Today is the 19th day of Ramadan. During this month, the most frequent question that I am asked is if I, too, am fasting. When I answer in affirmative, the next immediate question is "Why?"
Now this "Why?" is a tricky as well as an important question. Tricky because the questioner tries to find out if I am being forced to fast (most of them think that); important because I feel responsible to present the correct picture.
A very few people actually believe me when I say that I am not forced to fast and that I fast because I like or want to. Most of them even blurt out that my husband should not ask me to fast, that I should be allowed at least to drink water. My poor husband. Well, I seriously fast because I like to. No one in my marital home, including Az, has ever asked me to fast. In fact Az's relatives are surprised when they learn I fast too.
In a Muslim home, Ramadan is a festival. We enjoy fasting together. Our plans and routine revolve around it the entire month. Even the members who are not fasting don't really feel like eating much during the day. So it is really difficult not to want to fast. Also, once you observe the fast in the proper manner (eating just before sunrise and breaking fast at sunset), the body gets habituated and the fast becomes doable. And when you finally break your fast at sunset, the feeling of gratitude humbles you immensely.
Funnily, when I am not fasting I am again asked "Why?". This question, too, demands a responsible answer. Most non-Muslims have varying notions regarding Ramadan. Many believe that all Muslims have to fast during Ramadan, or that if they start fasting they have to continue the entire month. So I need to provide the correct information. Well, one may not fast on various grounds like traveling, health issues, pregnancy, etc. Exemptions from fasting and means to compensate have also been clearly defined. (Click for details)
Fasting during Ramadan is not a burden (Read my post The Gift of Ramadan). It is not just about physical fasting. It is about self-restraint and abstaining from all things negative. It teaches us to appreciate everything that we have been granted. Last but not the least, it instills in us empathy and humility.