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Your Muslim friends are skipping lunch

Biryani, a traditional rice dish originated among Muslims. During Ramadan, fasting during the day is observed and meals are eaten before sunrise or after sunset.

Religious fasting is a millennia-old institution that overcomes culture, age, and continent. To deprive one’s body of earthly pleasures and, to some extent, physical needs, has been an essential theme in faith that even the religious can relate to: you don’t have to look too intently on social media to find blueprints for juice cleanses, paleo diets, and unsolicited advice on “cutting out toxic people.” Naturally, people tend to view purification as an avenue to enlightenment and peace. This month, Muslims across the globe are fasting in tune with human tradition.

The angel Gabriel, Jabreel in Arabic, revealed Surah al Alaq to the Prophet Muhammad during this month over 1400 years ago, according to Islamic history. Once the Islamic faith was established, Muslims in the Middle East, and all around the world, began to fast during the anniversary of the month that the first chapter of the Qu’ran, the holy text of Islam, was unveiled. Muslims everywhere continue to fast yearly because of the other rewards Ramadan yields, such as honing discipline and connecting with others.

Fasting in Ramadan entails abstaining from food, water, and sex from Fajr, just before sunrise, to Maghrib, just before sunset. Muslims often cite solidarity with those who lack access to safe food and water as a reason to fast. In addition to fasting, Muslims are required to give Zakat, a donation of 2.5% of their discretionary income to charity, by the end of the month of Ramadan. This month isn’t solely about altruism, however. Muslims have regular communal dinners that allow them to break their fasts in the evening together.

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“The community is more connected during Ramadan. Having multiple [suhoor] events, the meal that you eat prior to sunrise at around 4:30 am, to organizing food drives for the less fortunate during the holy month. I see people I have not seen in a year due to a busy school schedule and it almost feels off if I didn’t see them during Ramadan,” Rasha Allaf, a third-year student at Georgia State, wrote in an email interview.

The interpersonal aspect of Ramadan is especially important for those who identify as culturally Muslim rather than religiously Muslim. Cultural Muslims are people who relate to Muslim customs and values as a result of being raised in a Muslim household but don’t observe the religious tenets of the faith, like praying and fasting. Additionally, some practicing Muslims are exempt from fasting due to health-related reasons, such as people with diabetes who run the risk of dangerous blood sugar crashes after long periods of time without eating or drinking. For cultural Muslims and those who can’t fast, connecting with others during Ramadan is the highlight of the month.

“Ramadan for me has always been about family, heart purity, forgiveness, good food, and late nights,” Noor Smadi, a second-year Georgia State student who doesn’t fast for spiritual reasons, said.

This year, Muslims fast from approximately 5:30 a.m. to 8:35 p.m. The Islamic calendar that Ramadan is determined by is about 11 days shorter than the seasonal year, so Ramadan and its corresponding daylight patterns change every year. Because the days are particularly long and warm around summertime, Muslims must be conscientious about drinking adequate amounts of water and eating enough when they are allowed. While experts have found that fasting in Ramadan often leads to headaches, lethargy, and irritability, the consensus is that abstaining from food and water is safe for healthy people. A source of adversity for those who do fast is passing the time while staying productive.

“I try to avoid passive tasks where I have time to freethink, because I’ll inevitably end up thinking about food – so I try to do things that occupy my consciousness and thinking,” Ahmad Zahran, a third-year Muslim at Georgia State, said. Zahran’s daydreams have comprised of scenes like “eating a boiled egg dipped in lemon juice. It can [get] trippy sometimes[.]”

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Fasting during Ramadan, for many, is ultimately an act of devotion to God. “The most important part of Ramadan to me is actually feeling like you’ve accomplished or strengthened a relationship with God. More than that, a sense of pride for being Muslim is something that I find essential… It’s about more than starving throughout the day and watching terrible Arab drama series that are broadcasted throughout Ramadan,” Allaf said.

At the end of the month, this year tentatively set for June 16 (the precise date may depend on the position of the moon marking the end of fasting), Muslims celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr. Muslims are forbidden from fasting on Eid and spend the day feasting, praying, and being with loved ones. After the month is over, some aim to maintain the positive habits they developed during Ramadan.

“I try to be more cognizant of the things I take for granted, I try to be more empathetic, and I try to be closer to my family, something that’s very easy to neglect. Unlike the rest of the year I make an extra effort to spend as many Iftars as I can with my Mom and Brothers,” Zahran said.

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