By the Islamic doctrine and tradition, the fast is a divine order(1), and those who receive it must in the first instance embark upon it without question and with resolve, for this is the truest form of obedience.
And, second, they must seek to take from it what virtue and nourishment their intelligence will permit, for the fast is by reason of its heavenly mandate a source of wisdom and bounty.
In its abstinence from food and drink, for around 18 hours a day for 30 days, the body is initially quick to issue its distress call, sending a bruising tinnitus-inducing morse code-like complaint to the helm(2) as it struggles to locate the chocolate it would otherwise have habitually enjoyed.
There is no substitute product to quell the hunger pain. Instead, in this emptiness, the body and all its constituent parts quickly get with the programme, like the crew of a battleship who gear-up and quash their banter as they enter uncharted or dangerous waters.
The body reverts to its founding and intended state – metabolising what little it has with impeccable efficiency (a fundamental of physical endurance), detoxifying in preparation for the journey (an ablution of sorts). It thins and it dissipates into obscurity, and when this last physical attachment to the world is all but gone, I am left unimpeded, to coast and to contemplate the meaning of life. For me, I am by now usually in the trenches of the tenth day, cognisant of the fact that the fast should never be a mechanical effort or a mere limitation, and that it must come from the depth of one’s soul (Mahatma Gandhi).
‘It breaks the cycle of life…it mends the broken ambition.’
For the Muslim, there is in this moment a closeness to their Lord, a realisation of His magnificence and eternal grace. There is also in this ethereal state, as both time and the pace of life slows, an excruciating self-assessment (in order to earn His mercy and friendship), with quiet conversations full of regret and remorse, of promise, of hope and of want. We claw right back, or at least we attempt to, to a point in time of innocence and of purity; and if at the end of Ramadan you are literally on your knees, absent any physical presence, though with a smile at least, you know you have made it.
Fasting makes me tick. I re-set and I start again. I come back from the fast stronger, with renewed energy and vision, with fresh perspective, ready to better myself and be for the betterment of others. With our busy, professional lives, with competing objectives and pressures, sometimes it is the inward journey and escape that sustains us best. It is for this reason that something as simple as the fast, in moderation if necessary, can be for everyone, irrespective of their system of belief. It breaks the cycle of life, and it mends the broken ambition.
And of course, at the end of it all, you can have all the strawberry jam you like.