I never smell food cooking then how am I giving anything up?!
Have you ever encouraged anyone else to do it? Were they grateful?
I don’t try to encourage anyone else in to it, as it might come across like a bible-thumping attempt to recruit converts! Religion, including fasting, is an incredibly personal decision and who am I to say that someone else should try it. If they choose off their own back to give it a go I’ll be the first one there to support them with tasty meals once we can eat!
What is the reaction from Muslims?
Strangely my Muslim friends seem much more accepting of my choice to fast than my non-muslim friends. They know that I have a choice, and no religious obligation, to fast so they seem to appreciate my conscious decision to partake.
Since you don’t fast for religious reasons, what motivates you through the hunger pangs?
Those who know me well are aware that I have a somewhat stubborn (I call it committed) streak. If I say I’m going to do something which people think I can’t or won’t there seems to be a little something inside me when shouts “fast” much louder than any hunger pangs could scream!
Can you imagine doing it back in Australia?
Fasting in a non-majority Islamic country would bring new levels of difficulty, as well as the added challenges which come with having to explain your behaviour to other people. Here if offered a drink I say no because I’m fasting and it requires no explanation. Irrespective of how far we’ve come as a nation there are many in Australia who cannot comprehend a religion with such commitment to the faith that believers burden themselves for an entire month. At the moment Australia would have shorter fasting days than here in Qatar but all restaurants would be open, shops would still sell food and meetings would still be based around food/drinks. I particularly admire Australian athletes of the Islamic faith who continue to fast throughout their events.
You’re not Muslim but do you feel a kind of spirituality during this time?
The spirituality probably comes more from a feeling of community and commitment to a common cause than any specific religious activities in Ramadan.
What do you get out of it?
Ah I’m still not really sure! It’s a feeling of involvement in local culture for one thing. Appreciation for sacrifice – there are those in Palestine or Somalia who have fasting inflicted upon them due to circumstance rather than choice. The rest of the year I can be far too self-indulgent so an opportunity to do things for others. The sense that I can use the month to be a better person, whether physically or emotionally, is always present in my mind.
What advice would you give to a fellow expat who is fasting for the first time?
Best advice is to hydrate well, don’t expect to be able to carry out normal tasks for first couple of days. Even if you’re not a big fan of dates they really are the best thing to break your fast with. Definitely no alcohol at night, it’s not just haram it’s way too dehydrating!
What do you think of Brooke’s choice? If you’re a non-muslim, would you ever consider fasting for Ramadan?
Image from here.