It is 5:21 a.m., and in the past 21 minutes, I have managed to gorge myself on two eggs with cheese, two slices of bacon, a piece of toast, an apple, summer sausage and two full cups of water.
It will be a long trek toward understanding the motives, reasoning and enlightenment behind fasting. But hey, there is no better time to learn than today — at 5:21 in the morning. Sunrise is at 5:30, and there is still a cup of water, another piece of toast and spiritual awakening to be had.
I like to think of myself as an educated creature. Shouldn't I, after 11 years of schooling? Yet there are many things I do not comprehend, and recently one in particular came to mind: Hunger. It is one of the world's biggest killers, yet in the Islamic calendar there is an
entire month dedicated to fasting and therefore experiencing hunger.
How could I say I am well-rounded if I don't even understand the inner workings of other cultures?
In order to quench a thirst for a deeper understanding of both the Islamic culture and to gain a greater sense of empathy for those suffering from hunger, I decided to fast for five days.
If 22 percent of the world's population fasts each year, then it can't be that difficult. At least that is what I told myself the night before I began. Then I woke up.
Following the rules of common Muslim fasting, I woke up at 5 o'clock each morning to eat before the sunrise, then I ate nothing all day until the sun rested beyond the horizon around 9 p.m. More than 15 hours without a single cracker or crumb. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.
It was especially painful to fast when all those around me were constantly eating.
Our culture revolves around food. It is seemingly impossible to have a good time without it. In America, we live for excess. We eat because food tastes good and because going out to eat or getting snacks with friends is a fun pastime. Often, the food we eat isn't directly targeted toward stopping hunger — we don't let ourselves feel real hunger.
Hunger hurts. It feels as if your body is wasting away, weakening slowly. I only fasted for five days, yet already my body became weaker. I had to stop exercising due to fatigue; sometimes it was a challenge just to walk up stairs.
Muslims who fast during the month of blessing, the ninth month of the islamic lunar calendar, fast for 30 days. I have a lot of respect for anyone who has the mental toughness to deny food for that long.
Though I ate very little, I did not starve. I ate two meals a day, and the truth is that if I were in serious need, I could have simply grabbed a meal from the pantry at any time. Others aren't so fortunate. It pains me to realize that what has been one of my biggest challenges would be a blessing to less-fortunate people, who go to bed on empty stomachs and who wake up to find an empty cupboard.
I didn't fast to lose weight or to cut down on calories. I fasted to generate a greater understanding of another culture and to feel what it is like to suffer. Even though I didn't follow all the general rules of meal sizes and I did drink water due to the heat, I learned a great amount about Islamic culture and hunger.
I found that the mind is a powerful tool that can overcome physical pain if you allow it. I have also acquired greater empathy for those deprived of food and I understand that our bodies are strong enough to endure what seems impossible if we are committed to learn from our hardships.