Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The Six-Day Fasting in Syawal
A month long obligatory fasting in the month of Ramadhan somehow feels less challenging to me than the six-day (optional) fasting in Syawal. I've realized this before but not as clearly as i have now after completing the six-day challenge. And I certainly have never thought why it would be more challenging since it's only for six days or one fifth of the Ramadhan requirement.
So let me list down some of the reasons, for the benefit of those who have never accepted the challenge and experienced the
"fulfillment" it brings, or have performed it in a rather lackadaisical way. By that I mean doing it a day or two at a time with a few days break and then adding a few more days until you complete a total of six: not doing it at a stretch with full determination. The former method is also acceptable anyway, but it just doesn't trigger off the full salvo of the challenge.
One of the toughest aspects of the challenge is that you're fasting while the people around you are celebrating open houses here and there, having parties and gatherings everywhere, with food and delicacies piling up high on the dinner table. You can of course keep away from these gatherings but you can hardly avoid them. I had the experience of sitting at the corridor of a police station waiting for my firearm license to be renewed while policemen and officers were indulging in a hariraya feast a few feet away. The caterers keep bringing out new supplies of savory food for the officers as they took turn throughout lunch time to have their fill. I had to wait by the window in the wall for my license and cannot but just watch the gorging and the bandying of police jokes, though I keep pretending to look away. No, the eating and drinking didn't bother me at all, but imagine a starving person who has not eaten proper food for three days watching the scene.
Another aspect of the challenge is that in Ramadhan people know you're fasting. Everyone at work sort of slows down a little to conserve energy or at least don't expect you to be as vigorous as you're on normal days. For the six fasting days in Syawal, no one knows that you're fasting. They expect you to be as fit and active as usual and if you're seen as a slow moving panda, well
you can be marked down for one. Of course you can tell anyone who asks why you're dragging your feet, especially towards evening, that you're fasting but that's like asking them for pity. I prefer not to let people know that I'm fasting an additional six days after Ramadhan.
It is in trying to really be like usual and working or doing anything at all like on normal eating days, that the real challenge of fasting is felt. The poor, starving man whose hunger you're trying to understand, didn't have a good feed in the wee hours of the night before fasting. Some water to drink perhaps, but not a big glass of Milo, coffee or tea with milk etc. And he was not anticipating any big dinner at the end of the day, He could only have whatever comes his way. That exactly it for the six day fast. You may take a meal in the wee hours of the night if you wanted to but since Ramadhan is over, you don't make that a normal practice. For two or three nights i missed out entirely on the night meal after taking dinner at eight thirty or so. Nor any additional liquid since when you woke up it was already too late to fill up. So you just go through the the next day on an empty tank, with only your faith and determination to deter you from giving in to hunger and thirst. Have you really tried that?
If you haven't the real meaning of fasting may have just escaped you.
Breaking fast without the preparation and fanfare as you did during Ramadhan is another interesting aspect. You don't sit around the dinner table with your family members waiting for the 'azan' to be called and the moment it's heard from the mosque or radio/TV started digging in. You could be doing anything like on a normal evening when the 'azan' isa called and you then quietly walked to the kitchen to see what is available to eat or drink before the usual dinner time for the family which is often an hour or so later. Of course If there are others in the family performing the six day fast, the breakfast fare in the month of Ramadhan might be repeated. Even then it would not be on the same scale and such repetition will again reduce the
full significance of the fast in terms of trying to understand the sufferings of the impoverished members of society. What I did was to just get something to eat and drink, then proceed with the Maghrib prayer. Even dinner was often delayed. When the kids are all grown up and often go out for dinner leaving you and the wife alone, your dinner often consists of a hastily cooked dish and some rice, or bread. It's often that you have it after the night prayer, Isya.
Well, the most interesting aspect of the six day fast is in trying to live through the day without food or drink in as usual a manner as possible without the botheration of breakfast, lunch, and tea and the late night or very early morning supper that you have without fail before a day of fasting in Ramadhan. The fasting as as close as it can be to the experience of the impoverished and starving human being who is forced to live through the day and night without proper nourishment. The Ramadhan fasting is often too "manipulated" and "superficial" to give the actual experience of extreme hunger and thirst. Only the six day fast in the month of Syawal and on any other month beside Ramadhan, can be turned into a real test of endurance and determination.
For those who haven't tried it with it's full challenge as indicated, try it and you'll see that the sense of understanding and fulfillment that it brings is a truly God-fearing experience. For the younger Muslims who feel that Ramadhan is already a very difficult experience, try the six day test next year. You'll then realize that the fasting in Ramadhan is a breeze or just another kind of celebration that Allah has bestowed on the followers of His chosen faith.