Conversations on Summer Fasting

There are believing Muslims who do not fast for reasons that fall outside of the categories of people who are permitted to not fast (such as those who are ill, elderly, pregnant, etc.). There may be a vast variety of reasons why healthy Muslims don’t do it, but the people I refer to specifically are those who are not fasting because days are now so long in North America.

I shouldn’t be talking as I have it much, much easier than the people who have terrible work hours that make 9-5 look like a walk in the park. But I wonder if these people are making more of fasting than it really is.

While the length of the days is an obvious fact that is configured into the nature of our fasts this year, I worry that stressing it or talking about it so much is what is leading Muslims to not fast altogether. Is it really so bad? Or are they making it seem much worse than it is?

I just keep hearing a lot–and I mean a lot–of talk about the days being so long here. Hesham A. Hassaballa’s New York Times article “The Joys and Sorrows of Ramadan” is an article that to me is little more than a lament over the difficulty of fasting in the summer. I do love the honesty of the article, but does it capture the essence of Ramadan, the part that resonates no matter what time of the year it falls in? Hardly so.

I’ve always been a little uncomfortable at extensive discussion on the length of the days in Ramadan, and hearing of Muslims who are not fasting makes me realize why. It’s like that discourse has been stretched to the point where people are so daunted by the prospect of fasting in the summer they disavow it altogether. I am all for open conversation and for people being honest about the difficulties they face in fulfilling our obligations, but I think this is an example of how looking at a manner in only one light can be detrimental.

So are those who are not fasting not doing so because they actually are physically unable to complete it, or are they being influenced by all this discussion of the days being so long? I think it’s the latter. Things are always made into a bigger deal when they are put in words, and even more when they form the meat of a conversation.

Non-muslim friends are amazed at “how we do it,” and I have some friends repeatedly commenting on how difficult it is, how they are counting down the hours until iftar, how they almost passed out while walking to work. I get weary of such talk, and the patience I’m supposed to have in this month sometimes runs dangerously thin. Yes, the days are long. Yes, dehydration is an issue. I’m not above all these things. But do I want to talk about them? No. Does it feel natural to dwell on physical discomforts? No. There’s nothing that can be done about the length of summer days, so why labor the point? Those discomforts will always be there on some level. But because nothing can be done about them, they need to be played down.

Here’s a crazy idea: if the subject of the length of the day does come up, let’s not whine about it. Let’s instead say “Gonna be a bit of a rough one, huh? Oh well, I’m confident we’ll do well. Allah will help us maintain our sabr.” And then go on to talk about what we’re doing for Eid, or how things are at work, or the great film we’ve seen recently.

We need to get over ourselves. The difficulties of fasting in the summer need to be talked about less so that people can focus on the part of Ramadan that shines so much more brightly, regardless of the time of year it occurs in: prayers, meditation, worship, a re-forging of community bonds, a chance to start anew. Let’s talk about that more. And let’s talk about summer days a bit less. Once we do that, maybe they’ll stop seeming so long.