Richard Towers

Reflections on fasting for one day in Ramadan

I joined a fast-a-thon organised by muslim colleagues at GDS.

A group of us signed up to fast for one day - “abstaining from food, drink and bad / negative thoughts, actions and speech from dawn to dusk”.

Coincidentally, GOV.UK needed someone to cover a late shift, so I signed up for that too - my theory being I could stay in bed a bit longer in the morning and shorten the day.

Suhoor (pre-fast meal)

This needed to happen before dawn, so it meant getting up around 3 in the morning to eat and drink enough for the day.

It was tricky to drag myself out of bed, but I did enjoy being able to eat until I was really full - I had a big plate of wholewheat pasta.

Being somewhat overly full going back to bed probably cost me a bit in terms of sleep quality - with hindsight, I suspect this was an obvious beginner mistake.

As a non-muslim, I found it interesting to think of all the families around the world waking up to share this meal together. It’s not an aspect of Ramadan I’ve thought about much before - I’ve always thought about the fast itself and the end-of-fast meals (which sound quite joyous). Usually when I get up in the middle of the night it feels like I’m the only person in the world awake - it was fun to think of all the other people in the houses all around doing the same thing.

My colleague Syed pointed out that there’s also a great deal of prayer involved - for him, the night before had been The Night of Power - meaning he was up practically all night praying. I need a lot of sleep, so I think I’d really struggle with that!

Sawm (fast)

I had my planned lie-in, and felt pretty smug for cheating the system and shortening the day a bit. By about 10am I started to get a bit hungry from missing breakfast, but nothing too serious. I figured if I stayed chilling out I’d be able to last longer - it’s not clear how effective this was.

I managed to noodle away most of the morning, but eventually I had to get up for work.

Skipping lunch meant I was pretty hungry, but I’ve probably gone about that long before by accident. Usually though, I’d stop at this point and eat something, so this is when things got more difficult.

I had a few video meetings, which were fine - seeing people and talking was enough distraction that I didn’t really notice being hungry.

Once the meetings dried up I tried to get stuck in to some technical work, and this was a bit more difficult. I found engaging my concentration was quite hard work - I wanted a snack, and the work I wanted to do was quite boring. Usually I’d play some psychological trick on myself like “I’ll make a coffee, then get started”, but while fasting this required a lot more discipline.

A thing I found really interesting was the prohibition on bad / negative thoughts and actions. Like many software developers, I often have to work with so-called “legacy code”, and I usually have a lot of negative thoughts while I’m investigating issues - things like “it’s stupid that it works this way”, “we would never have had this problem if we just did [this other thing] differently”, or “we don’t deserve computers - our whole species should go back to being hunter-gatherers”.

This thought process is part of how I work, and I don’t think it’s entirely unproductive, but for the sake of this exercise I wanted to try and not think that way. In the end, I found this quite easy, because I was mostly thinking about being hungry, and how much I was looking forward to dinner.

I’d be really interested to know whether my muslim developer colleagues who are more used to fasting have this issue with legacy-code / negative thoughts. It’s quite possible that this is just me.

Iftar (post-fast meal)

My wonderful partner cooked a rogan josh for dinner, and we had it just as the sun set. It was extremely enjoyable, as was the first glass of water.

Arfah pointed out a couple of community video Iftar things - it was really fascinating to see how muslims are adapting to having to celebrate Ramadan in a socially distanced world while this awful pandemic is with us.

Now that I’ve eaten Iftar I’m super-sleepy. I don’t know whether this is just my normal state though, or if this is a common thing when people break their fast.


I found doing the fast for a day really fascinating - it gave me an opportunity to really stop and think about what life is like for people during Ramadan - something I’ve only really thought about in a very shallow way before.

It was tough, but probably about as tough as I expected it to be.

I’d like to do a bit of fasting again another year, but maybe I’ll wait until 2030 when Ramadan falls during a time of year when the days are nice and short in the northern hemisphere 🤔.

I hope that the remainder of Ramadan 2020 is blessed for all muslims near and far, and that (despite the pandemic) everyone has an Eid Mubarak.