I first learnt of fasting from two students doing a sponsored twenty-four hour fast for charity in 1995. They both held me in contempt, but I sponsored them anyway, full of admiration.
The first time I ever fasted myself was in 1997. I was a searching agnostic then. I had been encouraged to by a Somali student I knew at university. None else knew I was fasting. I had become a recluse by then.
My first fast as a believer was in 1999. The days were short, mid-winter, a gentle introduction to fasting. There wasn’t much difference from a normal day, as I hardly ate anything much then anyway. I spent Christmas Day with my parents. They ate Turkey, while I just watched.
My second fast was in Scotland, in the company of international Masters students. We would often break our fast with Bombay Mix, chilly crisps and pink milk in the university prayer room.
My next fast would be at work in Maidenhead, evenings spent in West Ealing. Colleagues were upset I refused every cup of tea up until they caught me breaking my fast at half-past four. Then they were fascinated and in awe.
My first fast as a married man would have been in 2002. A twenty-year anniversary. Probably my first fast properly fed at nightfall.
One winter we fasted in Istanbul. Many a fast we experienced during family holidays, my siblings looking on bemused.
This year’s fast must be my twenty-third as a believer. We have nearly cycled through all the seasons. The long, scorching fasts of the summer are behind us. I don’t know if they get any easier though.
I don’t suppose those collecting sponsorship money all those years back could ever have imagined that I would join them, expecting a different kind of reward. May they be rewarded for inspiring me.
My early fasts were easy, though I don’t know what benefit I got from them, for the long evenings made time for all kinds of nonsense and stupidity. The summer fasts were intense, the short nights affording little time for mischief.
As the years have passed by, the fast has become thirty days of sickness, my body made weak, capable of reform. Fasting is a time we stop doing things. When we become more conscious of those daily decisions to do good or bad.
While fasting, I will generally do my best work. I will be less lazy and less easily distracted. My ego will become subdued. Hopefully I will exercise more self-control. Hopefully it will make me a better person.
To all who are fasting: may you be showered with blessings and mercy.
To those who aren’t: perhaps it is time you tried, for a day or two, or for a week or a month. May you be showered with blessings and mercy too.
Perhaps you will inspire others just as others inspired me.