In the weeks leading up to Ramadan, billions of Muslims around the world begin googling “Ramadan start date.” This is in preparation for what is considered as the most sacred and challenging month of the year in the Islamic community.
Sara Hamouda is one of the billions of Muslims who finds herself turning to Google to prepare for the start of Ramadan. Sara speaks to Girl Gone International about her Ramadan practices, experiences and why she fasts each year.
Ramadan Fasting and Traditions
Historically speaking, Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar calendar and Muslims believe that during this month God revealed to the prophet Mohammed the first verses of the Quran on “Laylat al Qadr” (Night of Destiny).
Every day of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until sunset. Depending on their country of residence, it might be more or less challenging due to the season and temperatures one might experience. For non-Muslims, it is often hard to understand why we fast and consciously decide to “disrupt” our routine for 29 days. For most of us it is not about what we abstain from, it’s more about the effort that we put into trying to improve ourselves holistically.
My Ramadan Practices
To me, Ramadan is a chance to invest more in myself by acquiring more self-control and listening to my physical and psychological needs. When fasting you are more in tune with your body. As a matter of fact, if you’re a student like me, you probably drink a lot of coffee and eat sugar-packed foods to boost your energy levels while facing exams and deadlines – without noticing the effects that these substances have on your body, such as increased anxiety, stress and feeling fidgety. In the short term, such a diet might seem effective and unharmful, but in the long run it is not the best solution for your brain and body.
After the first week of Ramadan, I personally become more relaxed and then I realize how my eating habits have been influencing my physical perception of stress and thus my general well-being. Moreover, studies have shown that fasting can facilitate neurogenesis, which allows your brain to “refresh” itself. Your brain starts gradually using the available nutrients in the most efficient way possible and creates new connections in brain structures such as the hippocampus, which plays a fundamental role in short and long-term memory.
Ramadan is the month where I focus the most on my health and choose wisely the food for breaking my fast. This is in order to be productive during the day and avoid unwanted headaches and moodiness that might arise due to the reduced intake of food. In addition, mental health is as fundamental as physical health and therefore I try my best to develop a grateful mindset and remind myself to not take anything for granted. Around the world many people experience hunger and thirst on a daily basis. While fasting you can develop more empathy towards disadvantaged people and at the same time realize how privileged you are.
Ramadan: A Time for Mindful Practices and Self-Reflection
In order to detox my mind, I reduce the time I spend on my smartphone and invest time in other “offline” activities such as reading, meditating, praying and spending quality time with friends or family. From a practical point of view, cooking becomes an important part of the day and it is an additional way to connect with other people. Ramadan can be shared with anyone no matter their religious beliefs and breaking the fast with good company makes it more pleasurable.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and its lockdowns, our society is still fast-paced. It’s easy to get tangled up in everyday issues and live on autopilot just to get through the week and rest during the weekend – as if life was never-ending. We complain that life is too short, while in reality we are usually the ones that don’t know what to do with it and waste it in mindless activities. The process of self-improvement that may increase our quality of life comes with several setbacks and sometimes it is easy to get overwhelmed and fall into unhealthy habits or repeat past mistakes. This is human and normal behavior and I like to think that this is why Ramadan falls in different months and seasons every year: sometimes it is harder, other times easier – exactly like life.
Every year I get the opportunity to push the pause button and try to reflect more on my actions, goals and lifestyle. This is one of the main reasons why I fast each year during Ramadan.
By Sara Hamouda
Sara Hamouda is truly a “daughter” of the Mediterranean (originally Moroccan, born in Italy), currently living in Germany. She studies psychology and cognitive neuroscience and enjoys challenging herself and broadening her horizons. Philosophy, movies, foreign languages and books are some of her passions, but she also loves dancehall music, karaoke and late-night nonsense conversations with friends and hiking.