4:30: ow. It’s early.

The deal is this: No eating, drinking, or sex between the start of Fajr and Maghrib. Fajr starts when it starts getting light, so today that means eating etc. stops a little after 5 am and resumes a bit before 8 pm. It’s a long day. Fortunately the days are getting shorter– each day is a few minutes shorter than the last, which sounds trivial but in practice it’s pretty noticeable, if only because leaving the alarm clock where it is results in more and more leisurely breakfasts, or suhoor.

My incredible powers of foresight have suggested that I’ll be a bit groggy, and I’ll have only about half an hour or so to fill up, so I did some prep last night. Boiled eggs are ready to go, and there’s a bowl of oatmeal waiting in the fridge. (Quaker 5-minute oats are a favorite because it keeps me full for a long time, but cooking time is a drag and it’s too hot to eat right away. These minutes are precious! So I made some last night.) Problem: cold oatmeal is really nasty. I mix it with some whole milk and force it down. Also on the menu: some nuts, for even more fat and protein, some fresh fruit, a bowl of cereal, and as much water as I can hold. I have a bit of indecision on the espresso. Bad: it doesn’t help with hydration, and it rules out going back to bed for a while. Good: the thought of a day without a shot makes me sad. I opt in.

5:10: eating is done. Time for wudu and Fajr.

Fajr is always a special experience– the day is peaceful and quiet, it’s a good time for reflection– but during Ramadan even more so. It’s still dark and most people are sleeping, but I know across town and across the world brothers and sisters are making salaat and starting their fasts. A-salaam-alaikum wa rahmatullah.

5:50: say stupid stuff online.

6:10: a fit of guilt prompts me to add that this is just a collection of thoughts compiled with the hope of amusing people who don’t observe Ramadan. It’s not an apologia.

Anyway. Usually my strategy is to use the early part of the day for intellectual labor, as my head is working pretty well and I’m able to get some alone time in the office. Then as it gets later I shift to easier, more routine tasks. (Many people assume hunger is the hard part. It’s usually not, at least for me. I’ll probably be hungry for a bit around lunchtime, but after that hunger is replaced by a kind of tired-and-slow feeling and anything requiring mental exertion takes a very long time.) This can be really productive because knowing that time is short makes me focus. No stupid distractions like blogging! Today isn’t an office day, though, so I’m going to do some house repair and errands before I slow down.

8:00: comfortably full, wanting a glass of ice water. Only 12 hours away! This is where one of the lessons of Ramadan manifest itself: part of the goal of fasting is to exercise control over desire and to gain some distance from bodily urges. It’s also a vivid reminder that some people have to live this way out of necessity. While this is a banal observation, prolonged hunger and thirst make it a bit more vivid.

9:30: I just woke up from a nap. I’m not yet into the fasting groove, i.e., it takes me a second to realize that food and drink are not on the agenda. Not really hungry yet, but getting there.

12:30: woohoo, hunger. The good news is I’m close (I think) to passing through the hungry phase and moving on to the spacier let’s-just-be-mellow part of the day. It’s pleasant. Unfortunately I still have a lot of paint to put on various parts of my kitchen, and I’m interested to see how the fine motor skills hold up.

Vance asks if I’m fasting where a lot of other people are fasting. Not really. It’s definitely a minority thing, so the daily routines around me are just as they were yesterday. For me this adds a note of conspiratorial enjoyment, since most people aren’t on on this. On the other hand, there’s a decent-sized Muslim community here, which is a help. Ramadan is, of course, a Big Deal, and the masjid was packed yesterday for Friday prayer, sort of like church on Easter. The thing outsiders sometimes find surprising is that people are excited for Ramadan, rather than feeling burdened. It’s an important religious duty, a time for renewal and reassessment, but it’s also a big social thing. Every night there are tarawih prayers at the masjid, and on weekends there are communal iftars. Lots of partying, such as it is. (This is less of a thing in the summer, since the fasts go on later and start earlier.) So there’s excitement in the air. (Running joke in my household: any sort of crowd or traffic is attributed to Ramadan, e.g., if I’m caught in rush hour it’s because people are all going to the masjid; if the stores are crowded it’s because everyone is out shopping for Eid presents, and so on.)

In Muslim-majority countries, it’s a different scene, since everyone is fasting. For example, I have some friends doing Umrah during Ramadan, and the hotels they’re staying in will have big buffets set up for suhoor and iftar. Cool in a different way.

1:00: almost zuhr time. Whoa-whoa, halfway there, etc.

