Fasting for God: A Young Muslim Amercan Woman at Ramadan

No food, no water, and no sex from sunrise to sunset for 30 days.Sounds like some newfangled weight loss plan -- but to Muslims all over the world, it is a way to purify the body during the daylight hours in the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims believe fasting fulfills Allah's (God's) wishes, and that by bringing discipline to mind and soul, it brings you closer to God.The month of fasting is the month on the lunar calendar in which the Koran descended, and one fast is done for each of the 30 chapters of the holy book.Ramadan has always been important to me -- and I am not the most orthodox Muslim. The first time I fasted was when I was around eight years old, and I was allowed to eat before sunset because I started to cry about my hunger. But as the years went on I buckled down. Fasting served as a perfect excuse for getting out of P.E. class. I fasted more and more days, gleefully telling my peers how hungry I was, to see their sympathy.Now I wish I had never exaggerated the negative part -- the few hours without food or water. I realize I gave a lot of people a less than perfect vision of Islam and the month of Ramadan. The truth is, the rewards far outweigh the inconveniences. The fast itself isn't that hard, especially in winter when the time between sunrise and sunset is not so long. I do feel a little hunger as it gets close to sunset, sort of like I skipped lunch or breakfast, but it's never so severe I can't function normally.The only time it gets a little difficult is when friends suggest going out to eat -- and they bring leftovers home and chomp away while we sit there watching ad after ad about rich brownies and juicy shrimp.At the end of the day, though, I feel proud, purified -- and skinny. People think you pig out at the end of the day, but after the first plate of food you're as full as if you'd been eating regularly all day long.One main purpose of Ramadan is to bring you closer to God, and I can vouch for the fact that it can give even an unorthodox person a feeling of fulfilled duty and faith. Making the fast, along with my family's encouragement and admiration, has always made me feel disciplined, and seek to be more so in other aspects of my personal and religious life.After fasts, I've started a regular exercise routine, and at times worked harder in school and at work so that I could feel I am fulfilling Allah's wishes for self-discipline. Ramadan has also brought me closer to Muslim friends in school because they could understand my complaints, and help me explain what we were doing to non-Muslims.It also brings my family closer even in the busiest times. Since you can eat until an hour before sunrise, on fast days we all wake up around 5:30 to eat breakfast and pray. Some days, that's the only time I see my family and that early time is invaluable.Ramadan has three 10-day segments, known as "Rehmat" for prosperity, "Magferat" for pardon from sins and "Etq-Uin-Minan-Naar," for freedom from hell. Later in the year, another fasting period called Moharrum allows Muslims to feel vicariously what the prophets felt in their long journeys without nourishment.Fasting during Ramadan is strictly intended to purify the body throughout the day, and learn enough self-discipline to carry on normally without the benefit of nutritional and, much more minimally, sexual pleasure.After the month of fasting we have a time of celebration. But the do-good nature of the month is supposed to carry on throughout the year, as is the sense of discipline and purification. Ramadan is a tradition. I'm glad my parents asked me to be part of it, and look forward to sharing it with my children.A person who does good deeds during the month of Ramadan is supposed to be the recipient of 70 times the blessings of similar deeds done in other months. Allah says "Roza (fasting) is for me, and I shall give its rewards." For me, the rewards are here now.

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