Yes, not even water. I get asked this question almost every year, but the curiosity to genuinely know about this religious practice is always appreciated. Here’s everything you need to know about Ramadan in Hong Kong.
We have already written about Hong Kong’s beautiful Buddist temples and unique superstitions. Besides Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, Islam is followed by about 4% of Hong Kong’s population. The majority of Hong Kong’s Muslim population fasts in the holy month of Ramadan, which in 2021 starts on 13 April. People are often curious to know more about the customs that we practice during Ramadan in Hong Kong, and I’m here to break it down as your friendly neighbourhood Muslim.
First of all, why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?
There are 12 months in the Islamic calendar with each month beginning approximately at the time of the new moon. Ramadan is the most sacred month in the calendar – the Holy Quran was revealed this month. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam – others being the pilgrimage to Mecca, prayer, zakat (giving to charity), and the profession of faith.
Muslims fast as an act of worship, to devote to God, and to become more compassionate towards those in need. Those exempted from fasting include children, pregnant women, the elderly, those who are ill, and those who are travelling.
Ramadan is also a time for self-reflection, performing good deeds (like giving to charity), and gathering with community members. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims hold three-day festivities known as Eid (the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast), where elders give red packets, people wear new clothes, carry out spring cleaning, and hold meal gatherings.
How exactly does one fast?
Muslims wake up before dawn for a meal known as suhoor – which can be what you typically have for dinner or breakfast, the food really depends on your preference. This is the meal that’s going to keep you energised for the day but it’s also important to not stuff as much food as you possibly can, as Ramadan is about being thankful for what you have and showing integrity to the less fortunate. It is, however, important to maintain a healthy diet and drink enough water to avoid dehydration.
You have to finish your meal before sunrise, from then on you cannot consume food or water until sunset. Upon completion of a fast, Muslims break their fast with a meal known as iftar, often had together in groups during gatherings. For iftar, it’s best to replenish with fresh fruits, dates (we’re talking about the fruit, honey), and plenty of water – though many opt for fried yummies which aren’t the healthiest but we love our guilty pleasures. Before Covid, mosques in Hong Kong would distribute free food to goers to open their fast.
Fasting is not only about not eating food, it’s also about discipline and devotion. It is important to pray all five prayers and read the Holy Quran whilst fasting, but this doesn’t mean one cannot go on about their daily lives. We fast and go to work or go to school and carry on with what we’re doing. Aside from food, we also abstain from smoking cigarettes, swearing, sexual activity, and negative thoughts towards others (no gossip queens here!).
Is it okay for non-Muslims to eat in front of you?
Totally! Again fasting is about discipline and gaining control over temptations, but we won’t stop you from eating in front of us.
Can you lose weight by fasting?
Contrary to what many may think, fasting (from my experience) actually slightly increases your weight. Sleeping right after a meal (after suhoor) and minimising physical activity during the day (energy-saving mode) slows down metabolism.
So what does fasting feel like?
The majority of us who observe fasts look forward to Ramadan, because no other time feels as peaceful. Initially it may take a couple days to adjust to not eating the whole day but you get a hang of it sooner than expected.
What I love most about Ramadan is the feeling of oneness, especially when I go for prayers and everyone is standing in solitude and bowing down in union. And likewise about breaking my fast with family and friends, where we chug down a glass of water together and get full after just a few bites of food.
Aside from the unison amongst Muslims, it’s also heart-warming when non-Muslims show their respects and try to do their part in helping us (like suggesting we can work from home or simply asking us how we’re doing). Even greeting us Happy Ramadan makes us grin from ear to ear.
Despite not eating from sunrise to sunset, we really are not in a dying state – we do love the concerned looks non-Muslims give us though!