Why non-Muslims fast during Ramadan

The month of prayer gives people of different faiths a chance to reset and connect with the community

Many non-Muslims, like Dr Siva Krishna Kota, fast during Ramadan. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Non-Muslims who fast during Ramadan have spoken of the peace it brings and the strong connection they build with the community in the UAE.

It is a month for introspection and charity for people from different faiths and nationalities who still continue to fast years after starting it to be supportive of friends and colleagues.

Many non-Muslims choose to fast in order to give thanks to God, spend more time in prayer and contemplation, as well as empathising with those less fortunate.

When you fast, you feel the solitude and calmness of Ramadan
Michelle Oribello, a Buddhist from the Philippines

Dr Siva Krishna Kota has been fasting during Ramadan for more than a decade and says the quiet of the holy month helps him connect with prayer.

It began in 2011 when the anaesthesiologist, then working in Saudi Arabia, hoped the sacrifice of giving up food and water would answer his prayers.

The Indian doctor discovered the month of fasting and prayer gave him a deep sense of calm and every year since he has observed Ramadan without asking for something in return.

“The first year it was a call on God for requests - my friend was doing a test to get his medical licence and this was his final chance," said Dr Kota.

“My brother was not able to get a child for five years and then he was blessed with a kid – so both my prayers came true.

“But then I thought I should not do this business with God and in the following years I stopped asking for things.

“After that first year, there is a different intensity to praying. I feel it’s my duty to observe Ramadan rather than get into a transaction with god.”

Learn discipline

The challenge for the 46-year-old doctor who works in a maternity hospital in Abu Dhabi is handling emergency cases that come in just when it is time to break his fast.

“We have emergencies around the clock but sometimes just 10 minutes before iftar, you find out that someone is delivering or someone needs surgery and you need to continue working,” he said.

“I look at my Muslim colleagues who are fasting for so many more years and think this is all fine. This teaches you discipline.”

The holy month also makes him identify similarities between religions particularly the focus on penance and charity.

Words in Hindi and Arabic such as zakat or daan convey the same meaning of donating to the needy.

His main lesson is that charity, supporting the less fortunate and cutting down on luxury should be followed all through the year and not just during Ramadan.

“When we face trouble we bow our head before God,” said Dr Kota, a Hindu who moved to Dubai in 2014.

“I began to realise that it was important to find similarities instead of finding differences between different faiths – if we do this the world will be a wonderful place.”

In tune with your soul

Dubai resident Michelle Oribello has been fasting during Ramadan for the past eight years.

The Buddhist from the Philippines says the solitude and calm it teaches has a long lasting impact.

“During this period, you become more in tune with your soul, you feel the solemnness of your prayers when you talk to your god," she said.

“It becomes more intense during Ramadan.

“When you fast, you feel the solitude and calmness of Ramadan.

“At the same time there is a camaraderie with others.”

The 36-year-old public relations executive is a fitness enthusiast and does not stop exercising during Ramadan.

She breaks her fast with dates and fruit, then sets out on a 10km run and eats a large meal at night after she completes her regular exercise schedule.

Staying hydrated with water, fruits such as watermelon and cucumber during suhoor, a small meal she consumes before sunrise ensures she stays fit.

She began fasting from 2016 when she joined friends who did not expect her to continue every year since then.

“I really feel the health benefits during Ramadan, it gives me more energy, I honestly become stronger," said Ms Oribello.

“I get excited before Ramadan, it’s a lot of commitment to give up food and also water but it gives me the push I need.

“When people ask me, ‘You are not a Muslim, how come you are doing this?’ I tell them how happy, connected and motivated it makes me feel.”

How Ramadan rejuvenates

A Sri Lankan national cooks meals for the needy and donates food in addition to fasting during Ramadan.

Jeyaraj Basakran feels rejuvenated and cleansed when he has fasted during Ramadan over the last four years.

“I see an opportunity to be part of the community by fasting,” said the UAE resident who works in the banking sector.

“We are blessed to have easy access to all kinds of cuisine in Dubai. But sometimes many people take in excess food, it’s good to cut down our food intake and bring the body back under control.”

He was inspired to fast after distributing iftar meals to workers with a Sri Lankan community group in 2020.

When his work schedule permits, he cooks a meal at home, prepares sandwiches or purchases food from a restaurant to distribute to cleaners and delivery riders near his Al Quasis home.

“Beyond fasting, I feel happy to do this and it also gives me a connection to the society I live in,” he said.

“I feel rejuvenated after a month of fasting.”

Apart from aiding weight loss, doctors say fasting has many health benefits from reducing inflammation, improving gut health.

The Dubai resident sticks to vegetarian meals, stays away from food with excessive oil during the month.

“The fasting can help your health, weight and I feel honoured to help support a few people in need," he said.

Updated: March 28, 2024, 12:42 PM