Ramadan: More than fasting

Ramadan, is the month of fasting, right? But what if you can’t fast? Here, Alex Gabriel, Year 4 teacher at GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis, shares how for him and his family the observance of Ramadan goes beyond than fasting.

Alex Gabriel and his family

Asalamu alaikum and Ramadan Mubarak!

When I converted to Islam in 2014, whilst teaching in Egypt, I was looking forward to taking part in my very first Ramadan. As a new member of the faith I was keen to fully observe the fast, but I discovered that I could not take part in the fasting due to my having epilepsy; I had a seizure part-way through and was told that dehydration was one of my triggers. This was a major blow to me as a convert – I could not take part in one of the five pillars of Islam!

Luckily, my sheikh at the time – a lovely American convert by the name of Waleed – explained to me that Ramadan is not simply about fasting; there is much greater depth that should be brought to the surface. We are not meant to just give up food and drink during daylight hours and then eat our Iftar meal when the sun goes down. We are meant to show an awareness of our behaviour and language, develop our respect for others and the world around us, and to realise what we have in comparison to what others may not. It is in essence, a month of compassion, spiritual and emotional cleansing, and building a comprehension of what ‘well-being’ means.

Once I was taught this, I knew that I could still maintain that important pillar of my new religion and that I could try to shed a light onto this month to my non-Muslim friends. During my time in Egypt, my English, non-Muslim housemates and I would deliver water and small meals to workers that we would see on the roads when the prayer call sounded for Maghrib. We would talk to each other about how we could help others in the community too and it quickly became apparent that they had built a subconscious understanding of what this month is about. We knew what we all had and what others did not; our behaviour was different and it was clear that we were naturally cleansing ourselves through this new nature.

After leaving Egypt, I moved to Thailand where I met my wife, Hannah, who is also a teacher and English native. We now have two children: our four-year-old daughter, Luna and our son, Roman, who will be two in July. The wider context of Ramadan is something that we have tried to teach Luna from as soon as we could hold a conversation with her! And it is something that we will do with Roman too, when the time comes. Luna was two years old when she first got involved. She sat with me and Hannah one afternoon, making small packages of dates, sweets and water, which we then delivered to others in the area around our neighbourhood.

When Luna turned three, we tried to further widen the teaching by creating a calendar which would encourage her to do one thing a day that would hopefully build her perspective. Each day, she would do something small – deliver fruit to the security guards, share toys with her brother, learn some Quranic verses, talk about things that make her happy. We wanted to develop her social awareness, relationship skills and her overall understanding of what it means to be a good person (not just a good Muslim!).

Luna Gabriel with her Ramadan Calendar

This year, we plan to do the same with her and to try and get Roman involved too. We will be talking to Luna more about what Ramadan is, the fasting, the five pillars in general and to keep the ball rolling with her holistic view of the month. We have no doubt that she will try to teach her brother too about what she already knows and to follow in her footsteps.

I hope that this has opened the door wider on what Ramadan really is. If you are not Muslim, I encourage you to take the month to reflect on all of the things that you are lucky to have – friends, family, employment, everything that brings you happiness – and to think about how you can help others to feel those same emotions. If you are Muslim and are unable to fast, remember that there is so much more to Ramadan; we can use this time to cleanse ourselves and brighten the world around us!

Do you have a Ramadan story like that? Share your Ramadan experiences with your colleagues and let’s continue the conversation on the GEMS in 10 Yammer community group.