This Ramadhan has been unique for me because I spent the first half in Pakistan, living in a village in Azad Kashmir and the second half back here in the UK. As one would expect, the challenges of fasting vary from one country to another.
I found it much more challenging to fast in Pakistan because conditions were very humid as you can imagine it being August in Pakistan! The first few days were a bit of a struggle as I went from drinking lots of water to having no water all day. After a few days, I guess the body learns to adjust and things got much easier. I didn’t feel hungry at any time during the day, but started to get thirsty even six hours before Iftaari time! I’ve never experienced that kind of thirst whilst fasting in England, I think it really made me feel mega-fortunate to have easy access to water on a day to day basis. I remember thinking that we people are so stupid (me included) that we want so many materialistic things in life e.g. money, bigger house, etc. But we already have what we really need, I mean what we really really need i.e. water and food.
In Pakistan, I noticed that the prices of food went up significantly as Ramadhan started, the food retailers knowing well that the rich will be able to pay higher prices for having good food at Iftaar. But this kind of situation makes it very hard for the poor because the cheapest tub of Kajoor (dates) was 70 rupees and bearing in mind that an average daily wage (for those fortunate enough to be working) is between 150 and 300 rupees. As a result of such pricing activity in the market, the poor can’t even think about buying Kajoor for themselves. Fruit prices went sky high with grapes at 300 rupees per kilo, almost the same price as in the UK (despite the two economies being so far apart). Fruit and Kajoor are merely two examples; food in general is more expensive in the month of Ramadhan. Consequently, the poor are left with very few options and even after a day of fasting, they can only eat a very modest meal.
Back in the UK, second half of Ramadhan, the menu (as at almost every Muslim house) contains pakoras, samosas, kebabs, rice, all sorts of curries and sweet dishes i.e. lots of luxury food. Often there is too much to eat, and people tend not to eat yesterday’s food because they feel that they deserve better when fasting, so the left over food – typically plates full can be found in the bin. Of course, having a good Iftaar meal is not a bad thing but I just couldn’t help thinking about the poor people who would come home to their families with bags containing very little food and to the disappointment of their kids, no fruit or sweets to enjoy. It must be difficult to explain to your family that you cannot afford to buy Kajoor for Iftaari time.
From a personal point of view, I’m glad I experienced fasting in Pakistan, standing up in Taraweeh with sweat pouring down my back and conditions that sometimes made me feel as if there is no air to breathe in! The harder the conditions, the greater the test becomes and thanks to Allah, more reward is on offer. Alhumdolillah fasting in Pakistan has made me feel more upbeat about the next few years of fasting in the UK i.e. when the days will be longer. There are of course many challenges in fasting in the UK too, waking up for Sehri and then waking up for work/school and feeling tired throughout the day, etc. Fortunately, in Pakistan I was on holiday so could get plenty of sleep and had a flexible schedule. Here in the UK, lack of sleep makes it harder to fast for many people because the body is hungry, thirsty and also tired! Though the challenges and conditions vary, the utmost intention of fasting is the same i.e. striving to fulfil religious duty.