This morning I overslept my 2:35am alarm until 3am, so I missed my chance to drink a few more cups of water just before the fast began. Nevertheless, the strength was given to me to keep the fast until 9:00pm this evening. At work my manager asked me if I would like a cup of tea, as she was going to make her own. I told her that I am fasting Ramadan. I could feel her disappointment that I am drawing closer to Islam; she was not successful at her attempt to make me a Jehovah's Witness. And with as much as she knows about Equal Opportunities in the workplace, she was critical of the Muslim's restriction from food and water for such a long period, particularly of water. I assured her that it is fine, and that I rehydrate after sundown.
I did not feel overwhelmed, despite my manager's constant references to food. She loves to discuss recipes and memorable meals, and ironically today she seemed to dwell on the topic even more than usual. She munched on noisy fruits and snacks today - behind me I could hear her chewing her apple and other treats loudly. My stomach maintained a dull, empty ache throughout the whole day. She asked me why we can't eat food and drink water, and I tried to defend the exercise of self-discipline.
Ramadan 2011 feels to me like a rite of passage to Islam. When I disclose to others that I am fasting, I have to explain my serious intent to convert to Islam, particularly at work, where I want to have a good reputation among my colleagues. Personally, knowing that Ramadan is one of Islam's five pillars leads me to consider it a challenge, which will reveal whether I have the stamina and self-discipline required by the faith.
I left work at 5 this evening, but arrived home 45 minutes later than usual due to late trains. The afternoon was hot, and my legs felt sore and weak, as I walked home. I took a refreshing shower, prayed Al-Dhuhr, studied Surat Al-Kursey, and decided to rest. When my alarm went off at 8:45pm, I thought it was morning, judging by the warm air drifting in my window, the birdsongs filling the air, and the look of the sky. The sun could just as well have been coming up, as going down. I was pleased to realise I had slept so soundly waiting for Al-Magrib. I got my dates, yoghurt, and water together on my desk waiting for 9:00pm. I washed in preparation for prayer. Minutes before the breaking of the fast, rain started to fall outside, exchanging the warm humidity for a refreshing cool breeze. My windows are still open now, and the rain is pouring heavily, with the meditative sound of a river rushing down a mountainside.
If only I could freely tell my family that I am fasting, and have their support. But since I don't, I have to conceal it, and constantly question my own convictions. I ask myself how I've gotten this far. When I first came to England, I could not even speak of God, especially not in relation to day to day life or activities. I had no religion, I only knew that my ties to Christianity had worn away, and Christianity raised more questions than answers for me. I also came to England with an interest in gaining a deeper of Islam through relationships with Muslim people, an opportunity that I had not had previously in the US. Before I left, someone commented that I would have to learn how to drink more alcohol if I planned to make friends in England. Even then, back in 2008 I remarked that this would not be necessary, because I would seek out good, Muslim friends.
Some desire to be more politically aware, more religiously informed, more multi-culturally conscious translated into me seeking out Islam. I've learned a great deal about Indian and Hindu culture as well over these past few years, and about life all over the globe, but Islam drew me in quite uniquely, as if I could reconnect parts of who I was before religion completely let me down and lose hope. Can my family not be pleased that I will at least not live without religion, without any faith or spiritual discipline at all?
Praying gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning when nothing else does, and gives structure and meaning to my day. Islam makes me feel more responsible about how I treat myself, and how I treat others. But I can hardly imagine having my family's approval.