Most of the major religious traditions of the world have an appreciation for fasting. While they vary in specific practices, the religions share a recognition of fasting as a sacred discipline that teaches self-control and respect for the gift of sustenance.
Muslims are about to enter into Ramadan (June 17-July 17), the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which they fast daily from dawn to sunset. Ramadan commemorates the presentation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad and is considered one of the most important observances of Islam.
Fatuma is a single mother of nine children, two of whom are sponsored through Unbound. She and her family live in Kenya and are devout Muslims. Recently Fatuma shared with us what Ramadan means to them.
“As a family, we make sure that we follow the fast faithfully,” she said. “Only my grandchildren who are still very young are exempted. We take time to read the Quran and pray together. When it is time to break the fast, we cook and eat together as a family.”
That faithful adherence does not come without sacrifice.
“It is not easy to fast,” Fatuma said. “Physically one feels very weak. The body gets so dehydrated.”
But Fatuma finds the benefits worth the sacrifice. “Spiritually, it is a refreshing time,” she said.
The devotion of Fatuma and her family to Ramadan fast is especially impressive considering their living situation. As is sometimes the case in families with special hardships, two of her daughters are sponsored through Unbound. Fatuma is grateful.
“Unbound has totally changed our lives,” she said. “We had nothing when we came from our rural home. It was insecure and cattle rustlers took away everything we had. We came to Nairobi empty handed.”
Things soon got worse before Unbound brought hope into their lives.
“My husband abandoned my family and me,” Fatuma said. “Life was hard. Unbound came in and sponsored my two daughters. They gave us food, bought us beds and bedding. Unbound has become my family, my source of help.”
As is often reflected in families in the Unbound community, their own experience of need has made Fatuma’s family more sensitive to the needs of their neighbors. Fatuma believes the Ramadan fast contributes to that sensitivity.
“As a family there are times that we have gone without food because we lack. So we can totally relate with that,” she said. “During the Ramadan fast, we especially feel connected to the many in our neighborhood who go without food because of poverty.
“When we break our fast in the evening, we make sure that we share our food with our neighbors. When we get food from Unbound, and one of our neighbors has nothing, we gladly share with them.”
That generosity is not dependent on whether or not the neighbors share Fatuma’s religion.
“The Quran tells us to love our neighbors and we enjoy a very warm relationship with them, even though they are not Muslims,” she said.
Fatuma is especially sensitized to the importance of living in peace with one’s neighbors because she is aware of the negative opinion many have of Islam.
“Society has been unfriendly to people of Muslim origin because of terrorism, which is [associated with] some Muslims,” she said. “I have had to prove myself as a Muslim who hates terrorists and their ways.”
As in other Unbound communities, appreciation of their common humanity is helping to break down walls of misunderstanding for Fatuma’s family and their neighbors. The discipline of the Ramadan fast and the spiritual benefits it brings has, Fatuma believes, helped deepen that appreciation.