Monday, August 12, 2013

Ramadan is ending, but fasting endures

Nadeem Badshah

Eid is finally here. Long hot days made Ramadan tougher for British Muslims this year, but fasting is growing in popularity.

No food or drink for around 18 hours, waking up at 3am each morning – and all during the hottest summer in years. This has been the challenge for British Muslims over the past four weeks of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Over the next couple of days Muslims worldwide will celebrate Eid to mark the end of this period when the body and mind has been tested to its limits.

For many people, the day starts with the alarm going off at around 3am and a mega-early breakfast as you fight off the tiredness. The aim is to consume as much as you can before the fast begins. After praying it is back to bed. And more often than not, tossing and turning as you try to go back to sleep for a few precious hours' rest. Just as you manage to do so, the alarm goes off again for work.

Then the real challenge begins: politely turning down offers of food from colleagues, turning away every time you see a tourist scoffing a 99 ice-cream and looking straight ahead every time you pass a fried-chicken shop. The countdown begins from around 8pm as you wait to break the fast. The last hour is the toughest as you edge closer to the time where people traditionally eat a date to mark the occasion.

The amazing thing is how you survive each day: how the body is able to cope in temperatures that have been higher than in Miami at times, with the medical advice being to drink plenty, and when the Tube has felt like an inferno. I have played tennis on a couple of the fasting days to keep active and from somewhere managed to summon the energy to move around the court and throw my racquet against the floor after a bad shot.

But I am surely not alone. Many people of all faiths will understand the impact on body and mind from fasting – which is now in vogue after a BBC documentary last year about the 5:2 diet. This is where you eat normally for five days a week and diet for two days by slashing your calorie intake to a quarter of its normal level. The documentary showed how fasting can improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels and something called insulin sensitivity. It featured the low-calorie diet of super-humans such as Fauja Singh, the 102-year-old recently retired long-distance runner, so perhaps it is the secret to a longer life. The 5:2 diet is now the subject of numerous books and celebrities such as chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, actor Benedict Cumberbatch and TV host Phillip Schofield have given it their ringing endorsement, according to newspaper reports.

Fasting for Muslims during Ramadan is of course a giant leap compared to the 5:2 diet. The month is not just about abstinence but also remembering the poor, ditching bad habits and getting closer to God. For this year the challenge is over. But at the back of some people's minds will be next year's Ramadan – when the fasting time will extend to over 19 hours.

Source: The Guardian

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