Most Canadians would cringe at the idea of doing hard, physical work in the blistering summer heat. So imagine doing it without being able to quench your thirst as you begin to sweat bullets, or without being able to grab a quick bite in order to refuel.
For over two weeks now, hundreds of thousands of Muslim Canadians across the country have been observing Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. During the holy month, Muslims abstain from food, drink and other pleasures in daylight hours to commemorate the revelation of the Koran to Mohammed.
With Ramadan falling this year in the dead of summer, extended daylight means that Muslims are fasting longer than in previous years – up to 18 hours a day in some parts of the country. In order to get in a morning breakfast before dawn breaks, many wake up before 4 a.m. to eat. With prayers going until midnight, the days are long.
Those with physically demanding jobs, such as in construction or farming, are faced with some real challenges. But regardless of the job, many Muslim Canadians are dealing with the intersection of religious observance and work.
With nearly two weeks left of Ramadan, The Globe and Mail spoke to five Muslim Canadians about what it’s like to fast on the job, and what it is they each take from the experience of going from dawn to dusk with no food for 30 days.
Rafi Raphael Taherie
Chef, Free Times Café
The most challenging part of Ramadan is that I can’t taste my food. Normally I’m not the type of chef to have a spoon in my pocket every minute to taste, but still it’s pretty tough to not taste food and still be good. Part of Ramadan is to sacrifice, so being around food and not eating is actually a good challenge.
Ramadan is also a time of reconnecting with God. It’s about sacrificing. And it’s about charity. There are people [around the world] who are fasting for two or three days in a row without any food. So we have to be connected to them and feel their pain.
It’s also about body purifying. You know, five or six cups of coffee a day; that’s a lot of acid. And yes, by 6 o’clock it hits you, but before then you have so much energy. You’re strong in the morning.
Accountant, Trade Secret Web Printing
This is the first time I’ve done Ramadan in Canada. Back home [in Abu Dhabi] we get to go home two hours before work actually finishes. So at the beginning I was afraid, but as soon as Ramadan started I was really happy.
Everyone in the office is being nice and accommodating, trying not to eat in front of me. And it’s just a matter of getting used to it in the first one or two days, but then I felt like I was home. I feel really lucky because I’m working in an office and we have air conditioning. It doesn’t really require a lot of physical work.
Ramadan makes me appreciate everything that I have. I met this French girl, and I said, ‘Can you fast just one day with me, because I want you to tell me what you think?’ And the next day, what she said she got out of doing Ramadan, is that she started appreciating all the food that she had. You remember in different parts of the world they don’t have the same things as here.
Automotive technician, Dufferin and Bloor Auto Repair and Sales
As a mechanic, working on cars, observing Ramadan is a bit hard. When the cars come in and they’re hot, you sweat. When you sweat, you have less energy. But once you’re in there, and you’re working on something, you won’t feel it at all. Your mind is not ‘oh, I’m thirsty, I’m hungry’ or whatever.
The days go fast. And at the end of the day, I don’t feel a whole lot different. Just a little bit less energy, and hungry.
Ramadan, it’s about spiritual reflection and devotion. You get rewarded more than with regular days. What I take out of Ramadan is that you feel what poorer people feel who don’t have enough food to eat. How would their days go by? You also lose some weight as well.
Some of the challenges when doing outside work is the lack of water, and the lack of energy. The major part is pacing yourself. It’s a really good idea to drink water beforehand just to keep that water intake up. It’s definitely harder if it’s a really hot day. The heat can get a little overwhelming.
But instead of eating, you take a nap. I just woke up from a half-hour nap and I feel really good, just like I had my lunch. I’m ready to continue my day.
What Ramadan means to me is that you almost get kind of like a new start. During Ramadan, it’s not just about not eating or drinking. If you have a bad habit – say, swearing – you’re not supposed to swear while you’re fasting. You also take advantage of doing any good deed.
Farmer, Suhair Organic Farm
Richmond Hill, Ont.
As a farmer, I can work and fast and it’s not a problem. But if we didn’t feel any different between Ramadan and another day, why should we do Ramadan? Why fast?
I feel that it’s necessary to feel that it’s difficult to fast at Ramadan. It’s not easy, but it’s life. Some people, this is normal life for them. If we look, for example, at people in Somalia, or in Southern Africa, a lot of people are fasting the whole year, not just at Ramadan. If we ask why our God asks us to fast at Ramadan it’s to feel how poor people live. How they feel. Of course we should feel the difference.