My husband and I had just dismissed all the girls from our English class when several of them spoke up together.
“When are we going to play basketball?”
I was surprised. It was the first day of Ramadan in the Moroccan town where I live, and all of my students were going to be fasting from sunrise until sunset. It was warm even here, in the classroom, and playing basketball on hot concrete without being able to drink any water sounded terrible to me.
“You want to start basketball classes, even though it’s Ramadan?”
They were unanimous: even though it was Ramadan, they wanted their exercise classes. And so began my education in what it means to fast.
When I fast, it’s the sole focus of my day. I think about food and I think about water and I give myself a pass on things that I would normally do. Because I’m fasting, of course. There is a bit of that here in Morocco—there’s a lot more people napping in parks than usual, and stores don’t open until noon—but I’ve been impressed by how the people in our town don’t use fasting as an excuse, the way I so often find myself doing. Despite the heat and a lack of water, the girls in my class played a tough game of basketball.
More than that, Ramadan has inspired generosity in our friends and neighbors. Our landlady has taken it upon herself to help us keep things clean, including aggressively cleaning our deck and showing us the correct, Moroccan way to wash our rugs. Various people have given me a five-pound sack of fresh peas, jars of homemade jam, and sfoof, a traditional Moroccan Ramadan food made from sesame seeds, almonds, and flour. We’ve also been invited to so many fast-breaking dinners that we haven’t had to cook for a week.
As they have fasted for Ramadan, my Moroccan friends and neighbors have made me recognize that I’ve been going about fasting the wrong way. I always undertook fasting as a grim duty, but here it is seen as something to celebrate. Just yesterday, I asked a sixteen-year old boy in drop-crotch shorts and with the sides of his head shaved how his fast was going. He told me that he thanked God for the chance to fast, and then proceeded to destroy me in basketball. It really made me question what I knew about sixteen-year-old boys.
Part of the celebration of Ramadan is the opportunity it provides to serve others. As I tend to keep to myself on the first Sunday of every month, trying my best to contain my more irritable than usual self, the people around me in Morocco have done the opposite. They let the spirit of fasting inspire them to be more giving and more charitable to the people around them, including my non-Muslim husband and I.
Of course I can’t speak for everyone who is observing Ramadan, or even for all of my neighbors. But what I’ve seen from living in an Islamic country during Ramadan has reminded me that fasting shouldn’t be the burden that I tend to make it out to be. It’s given me a clearer understanding that the way I fast right now is focusing more on merely getting through it than treating it as a way to improve myself, and it’s helped me see how I can change. Fasting can, and should, be something to embrace; a time to reflect on what’s important to you and to do good. From what I’ve seen in our Moroccan town, focusing on helping those around you might be the best way to forget your own hunger.