When I was growing up in the UAE, Ramadan took place between winter and spring. I wasn’t aware then that fasting was linked to the lunar (Hijri) calendar. I thought it was to do with the month of March, so I associated Ramadan with cool weather and long nights.
Ramadan these past years has shifted towards the peak months of summer. For many people, this means longer hours of fasting and a challenge to keep hydrated. For me, the challenge is to find time to exercise. Many tend to exercise just before iftar, but this was never my preferred option. Moreover, considering my working hours in the newsroom at The National, exercising during the second half of the day is not even an option – work is just too busy.
Taking into account the typical Ramadan lifestyle in the UAE, engaging in physical activity after iftar is almost impossible – because of the amount of food we consume at iftar, and because of post-iftar social activities.
Having lived abroad for eight years, I experienced Ramadan in a different light. To a certain degree, it was more enjoyable. People didn’t talk about food since they weren’t deprived of it. It was fasting in a fuss-free environment, and the challenge was personal, not collective. I had to adapt to Ramadan without the social package that it usually comes with. I used to have cereal and milk for iftar, since, technically speaking, it’s breakfast. You can tell, I was a bit lazy. However, it was a relatively light iftar. Considering it was autumn in Melbourne at the time, the sun would set by 6pm. This allowed me to practise my favourite sport, jogging, by 8pm.
Nowadays, if I am to have a typical Emirati iftar here in Abu Dhabi, I’ll possibly be done eating by 8pm. Considering the amount of food to be digested, I’ll have to wait for more than two hours to do any physical activity.
These days I live alone – my wife is abroad, as she was during Ramadan last year. Even when she was here, she joined her family for iftar. I would join, too, sometimes, depending on when I was finished with work. I saw my overall situation as an opportunity to exercise. So, I decided to experiment during Ramadan last year by having an iftar comprising of a handful of dates and warm milk. About 90 minutes later, I’d jog along the Eastern Mangroves corniche. I’d come back home and cook my only substantial meal of the day. I’d eat around midnight and be in bed by 4am. I’d sleep for six to seven hours and reach work by noon.
Initially, I thought I’d be exhausting myself and pushing my body to its limits. On the contrary, I was retrieving it back to its comfort. I felt so light and healthy. I discovered that I could survive on less. This was a lesson for life, and it’s something I’ve chosen to do again this Ramadan. It would be perfect if not for having to sleep through the morning, as I believe sunlight contributes to our overall well-being.
For many people, Ramadan is a challenge to abstain from food before having to manage the influx of gastronomic choices during the non-fasting hours. My personal choice is to avoid choices, to begin with. This is perhaps easier said than done, particularly for people who rejoice at iftar with their families. However, if health is the priority, then our meals have to be planned properly. Being a foodie, I never felt that I’ve compromised on enjoying food. If there’s one lesson I’ve learnt from Ramadan, I would say less is definitely more.
Hussain Al Moosawi is a graphic artist at The National.
Source: art & life