Muslims all around the world are waiting for the holy month Ramadan. During Ramadan, we are going to be fasting for one whole month. Fasting here means that we do not eat any food or drink from the break of dawn until the sun sets.
Luckily (yeah we are lucky!) for us who live in the northern hemisphere, we will experience longer fasting since it is summertime. In most part of Europe, the day will last for 18 hours, while in Scandinavia, it can last until 20-22 hours. While in extreme parts of the globe will be given some exception (rukhsoh) based on rules of the current scholars (fatwa), most people (who are healthy and able) will just have to stick with it. In the place I reside in, the break of the dawn (fajr) is at 01.50 and the sun sets (maghrib) at 22.10. Yeah 20 hours!
It's not only about struggling with hunger
When fasting, we are recommended to take early meal before the break of the dawn (suhoor) and we must eat as soon as the sun sets (iftar). Sticking to these times is part of the legibility of the fasting. This means, our biological clock will have to adapt. Not only the periods of meal, but also sleeping times as well as productive time.
Last year I had to fast when I was in southern France, for summer school. Maghrib was at 21.00 and Fajr was around 03.00, around 18 hours fasting in total. It wasn't, alhamdulillah, that hard with the hunger and thirst. But it was very hard to get to sleep at night and wake up again before 03.00, then sleep again until 07.00 or 08.00. I have to really obey my phone's alarm.
Sleeping-time-wise it is easier in Sweden. Say you have a routine at 9am until 5pm, you sleep as soon as you finish fajr prayer (around 2.30am), then wake up around 8am to get ready to work (much simpler since you don't have to think about breakfast). Then as soon as you came back from work, say at 6pm, get to bed straight away. Three hours nap is good to help you stay up at night. Then wake up at 9pm to prepare some food, and finally at 10pm you can enjoy your iftar. Then you just stay up until fajr again.
Like having a long flight, we like to have as few transits as possible. When I was fasting in France, I had three sleep period or "transits": after work, after night prayer and after morning prayer. In Sweden there are fewer "transits": after work and after morning prayer.
But sometimes our body doesn't follow that logic. It's not easy to eat again after midnight after you had a big iftar meal. It isn't easy to get to sleep when you don't feel sleepy or get up when your eyes still wants to be closed. Suddenly your alarm clock and extra dark curtain become your most important equipment when Ramadan falls in summer.
Most of the time at 9pm, you almost have no energy left. But you just have to prepare the food, if you haven't already done so. Usually for me, I want to have the most delicious food for iftar. So I usually prepare a few things in the menu.
Therefore it is super important for me to be at "energy-saving mode" during the day. I try to do less of the unimportant things, to talk less, not to get into situation that I have to rush or make my body worn out, but still stay in focus of work and prayers.
To be honest, it is super hard not to be thinking about or be tempted by food during the day. But the temptation is not over after iftar. Prophet Muhammad SAW taught us to fill our stomach with: 1/3 food, 1/3 water, 1/3 air. However once we break the fast, there is a big temptation to eat a lot. If you go to a Muslim country like Indonesia, people just get sooooo creative in terms of cooking during Ramadan. The best of food are sold during this time. Ironically, sometimes we are prone to wasting food during the fasting period.
So, is it that hard?
Before coming to Europe, I had the question whether I will be able to fast when the day is long. When I arrived in Sweden, it turns out that the weather is much cooler than in my tropical country, even in summer. It is also not that humid. It's like having a big air conditioner outside. My first fasting in Sweden was surprisingly easy, I don't feel thirsty so much even after more than half day fasting. So even though we had 20 hours without food, we are given better weather to deal with it 😉
Ok that really was just to cheer myself up, but I'm not going to lie. Fasting is a struggle, fasting is difficult. In the summer and in tropical countries. But this is faith put into test. In Islam we believe that Allah will never put us with tests we cannot handle. He is always fair in every way. Plus remember the wisdom, the lesson, the good deeds given later in this world or in the hereafter.