originated with the Prophet Muhammad. when families and communities gather to feast together The meal starts with the eating of a single date,.

Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar when millions of Muslims worldwide fast from dawn to sunset. Ramadan, which changes each year depending on the moon, began this year on August 1. The breaking of the fast each day is called the Iftar, when families and communities gather to feast together. The meal starts with the eating of a single date, a tradition that originated with the Prophet Muhammad.

What I promised was a set of reflections on practicing Ramadan in the so-called “Holy Land.” My plan was to come to a city in the West Bank for the first part, then return to East Jerusalem before heading north to some of the cities in Galilee with large Muslim populations before finally returning to Al-Aqsa, the Far Mosque, for the end of the month.

But for three reasons, I couldn’t even begin.

Firstly, what is the “Holy Land?” And what, at the moment, is holy about it? Everyone has a different narrative about what happened here since 1948 if you don’t keep your eyes and your ears open you commit the error of thinking you understand the place. As I crossed and recrossed the “Green Line” — the actual border of the State of Israel — and crossed and recrossed the Separation Barrier (in most places constructed inside Palestinian territories) I found myself changing not only my affect but my actual language as well — the “West Bank” became “the Occupied Palestinian Territories” or “Palestine,” while some of the Jewish settlers I met with used the phrase “Judea and Samaria,” linguistically staking their claim on the place.

Secondly, after several weeks of traveling in the area — scorchingly hot — I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to fast. And if I didn’t fast then how would I be able to write about it intellectually and viscerally?

Which brings me to the third and biggest problem: I have already written about fasting. A lot.

For two different Ramadans I kept personal reflections of my fasting experiences. One year I wrote a little poetic journal in a spiral notebook. I thought about myself as a plant in a pot, wilting and finding out new things about the world around me by so doing. Fasting — a restraint from food, water and other physical pleasures during daylight hours — teaches you something about the body’s desire but also the body’s interrelationship with the physical world around it beyond the mere question of consumption. It is a lesson we, in the age of disappearing natural resources and unsustainable ways of living and interacting with the ecosystem (including one another), need badly to learn.

Later I was invited to keep a daily blog of my fasting experience. Here I really tried to engage with the “hows” and “whys” of a month-long fasting practice. One day of fasting is enough for most peope but to continue day after day, week after week, through a full cycle of the moon effects a whole cycle of change in the cells and skin and organs of the body. After all, if the moon exerts enough pull to lift the very oceans toward it then what does it do to the blood and fluids of the individual human body?

Both my diary and blog have been collected and published as a book called “Fasting for Ramadan: Notes from a Spiritual Practice.” So what could I add about the experience that I haven’t already said? It is beside the point, of course. Because fasting is experiential. Meaning it is different every time. Because you are different — at a different place in your life, in different physical condition — like me at the moment, in a completely different geographical reality: in the tan and brown hills of Palestine, marked by olive tree orchards and settlements, humming with Ramallah’s urban life.

But Ramadan is different as well. Since it is fastened to the lunar calendar it moves back about ten days each solar year. When I kept my little fasting notebook, I was fasting in late September, in the cool last days of summer and beginning of autumn, the death of green plants and beginning of hibernation. When I blogged a couple years later it was the end of August, the students were coming back from vacation, sleepy summer was winding down and the town was coming alive again. And then now: Ramadan in early August, everything around me fulminating green an abundance of vegetables and fruit and honey available at the little farmers market designed to allow local Palestinian growers to compete with the larger grocery stores which carry primarily Israeli and foreign produce.

In terms of being in such a politically vexed place — vexed meaning difficult but also meaning angry — I must remember also that fasting is a turning away from “received” knowledge and an embracing of the knowledge of the body itself. With each passing day it becomes harder and harder to believe that the conflict in this part of the world has anything to do with religion, though religion has been used as the excuse for it. I have broken bread with too many Israelis and too many Palestinians together to give much credence to that excuse. Though the various issues are still confusing to me — how can we achieve reconciliation? What kinds of restorative justice can be offered to those who lost their land, their livelihood and their right to return home? — I sense all around me a bright optimism, a firm hope in a better future.

But thinking through these things didn’t help me with the most essential issue to the matter at hand — in this blistering heavy heat, should I juice fast instead? Perhaps drink water only? Should I ease into the fast?

Ramadan answers your questions for you. Here, unlike at home in the U.S., the clock moves back an hour to give you a little more darkness at the end of the day. The hotel I am staying at has offered to serve me an early morning breakfast at four o’clock. On the streets the vendors are selling high-energy food to get one through a day of fasting, for example sweet tamarind juice and katayif, small whole-grain pancakes made with dates and walnuts.

There was a moment in the evening, fast-breaking time, when the streets were ghostly empty. Restaurants were open late so we went to one called Ziryab. I had a fattoush salad and an onion soup as well as a glass of limonana, delicious mint-infused lemonade. When we emerged, refreshed, the streets were full and bustling, as if at mid-day. The difference was that instead of the unrelenting pressure of the noon sun we were greeted with cool gusts of mountain air.

It doesn’t matter where you are or what you think you know about the world or about yourself. A fast with an opening and closing will always hold you. Begin.