2:30: safe to say my most productive hours are behind me. I’m not uncomfortable, I’m just a little foggy and listless. (It took me about two minutes to think of “listless,” for example. Had this been a work day, the writing and article-reading would be done, but I’d be ok to teach– I hope!– or talk to students. I’m sure this says something about the woeful state of higher ed, but there it is.) Today is harder than most because it’s a new routine and I haven’t adjusted to the sleep schedule yet, but I’m feeling good. (Predicted arc of the month: harder at first while getting adjusted, then easier as I get used to the schedule and the days get shorter, then getting harder again as it all catches up to me.)

I should add that there are all sorts of regulations on the fasting requirement. Pregnant or nursing women, people who are ill, and I think people who are traveling are prohibited from fasting (though fasting during travel might be optional, I’m not sure), and it’s fine to skip fasting if it interferes with your job or some important duty. For example, I’m going to a conference in a few weeks, and I’ll eat normally during those days and then make them up after Ramadan. In general the rules are really sensible, and it’s considered sort of poor form to fail to take advantage of them. (It’s also poor form to bug people about fasting, to criticize them if they eat or drink something in front of you, or to generally be a pain about it, since it’s not your business and you don’t know if they have a good reason not to fast.)

3:00: I am so getting in the zone. Doing relatively mindless stuff also passes the time, and there’s a lot of it, since I’m not fixing any food. But I can’t bring myself to paint more right now. I’m doing white trim next to light walls, and distinguishing the wall color from white primer and white paint is messing with my eyes. Alhumdulillah, blogs!

Did you know that Jasmine Fiore’s body was identified by her breast implants? I did not. Who knew those things had serial numbers?

Wow, I’m glad I spent time on the internet. But I hadn’t seen this yet. Great, our black Kenyan Muslim president explains it better than I can. (“Black Muslim” is sort of a tricky term, by the way, since it might mean someone into the so-not-Orthodox Nation of Islam or a regular muslim who “just happens to be black.”)

5-ish: asr time! Or if you want a video of some dude making salaat, here.

The asr prayer is four rakah, four cycles of more or less the same thing. (Fajr is two rakah, zuhr and asr are four, maghrib is three, and isha, the night prayer, is four.) Each rakah starts with a recitation of al Fatihah, the first surah of the Qur’an, and then a surah of your choice. In this video, he recites surah al-Asr in the first rakah, then, in the second, he does surah al-Iklas, which the Prophet Muhammed [saws] said is equal to one-third of the Qur’an. It’s sort of like doctrinal primer: “Say: God is one/the uncaused cause of all that exists*/He begets not nor is he begotten/and nothing can be compared to Him.” al-Ikhlas is one of the “four Quls,” four short surahs that begin with the word “qul,” or “say.” Because they’re short, important, and have a common visual element, they’re often reproduced in calligraphy, e.g. like this.

Not sure why I waited until now to link a salaat video, but better late than never.

*this is Asad’s translation of “al-Samad,” I think; other translations vary a lot because it’s sort of a sui generis term. Is this the only occurrence of it in the Qur’an? I should know, but don’t.

5:30-ish: DXM asks about the two calendars issue. The “hijra” calendar of which Ramadan is a month is about 9-10 days shorter than the Western calendar, so Ramadan starts earlier on the Western calendar every year. Last year, e.g., Ramadan started on Sept 1. Is this a pain in the ass in the summer, because the days are so long? Yes. What about the far, far north? Not sure.

7-ish: home stretch. Since this is a time of spiritual renewal and purification, I’ll make fun of B in the comments, not in the main post. Anyway. I feel surprisingly good. Food will taste great, but I’m not suffering. (The only time fasting really hurt is when I decided to sit in the hot sun all afternoon in order to see Obama. Not smart.)

8-ish: woohoo, food and drink! It works like this: at the start of the time for maghrib, you eat a little something (traditionally a date or two and some water, but there’s no requirement), then the prayer, then dinner.

(These prayer times are printed up in handy little charts– enter your zip code at Islamic Finder and you can get one for your area– so it’s easy to see what the timeline looks like.)

It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife, but it’s pretty hard to eat a lot after fasting. All day you think, yum, I’m going to eat a ton of food, and then not so much, you’re full after a little bit. I usually have more food before bed, but these days there’s not much time between when you start to eat and when you should be getting to bed if you want to get enough sleep before doing this all again tomorrow.

Time for dinner. Back in a bit.

10:30: so full. So tired. Up in six hours. I should have more of a closing, but you know how it is.