What if you don’t want to fast?
Ramadan has a schedule and rhythm of its own; Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, breaking their fast with family after the evening call to prayer, delaying all socializing until all hours of the evening and early morning, and sleeping in so the fasting hours go by a little quicker.
But for those Muslims not fasting, Ramadan means sneaking away to grab a bite, have a drink or smoke a cigarette. The stigma against non-fasters is so strong that some fear violence if they’re caught publically breaking their fast.
Ramadan offers Muslims a special time each year to seek God and repent for their sins.
“Every deed is geared to human beings’ favor but the fast, it is for me and I reward whoever fasts,” the prophet Mohammad said, conveying God’s message to the world.
Ramadan requires Muslims to abstain from not only food and drink during daylight hours, but gossip, swearing and sexual relations.
There are exceptions, however. Those who are ill, or for whom fasting would take a dangerous physical toll, are exempted from the call. They may instead make-up the days they broke their fast before the following year’s Ramadan. Travelers may also make up missed days.
But those who break their fast without a justifiable cause are committing a sin. In many Islamic countries, breaking your fast is not only sinful, but illegal.
Twenty-two year old Aden native, Rami, told the Yemen Times that he does not fast because it wasn’t ingrained in him to do so during childhood.
“My family never asked me to fast. Today, I cannot stand it,” he said.
Most families train their children to fast by having them do so from dawn to noon. Once they reach young adulthood, they are expected to fast the entire daylight period.
This is what Muslim scholar, preacher and Sheikh Mahmud Al-Buraiki advises parents to do. He says children should start performing half-day fasts around age six and full day fasts once they reach 16.
Al-Buraiki says that Islam does not recommend any legal punishments against those who choose not to fast; for those people, their punishment is delayed until judgment day.
But there are segments of society that take the matter in their own hands and dole out their own punishments to those seen publically breaking their fast.
Basheer, a 35-year old worker at a paint company, told the Yemen Times that he has no problem abstaining from food or drink, but is not capable of refraining from relations with his wife during daylight hours.
God commanded Muslims to fast in order for them to understand how it feels to be deprived of food and drink—so that they may be more empathetic with the poor. But what about those who know what it means to be deprived of food year-round, not only from sunrise to sunset?
“The fast is ordered by God to help people feel the huger of poor people. I’m poor, I know what hunger feels like, why should I fast?” asked Hussein Qazal, a beggar in one of Sana’a’s crowded markets.
Qazal was once caught eating in an alley. He was beaten unconscious by people he did not know.
“I was once beaten for not fasting. Now I eat when I’m alone, to avoid the violence and the stigma,” Qazal said.
The social stigma is large, Al-Buraiki said.
“A person who does not fast during Ramadan is certainly ostracized by his family and the larger society. They are not considered a positive, productive member of society.”
Saif, a university student, told Yemen Times that he fasts for health purposes, but if he feels like breaking his fast, he must not do so publically.
“It’s my decision to fast or not, but Yemenis don’t accept this concept of personal choice,” he said.