Fasting in the West can go on for 21 hours

Sherouk Zakaria/Dubai
Filed on June 14, 2016
Hanan's family breaking fast in Canada.
(Supplied photo)

Muslims living in the West talk about the meaningful experience of fasting

Working for long hours on an empty stomach and having to persistently resist food temptations might seem difficult, but for Dubai expats living in Europe and other countries, the holy month brings about a new level of endurance that can inspire the West.  
When in Finland
Kosar Mahmoodi, a Kurd living in Finland since 1994, fasts for 21 hours and 13 minutes. The 26-year-old said working for eight hours a day may add its own challenges, but good scheduling and eating healthy does the trick.
"I live in Turku, South of Finland, so I am considered lucky. In other parts of Finland, the sun does not set in summer," said Mahmoodi.
With less than three hours to eat, Mahmoodi noted that small nutritious Iftar helps keep her blood sugar level in balance before she goes for an hour-long Taraweeh prayers. She then quickly returns home to eat Suhoor, and before she notices, it is already Fajr prayers.
But for Mahmoodi, it is all about mindset.
"I'm not saying it is a piece of cake, but people worry about fasting too much. If we focus on the reasons we fast, we will find the experience meaningful," she said.
Mahmoodi spends her daytime at gatherings in local Muslim Youth Centre for religion discussions. Short lectures and fun activities before Maghrib helps pass the time.
Fasting in Canada
When Indo-Canadian Hanan Auzam was in the UAE, fasting was easier because she was indoors and was spending shorter days at work. But the "constant food temptation in Canada, and having to explain to colleagues why you fast" makes her experience a bit challenging.
Fasting for 17 hours, Auzam keeps her mind off the hunger through gardening, renovating her backyard or taking afternoon Quran classes. Her parents leave to work from 6am to 6.30pm. They read some Quran before the family gathers for Iftar at 9pm.
"Our meals consist of high protein and potassium, which can be eggs, oats, vegetable soup, Manakeesh, a whole banana and water to stay hydrated," said Auzam, who has been in Canada for 17 years.
After Taraweeh finishes at 12.30a.m., Auzam and her sisters help with the mosque's cleanup. They head for Suhoor and pray Fajr at 3.50am.
"We enjoy the holy month. The spiritual calmness we feel and constant reminders of God's blessings for us makes the experience joyful," she said.
In the UK
Pakistani Zahra Hasan lived in the UAE for 21 years before moving to the UK in 2013. While days were shorter in the UAE, Hasan said it is the community feeling that she misses most.
"The entire nation seemed to come together to fast in Dubai. But the UK never stops even though there are Muslim communities who are a good source of strength during Ramadan," said Hasan.
Hasan, who fasts for 18 hours, stated that working helps time pass. Like the previous two, she noted that eating food filled with fibres and a boiled egg does the trick. She also makes sure to drink water and natural juices.
"I never realised how much of the day is focused around meals! The most major struggle for me is being without coffee," she said.
While receiving questions from Westerners, Hasan noted she likes talking openly about her religion. "For the most part, people are interested in finding out about Muslims and Ramadan and it's quite a positive experience," Hasan noted.
The West is inspired
Abstaining from food and water for almost a whole day sparks the West's curiosity.
Mahmoodi stated: "A question I always get is 'You cannot drink water? Not even sparkling water?'"
However, she stressed that strength and commitment to God is admired in the West. While media gives the West a false idea on Islam, Mahmoodi said her role as a Muslim expat is to show the true meaning of her religion.
Echoing similar thoughts was Auzam who said that Muslims in Canada are advocates of Islam. "We have to show them that fasting is not much of a struggle and that it actually gives the chance for spiritual reflection."
She added that Non-Muslim Canadians find fasting for 30 days straight unbelievable, which drives them to try it out themselves.
For Auzam, Muslim efforts are eventually paying off. "We are seeing more acceptance and Canadian non-Muslims are teaching other non-Muslims about Ramadan," she said.


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