The holy month of Ramadan has started for much of the Muslim population—which, despite all statements by Donald Trump and his ilk, is not exclusively made up of bomb-toting Arabs in menacing turbans. This demographic includes Asians (fun fact—Indonesia contains the largest Muslim population in the world), Caucasians, the man who sells you your bean pies and the regla-ass diasporic Negroes such as yours truly—who, in addition to other Muslims of African descent, make up one third of the religious sect. Who would’ve thunk that the second-largest religion in the world isn’t limited to one ethnic group? Apparently a large part of the United States voting bloc—make America great again, indeed.
Here’s a quick rundown for those of you all who aren’t in the know: Every year according to the lunar Islamic calendar, the entire Muslim community engages in a month (well, 28-30 days, depending on the moon) of fasting from sunrise to sunset—specifically to commemorate when the Quran is said to have been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, but generally as a time of self-reflection, self-discipline and increased spiritual reflection. Since the holy month falls in June this year, that means it’s approximately 16 hours a day of no food or drink.
Yes, I said “drink.” You can’t have water, either.
Before you gasp in shock and awe, know that it is a lot more manageable than it seems. After you’ve had a few years in the game, most folks raised in Muslim households have figured out some tried-and-true tips for getting through the month in (mostly) one piece. That said, there are some parts of the month that are worth noting for the uninitiated:
1. This is not a diet
I can’t count the number of times folks have indicated that they would like to fast as some misguided attempt to lose a couple of pounds in a month. Besides the fact that this notion is thoroughly insulting, it is also simply not intuitive to the process. I’ve been on my fair share of “I’m going on vacation in a month and would like to stunt on the ’Gram” diets—but no slim-down process has ever entailed stockpiling carbs and protein late at night and early in the morning for four-plus weeks. You’d have better luck drinking a FitTea.
2. The first week will always be the worst
In an ideal world, you could finesse your fast by sleeping all day and eating all night. But unfortunately, we live in the real world with bills and student loans and whatnot, which means that we have to adjust to new eating and sleeping schedules while still being active contributors to society. Those first few days of waking up at 3:30 a.m. to chug a half-gallon of water and shove food in your mouth and pray only for your bloated self to nap a couple more hours before work will try even Job’s patience.
You’ll even be tempted to skip work because then comes the 12:30 p.m. lunch grumble paired with the co-worker who decided to microwave fish for lunch that day. Then comes the 6 p.m. hunger pangs. Plus, your lips’ seemingly never-ending need for a supply of ChapStick. It’s about a solid week of this before your body fully adjusts, during which time irritability can understandably be at an all-time high. I’ve almost slapped a person over a seat in the subway during this time before. I’m not proud of it, but I feel that we can all understand the extenuating circumstances here.
3. You will never see a woman more excited to be on her period, ever
Aside from that one time in 2012 when I prayed to all three Abrahamic Gods for two weeks straight, there’s never a better time to be on your period than during Ramadan. So if you see me inhaling chicken wings midday with a shit-eating grin on my face, know that the menses fairies have bestowed goodwill upon me and I am leaving no stone unturned during those five days of freedom. There are also a host of other reasons that someone might not be fasting (traveling, illness, pregnancy, being elderly, etc.); so if you see someone you assume to be Muslim eating, do not interrogate that person as to why he or she is not currently fasting. It’s like asking a Black woman if her hair is hers or real—it’s really none of your business unless the information is volunteered to you.
4. We have all accidentally broken a fast
Every person who has grown up in a Muslim household has at least one story of blacking out and waking up with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in his or her mouth. We’re human; it happens, especially since your brain gets a little fuzzy, what with the whole “not eating in extreme heat” thing.
My brother once kept his mouth open in the shower and spent the whole day arguing with himself as to whether or not he swallowed. You haven’t made it through the month until you’ve Googled something asinine such as “Will I break my fast if I wear flavored ChapStick?” (The answer is no, by the way.)
5. We can still engage in day-to-day activities
Muslims can continue to work, exercise and go to a baby shower during this time. We’re not rendered Walking Dead zombies for 30 days—we just won’t accept that brunch invite or coffee date. Also: I won’t help you move. That is something I barely tolerate doing on a regular diet.
6. Everyone turns into an astronomer by the end of the month
The end of the month is marked by the sighting of the moon by the naked eye, so the last days entail everyone waiting with bated breath to see when the month has concluded and we can conclude fasting, in a holiday known as Eid al-Fitr. I’ve seen family members argue over the phone about whether or not they or their family have seen the moon and can conclude the fast with the same furor as I’ve seen folks debate Kobe versus M.J. at the barbershop.
Ramadan Kareem, everyone.