1) A Muslim man in Indonesia looks at the moon through a telescope on July 31, one day prior to the start of Ramadan [Aman Rochman/AFP]
2) A man at Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque attends the evening prayer, named ‘Taraweh’, which marks the beginning of the month of Ramadan [Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]
3) Palestinians get ready for the month of Ramadan at occupied Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound, one of the world’s holiest sites for Muslims [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]
4) Pakistani farmers carry harvested dates in a palm orchard in Rajankot, near the city of Hyderabad, in preparation for Ramadan. Pakistan is the world’s fourth largest producer of dates, which are generally used to break the fast during Ramadan each day [Yousuf Nagori/AFP]
5) Women in Nigeria prepare food for sale on the first day of Ramadan in the Utako district of the capital Abuja [Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters]
6) Saudis buy and sell dates on the eve of Ramadan at a market in Riyadh [Fayez Nureldine/AFP]
7) Tunisians buy bread on the first day of Ramadan at a market in the capital Tunis [Fethi Belaid/AFP]
8) Filipino girls arrive for prayer inside a mosque near the capital Manila [Jay Directo/AFP]
9) The shadow of a Palestinian boy reading the Quran on a wall at the al-Omari mosque in Gaza City on the first day of Ramadan [Ali Ali/EPA]
10) Pakistanis pray before their Iftar (fast breaking) at the Dervesh Mosque in Peshawar [A Majeed/AFP]
11) Women in Jakarta attend a mass prayer session marking the start of Ramadan at the Istiqlal mosque [Supri/Reuters]
12) A Malaysian boy reads from the Quran inside a mosque in Kuala Lampur [Mohd Rasfan/AFP]
13) Indonesian men take a rest as they wait for a prayer time on the first day of Ramadan at the Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta [Adek Berry/AFP]
14) A boy takes part in prayers at Strasbourg’s new Grand Mosque [Vincent Kessler/Reuters]
15) An Afghan man makes sweets in a shop in Kabul in preparation for Ramadan [Shah Marai/AFP]
16) A shop in Paris sells traditional North African sweets in preparation for Ramadan [Miguel Medina/AFP]
17) A rebel fighter prays before breaking the fast at the front line near the Libyan town of Zlitan on the first day of Ramadan [Darren Whiteside/Reuters]
18) A Yemeni man fires a cannon to mark the end of the first fasting day of Ramadan in the southern city of Taiz [EPA]
19) Anti-government protesters attend the Iftar meal in Sanaa, Yemen, on the first day of Ramadan [Yahya Arhab/EPA]
20) People in Turkey break their first day of fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with free meals distributed by the municipality in downtown Istanbul [Mustafa Ozer/AFP]
21) A Palestinian boy in Gaza City plays with fireworks to celebrate the beginning of Ramadan [Ali Ali/EPA]
22) Kashmiris perform ablutions near a fountain at the landmark Jamia Masjid during Ramadan in Srinagar [Tauseef Mustafa/AFP]
23) People buy food for Iftar at Chakbazaar in Dhaka, Bangladesh [Andrew Biraj/Reuters]
24) Women break fast at King Fahad mosque in Los Angeles [Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]
25) A man enters a mosque for evening prayers in Moscow [Denis Sinyakov/Reuters]
Living in New York City, it seems that most people are too distracted to take moments to stop and reflect. So much of our day becomes routine and we stop thinking about why we do what we do – we just do. Sometimes this can be good, but most of time it can be bad. We miss out on opportunity and pass up on beauty in our mindless haste to follow our habits. The Washington Post ran a Social experiment with Joshua Bell a few years ago that very interestingly highlighted this phenomenon.
The month of Ramadan to me represents such an opportunity to stop, reflect, and deepen one’s consciousness. One is able to more concretely understand the beauty of this world and the blessings one has been given as one strives to deepen their relationship with the Divine by cultivating a better understanding of themselves and those that are around them. Or it can be an opportunity missed where one just gets hungry and thirsty and doesn’t really ask themselves why they are fasting.
My fiancee sent me a quote on Ramadan that she heard a few years ago from a female Islamic scholar and on this first day of Ramadan as I am asking myself why I am fasting and what I hope to achieve out of this month, I am reminded of it:

“There are as many forms of fasting as there are organs of perception and sensation, and each of these has many different levels. So we ask to fast from all that Allah does not love for us, and to feast on what the Beloved loves for us. Let us certainly fast from the limited mind, and all that it conjures up. Let us fast from fear, apart from fear and awe of Allah’s majesty. Let us fast from thinking that we know, when Allah alone is the Knower. Let us fast from thinking negatively of anyone. Let us fast from our manipulations and strategies. Let us fast from all complaint about the life experiences that Allah gives us. Let us fast from our bad habits and our reactions. Let us fast from desiring what we do not have. Let us fast from obsession. Let us fast from despair. Let us fast from not loving our self, and from denying our heart. Let us fast from selfishness and self-centered behavior. Let us fast from thinking that only what serves us is important. Let us fast from seeing reality only from our own point of view. Let us fast from seeing any reality other than Allah, and from relying on anything other than Allah. Let us fast from desiring anything other than Allah and Allah’s Prophets and friends, and our own true self. Essentially, let us fast from thinking that we have any existence separate from Allah.


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