“You’re fasting?” My twenty-something student shot me an incredulous glance before diverting his eyes back to the road. He had offered to drive me to Marjan, a sort of Moroccan Walmart which sits on the outskirts of the city. We set out at 4pm in the afternoon, just a few hours before ftoor, the meal in which Muslims break their Ramadan fast.
“But you don’t need to fast. You are free to do what you want!” he insisted. I knew what he meant: I was a foreigner and a non-Muslim, meaning that I was exempted from the long list of Moroccan social norms, to which religion is closely tied. Among the most important of these is fasting on Ramadan.
“I am doing what I want.” I insisted. “I want to fast. I enjoy it.”
My answer did little to alleviate his confusion. Fasting is hard. How could I possibly enjoy it?
His reaction was one I encountered often from my students and colleagues when I told them I was fasting. So far, no one has been able to understand why I – a Jew and a foreigner – am fasting on Ramadan. Thus, I will now take this opportunity to explain: here are 5 reasons why I’m fasting on Ramadan.
- It makes me feel grounded.
One of my favorite things about living in a foreign country is adapting to a new culture. By changing my daily habits, customs and even social mannerisms, I am able to better integrate into my community and society. Fasting during Ramadan is part of this: it helps me feel at home and grounded in my surroundings.
- It simplifies daily life.
During the month of Ramadan, daily life undergoes a drastic transformation. People stay up later and wake up later (I even have a class that ends at 11:00pm). At night, what was once a quiet time when people stay at home becomes an lively hour when people go out for ice cream or hang out downtown.
Fasting during Ramadan simplifies my life because it means that I am on the same schedule as everyone else. I don’t need to figure out when I’m going to take a furtive lunch break or struggle (as a morning person) to adapt to my late-night teaching program. It also means that I can relish the fun of evening activities to their full extent!
- It’s a mental challenge.
There’s no denying it: fasting is hard. It makes you feel weak and light-headed. When I’m fasting, I must keep a quiet and focused mind in order to go about my daily activities. As a yogi, I enjoy this mind-over-matter exercise.
- It helps me be present with my students.
Six of the nine classes and clubs I teach are scheduled in the daytime. This means that my students are studying while fasting – a difficult feat. For better or for worse, I have chosen to attempt that feat with them. Why? I want to fully empathize with them. Does it make me a better teacher? Logically, it probably makes me a more spaced out and scatterbrained teacher. However, I do think an important element of teaching is understanding your students’ perspectives. By fasting with them, I’m taking a step toward understanding where they are coming from.
- It brings peace.
Ok, maybe not world peace. But fasting does make me feel peaceful. There’s something subtle about the way fasting changes my daily life. It’s in the little things: from going to the sweets shop shortly before ftoor for some traditional Ramadan treats (see above photo) to sitting down to eat just as I hear the twilight call to prayer soaring through my open window. All of these things bring peace to my daily life, and I savor them as a special part of this unique month.
Overall, fasting during Ramadan is not for everyone. Even among Muslims, there are certain exemptions (women on their period, children, diabetics, etc.). However, I do think it’s a great exercise for foreigners to try in order to experience the culture and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.