This week it has been a delight to see the news around the latest trending hashtag in town: #RamadanProblems. Muslims around the world are sharing their feelings - in a tongue-in-cheek manner - on fasting for a whole month. Some of my favourites include:
The food channel is your biggest enemy this month. #RamadanProblems— JalalAmazing (@JalalAmazing) July 6, 2014
These fasts are not very fast are they. #RamadanProblems— Mr Khan (@therealmrkhan) July 2, 2014
It is fantastic to see a light-hearted approach to things and also that Muslims are sharing this experience with others. It also got me thinking about my very own #RamadanProblems. The hashtag is slightly ironic (and is intended to be) as you're not really supposed to complain during the month. It's a time to make the most of what you have and be grateful for what you have. Nonetheless, it didn't take long for me to identify my biggest Ramadan Problem: the same questions I get asked every year.
I've been fasting for half my life now (aged 26 - the average Muslim starts at 13) and every year I'm asked the same things by different people. The questions are usually asked in a fleeting moment - stood in the lift or waiting for a meeting to start - and they don't change year on year. Here's how it usually goes:
Q1. So you can't eat or drink during sunrise, and sunset. Is that right?
A. Yes. That's right. No food. No drink.
Q2. Not even water?
A. No. Not even water.
Q3. What about chewing gum? Surely you can chew gum?
A. No. Not even gum.
Q4. What if you close the blinds. Does it count then?
A. Unfortunately not. You still have to fast.
Q5. What if you get really, really hungry?
A. I think that's the point. You're meant to test yourself.
Q6. And if you get thirsty - what happens then?
A. Same as before really. It's about the test.
Q7. So why do you do it then?
This is where I get stuck. If you'd asked me 10 years ago, I'd have said it's because I had to. I had no choice. But I was naive then. As time has gone on, I've been through the questioning, I've met more and more people from more and more diverse backgrounds and I've started to ask myself why. Is it because I truly because I believe in Islam, or is it because I've become accustomed to doing it every year?
After pondering for a long time (usually at 2am when I'm drowsily chomping on a spoonful of Weetabix), I've realised it's a mixture of the two. Somewhere deep down I have a a sense of faith, but on the surface I've realised Ramadan is like a filthy habit I can't kick. It's as if I am addicted to the continual fatigue and dull headaches, hooked on the lack of socialising around lunch and dinner times.
Filthy habits are meant to have some sort of pay-off, aren't they? So what's the reward for doing Ramadan? For me, it's the feeling after 30 long days of completely breaking my routine, becoming much more inward-looking and truly grateful for what I have. It can become so easy to get swept away with life but taking a full month to press pause and put my body through something makes me realise - every year - that there is a lot to be thankful for.
And that's the answer the question 7. One day I'll find a way to say it in one sentence when I'm standing in the lift with the colleague.