Ramadan: What happens when you fast for 15 hours

This month is extra special for Shaawn, 30, and Zaina, 26. It’s Ramadan, a holy month on the Islamic calendar observed by fasting from sunup to sundown. For them, it’s a time for spirituality, discipline, and reflection.

When Ramadan comes in the summer (because the Islamic calendar is based on the moon, holiday dates change on the regular calendar), that means no drinking or eating for almost 15 hours. We spoke to them to learn more about daily life during Ramadan and how they get through the days without being hangry and Shaawn recounted the details of the day.

This interview has been edited and paraphrased for clarity. 

THE DAY BEGINS My wife and I usually wake up at 5 a.m. and eat suhur, a pre-fast meal and do the first prayer of the day. Then I go to work. We normally can’t eat or drink at all during the day — that means no coffee and no water. I’m a physician and I work at a hospital all day, but luckily I was able to make my schedule a bit easier this month. I did that on purpose so that I’m not killing myself while fasting.

FIVE PRAYERS A DAY There are five prayers in a day, before sunrise, at noon, late afternoon, sunset, and the night prayer. You just watch the clock throughout the day and plan for it. When it’s time for prayer during the day, I’ll either just pray at work or schedule my day so that I’ll be passing my house. If there’s a mosque nearby I’ll slip out and go pray there. It’s tough to pray in public lately. Before all of this Trump stuff happened, I could park my car and just pray for five minutes on the side of the road and go on my day. Or when I was in school and I was studying in the library, I’d go pray in an empty aisle. Now, I try to pray at home or in the mosque, because it doesn’t feel as safe.

BREAKING FAST WITH IFTAR We break fast with a dinner called iftar, which is at sunset. Either you eat a little and feel okay or you over eat and feel disgusting. We try not to over eat because that’s part of Ramadan, keeping everything in moderation. We’re taught you shouldn’t overindulge. Almost everyone breaks their fast with water, dates, and fruit, but also every culture has their own dishes. Today we ate a dish with a jute plant, rice, and a quinoa salad. Sometimes you might eat samosas, but that goes against the teachings, because samosas can be kind of heavy. So you try hard to behave, but sometimes you misbehave too.

HOW TO GET THROUGH IT The first few days your body is kind of in shock, you feel a little bit drained, but it reminds you why you’re doing it in the first place. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, and part of it is that you’re remembering the poor and the people who have no food. After a few days, you don’t even feel very hungry, and it becomes a spiritual thing. You get this unique kind of energy during this month where you don’t feel as tired because you’re running on the adrenaline of the holy month.  This month isn’t about food and water, it’s deeper than that and that’s the struggle.

WHEN IT’S OVER The last ten nights are very holy. The final day is Eid. It’s the final celebration. Everyone takes off of work and we party hop the entire day. There’s a huge prayer, there’s thousands of people, there will be gifts exchanged, you’ll get gifts from people you don’t even know. And it’s the first day we can eat during the day, so there’s food everywhere. You want to take all the things you’ve learned during this month of rehab and take it into the next month and the following months.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to accurately reflect daily schedules. Last names have been withheld at the request of the source.