So Ramadan is right around the corner and I am, I must admit, dreading the long hours of fasting in the warmest weather of the year. Ramadan in Canada will be taking place during some of the longest days of summer averaging 17.5 hours between dawn and dusk. Yet, Ramadan was --and is-- a large contributing factor to why I am a Muslim. After my first 30-day fast, I was in awe of the insight it gave me on my body, on the greatness of God's power of creation, and God's ability to instill a will into my soul that is greater than the needs, even the biological ones.
So I complain, but only in the same sense that one complains about having to go to work, or to get up in the morning: I complain about something I know I must do --if not a social/religious obligation, at least a personal one. Not that it is always pleasant, just like my headscarf is not always pleasant: sure it is warm and sometimes muggy and can be limiting in certain respects, but then there's is this greater sense of self-respect, of self-love and pride which I feel while wearing it which completely outweighs even the worst aspects of it.
What troubles me, is the comments I receive of "well, you know you don't have to do it". Honestly, it bothers me as much if not more than it bothers me when I receive it as an answer to my complaining about working out. The sharing of the complaint in the first place means a certain bond between myself and the person I am speaking to, at least a superficial one. An answer so critical and cynical tells me that the person with whom I am dialogue does not understand me, does not understand my purpose, the purpose of my actions. More importantly, it refers to a lack of consideration and a lack of respect for what I am doing.
I have free will over everything I do, just like anyone else. If you are going to be technical, no one "has" to work, no one "has" to follow the law, no one "has" to wake up in the morning, eat, sleep, take care of each other... but we do --and not always because we want to. Sometimes, we do things because they make us a better human being, because it makes the world around us a better place, because it allows us greater freedom in achieving greater wants in life. For example, many of us will do some unpleasant chores in order to feel comfortable in our homes --not because we like the cleaning process.
A better, kinder question, when lacking the understanding of a subject is not to state matter-of-fact-ly that "I do not *have* to do it" but perhaps to ask why I do. So why do I fast 30 days, from sunrise to sunset, making myself quite uncomfortable in the process? Because there is comfort in this discomfort: a comfort which lasts much longer than 30 days and much longer than 17.5 hrs/day: the comfort that I can control my body, my needs, my wants, and I can achieve whatever I put my mind to. The comfort of knowing that I *will* be eating 3 times a day for the remaining 335 days of the year. The comfort of knowing that I have been giving by God the ability to feel this comfort as part of a test of will and not through circumstances which do not allow otherwise.
I am blessed to have the opportunity to fast Ramadan, and while I might whine and complain, the successes I will achieve internally will far outweigh the external discomfort. So yes, I "need" to fast. I need to fast because nothing else has ever brought me this close to peace -- and even if nothing happens to me if I don't... nothing happens to me if I don't... and that in itself is the gravest of all the consequences!