My name's Tim and I am a non Muslim who fasted for a day last Ramadan.
I'm not a religious person, but something I do believe in is cultural integration, and that the best way to understand some one is to walk in their shoes once in a while.
I've been around people who were fasting at work and heard them describe getting up at 4am and eating a huge breakfast, then at the end of the day waiting until the sun goes down before hurrying into the nearest eatery on Wilmslow road. It looked hard, and it was something that someone like me has never had any reason to do. More than anything it was simple curiosity that that set the idea in motion.
I told a friend of mine, Muneeb, I was going to fast with him for a day to see what it was like. At this point I hadn't put a huge amount of though into it, and it wasn't until he called me up with a list of do's and don'ts that I started to realise that if I was going to have a go at this, I really needed to do it properly. So no eating, drinking, swearing, thinking naughty thoughts. Not even kissing or cuddling my wife, within the hours of daylight. Anything less would show me nothing, and be kind of an insult to the people doing it for real. Plus it was too late to back out now, Munni had already told a load of people I was doing it.
On the day in question Muneeb called me at 4am to make sure I was up. I was stood in my kitchen in the dark making porridge. I'm guessing that bit works better as a family around the breakfast table. But I'd eaten my porridge and gulped down a pint and a half of water before the sun came up. So far so good.
It turns out that in my whole life I've never not eaten when I'm hungry, so that fact that I can go a whole day without eating or drinking anything and not faint was a bit of a revelation to me. By 11am I was hungry, but I didn't get much hungrier. It was that the hunger was constant, not it's intensity that taught me the most. It created a feeling of isolation and concentration, which inevitably lead to introspection.
I read an article by Charlie Brooker a while ago in which he described how occasionally, late at night, while trying to sleep he suddenly becomes aware of his entire body, the entire world, and the whole of reality itself and where he fits into it. He goes on to discuss how for the rest of the time, we must be on some kind of autopilot. For me, fasting switched off that autopilot making each moments thoughts and actions very deliberate. I can imagine that for people of faith, this is a very effective practice for contemplating their religion.
Not having a religion, I contemplated everything else. You can contemplate a lot in the hours of daylight with a constant inner monolog, it turns out. On the bus ride home from work I mostly contemplated the contents of the Tupperware containers Munni had brought in for me courtesy of his mum. I got home to an empty flat, and in the last hour or so of day light, I honestly felt like I could have lasted even longer. What a great feeling of satisfaction! And then of course there was the meal I'd had kindly donated to me. If only I could have eaten it all, no one warned me I'd be full after a few mouth fulls.
So an interesting day, and not just for me it seemed. There was a large and mixed bag of reactions from Muslims and non Muslims alike. A pretty even split on both sides between people who thought it was good thing to have done, and people who couldn't understand why I'd done it. To the latter I'd stress again that you lose nothing from taking an interest, and for me at least, there's nothing more interesting than someone else's shoes.