I was born and raised in the United States. I spent my school days in beautiful New Jersey and my summers in the war zone known as the West Bank. The first Ramadan I ever fasted was no joke. I was 8 years old and on summer vacation in my parent’s village. It was late June and the Middle East is a sauna at that time of year. During Ramadan, those observing the fast abstain from food, beverages, smoking, and shagging. I have never had an issue with fasting. I’m one of those crazy Muslims who loves Ramadan.
I have cerebral palsy. That means, technically, I am exempt from fasting; even though it is one of the five pillars of Islam and extremely important to the faith. The Qur’an states clearly in Surah 2, Ayah 185 that those who have medical conditions are pardoned, so I was treated like a champ for fasting. My family was over the moon and I refused to show any weakness. I knew that by fasting against the odds I had been born with, I’d totally get into heaven and more importantly would get amazing gifts for Eid. Eid is the celebration that marks the end of fasting. Muslims celebrate for three days because after 30 days of fasting, one day simply isn’t enough.
Regardless of the heat, its fun to fast Ramadan when you are in a country where the majority of folks around you are also starving. Ramadan is not as much fun in America when you are the only one fasting. In my day, teachers weren’t as culturally savvy as they are now. I had teachers who genuinely feared for my life and were convinced that I was being forced by my horrible Muslim parents to fast. They’d try to slip me a butterscotch candy at lunchtime. I would shove their candy away and tell them not to push their beliefs on me. I could eat whatever I wanted at sunset, thank you very much.
Every Ramadan, without fail, my mother has given me the option to not fast. Those who cannot fast during Ramadan get to make a donation that will feed a hungry person for the duration of the holy month. If you cannot afford to do so, you should instead perform any acts of charity within your capability. My mom has donated on my behalf every single year I have fasted, just in case it ever got to be too much and I had to give up. How is that for faith?
My most challenging Ramadan came in the form of a ten-day road trip in 2011, in America’s Deep South, on a comedy tour called “The Muslims Are Coming”. Ramadan which moves back 10 days each year landed in August. I was filming a documentary in addition to performing nightly. We would spend all day on the street doing interviews with the locals who weren’t too fond of Muslims. For the first time in my history of Ramadans, I complained. I was hot, thirsty, and tired of bigotry. Some nights, I didn’t break my fast until 10:30 pm, but I survived. I only broke down and broke my fast once on tour. We were at Elvis’ house in Tupelo, Mississippi. The statue of the King spoke to me and I realized if I didn’t drink water I would drop down dead just like he did. I did not want to die where Elvis was born. It’s okay to miss a day or five, if you are sick, or traveling, or are on your ladies holiday. You then have a whole year to make it up. Some Muslims are slick and do their make-up days in December when the sun sets at like 4:30 pm and they only have to fast for six or seven hours.
On July 10, 2013, after three decades, my days of fasting came to an end. As I mentioned, I have cerebral palsy. One of my symptoms is that I shake all the time, just like Shakira’s hips. On the first day of Ramadan 2013, my shaking got the best of me. By noon, I no longer had the coordination to Tweet and by the time I broke my fast at 8:30 pm, I could barely breath. I knew that I had fasted my last day. The next morning the water I drank tasted like poison. It felt so wrong to quench my thirst during the daylight hours. Ramadan is something I strongly associate with the happiest times of my life and I felt like a tradition was lost.
I am not ashamed that I cannot fast, but I know many who are, even though they are excused for God’s sake. I miss fasting, but I’m happy to take on my newest mission of reminding those who can’t fast, that there is no reason to put themselves at risk. Muslims fast so they can suffer a little. It is important not to die in the process. Instead, those who can’t should channel their devotion into charity. This will not only help you stay healthy, but also help someone who is genuinely suffering. Those who are blessed with the health to fast, please don’t interrogate your fellow Muslims about their hunger status. It is impolite to ask others if they are fasting unless you are in the process of offering them something to eat and sometimes you really don’t want to know the answer.