Ramadan, Delayed Gratification, and Stoicism

Hira Shaikh
June 14, 2016
 min read

“Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We've been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.” ― Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

Ramadan is here. Faithful Muslims around the globe prepare for a month-long trek where from sunrise to sunset they refrain from food, drink, sex, smoking, and even anger. The anticipation begins to grow stronger as the first-day approaches.

To go against one's nature may seem daunting, especially to resist base urges like food & water. It takes time for the body to adapt and the first couple of days are anything but easy. But through this stoic practice, a greater appreciation arises. Consider abstaining from food, drink, sex, smoking, and anger from sunrise to sunset as inputs, while reflection, introspection, and a basic understanding of what it means to be human as outputs.

The aim of Ramadan is to experience and to understand that we are no better than anyone else. During Ramadan, Muslims renew their resolve against vices and make resolutions to be better in general. It's a yearly-reset (technically it's a little less than a year as Ramadan occurs every 355 days) where Muslims examine what they are looking for out of life.

Through this stoic Religious practice, they appreciate the little things that a month earlier seemed irrelevant. You’re thoughtful about the words you speak, the people you engage, and the energy you allocate. Fasting slows down your perception of time. Have you ever finished an episode of your favorite show, like Game of Thrones, and wondered where the time went. Time flows fast during these moments of joy, but during moments of suffering, it slows down like water in a choked up hose.

Fasting is the ultimate form of mindfulness for Muslims. So much of modern life is governed by our thoughts and with the addition of the symbiotic relationship we now have with smartphones, it seems we’re never in control. We make promises to ourselves that we don’t keep. We’d like to stay strict to a diet, a morning ritual, a fitness plan, but we’re often unable to follow through. In other words, we are dishonest with ourselves.

For Muslims, by resisting the most instinctive of desires, there is hypertrophy of the will-power muscle. You decide when you should eat or drink, not your urges. Strong-individuals recognize that goals require a certain amount of discipline. By engaging in this month long religious obligation, Muslims attempt to take control of the part of themselves that governs their everyday behavior. During the month of Ramadan, from sunrise to sunset, they are no longer victims of their thoughts and emotions (though what happens from sunset to sunrise may be a different story altogether).

Every year as Ramadan approaches, a little bit of anxiety sets in. How will I have the energy to go about my daily activities? I have to work, take care of my children, make dinner, etc. The Religious obligation seems insurmountable but every year countless Muslims fast, together. It provides them appreciation for things we take for granted in the Western world. The appreciation of water as the essence of life, food as a life force you are consuming, and family and friends with whom you share the food & water. It reminds them that the stoic lifestyle of Ramadan holds its own reward, it teaches us that if you’re not happy with what you have, you’ll never be happy with what you get.

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