Shadia: Refreshing my faith during Ramadan

Ramadan starts Thursday night (insert multiple happy faces here).

You would think that because I will be refraining from eating and drinking for about 15 hours a day for the next month, I would be dreading the arrival of Islam's holiest month.

You would think that because I'll be cutting down on my nights out with my friends, and, instead, devoting more of my time to praying and reexamining my priorities, I would be a little bummed out.

But when it comes to Ramadan, frankly, I can forget the food, the drinks, even the parties. There's just something about Ramadan that tingles my heart and brings me a sense of peace and comfort, even more so than praying five times a day, and more so than going to the mosque on any other day.

I don't know about everyone else, but when Ramadan is here, I sense calmness and kindness in the air. I'm usually also more careful, patient, focused and not quick to react to anything (the latter might be because I'm not eating and don't have as much energy).

But the energy I feel is inward, centered and strong. It gets me back to basics, to who I am and what I stand for.

I started fasting when I was 6 years old. And in the last few years, I started promising myself to make each Ramadan better than the one before it. I made that promise to myself when, by the end of two Ramadans ago, I felt I didn't do enough. Didn't pray enough, didn't commit enough. I regretted it and wished I had done more.

Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is one of Islam's five pillars. The fast begins Friday.

Forgoing food and drink is not unique to Islam. Some Jews fast on Yom Kippur. Devout Catholics often give up certain foods during Lent, and other Christian denominations follow Jesus' teachings and fast for various periods of time in hopes that self-sacrifice will make them closer to God.

The Koran says that fasting was not only prescribed to us, but also to those who came before.

We fast for many reasons: With all of life's hassles, Ramadan is a chance to stop for a minute and renew your connection with God. It's also a way to change your habits, including eating, and it really leads to seeing things from a clearer perspective and remembering what matters most in life.

Fasting puts us in others' shoes, including those who are dying from starvation and injustice throughout the world. It's a chance to stand beside them, not just by refraining from eating, but by helping them in every way we can.

It's not like we're supposed to do that in Ramadan and then, once it's over, move on and go back to our old ways. Ramadan is a reminder of all the things we should be doing throughout the year and throughout our lives. It's a reminder and a chance for a new beginning.

I know that it's difficult for some to understand. Why starve yourself to do all of that? But Ramadan's fast is not about refraining from eating. This is just one aspect of it, and it's probably the easiest of all.

It's faith. And faith — just like love — is difficult to understand.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for Times Community News. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.

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