No food, no water: Metro Vancouver Muslims begin fasting for Ramadan
Fasting during Ramadan nourishes the spirit by reminding Muslims what they have
If you have Muslim neighbours, you may notice their kitchen lights are on very early in the morning. That's likely because they are observing the month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is observed in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. And it's during this month that most Muslims fast from dawn to dusk for 29 or 30 days depending on the moon cycle.
Here in Metro Vancouver, that means rising before dawn and eating breakfast by about 3 a.m., and abstaining from food and water till sundown.
Ramadan began Monday, May 6, and more than a million Muslims in Canada began the arduous practice of fasting.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, which also includes making a declaration to god, giving to charity, standing for five prayers each day, and travelling to Mecca for pilgrimage.
For Muslims the sacrifice during the month of Ramadan is about gratitude, compassion and service. By fasting, devotees become more aware of those who live in poverty who routinely go without food and water.
For Haroon Khan, with the Al Jamia Masjid mosque in Vancouver, Ramadan is a time of self reflection.
"It's not just being hungry and thirsty, you're more spiritually aware," Khan said.
"Spend this time to still your mind. Spend this time to take stock of what you've got, to improve yourself."
Muslims believe it was during the month of Ramadan that the Holy Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The holy scripture is read each night by followers in the form of a prayer.
Fasting is only compulsory for healthy adults and teens. The elderly, children and those who are ill are exempt. Women who are pregnant or nursing aren't required to fast, and neither are women who are menstruating.
This year, given that Ramadan occurs when the daylight hours are longer, each day of fasting in Vancouver lasts about 18 hours.
Given the long days, it's important to adapt your diet and sleep schedule to ensure you manage your energy.
Dr. Akber Mithani, the regional medical director at Fraser Health says it's important for a fasting person to manage their meals.
"You need to be smart about how you eat," says Mithani.
Dates are a good fruit to break your fast with since they are a complex carbohydrate. They have a lot of fibre and they slowly release sugar in your body. Avocados are also great to include in your diet, especially at breakfast time, because the high fat content will give you energy and make you feel full.
He stresses the importance of drinking water and suggests a person consume at least two litres a day.
Foods like watermelon, apples, berries and cucumbers are especially hydrating.
Abstaining from food or drink during fasting hours is not the only challenge during the month. Your sleep pattern changes too.
Mithani says it's best to sneak in a power nap during the day.
"Research has shown it's extremely beneficial," he said. A small nap will leave you refreshed and help regulate your sleep.
And for non-Muslims who may be curious about Ramadan, Khan urges people to come visit your local mosque.
"You're most welcome."