Contributing Writer Baneen Talpur writes about Ramadan and how religion can help us make sense of the world.

It is becoming harder for young people to identify as religious in Ireland. Most of the people I know are either atheists or agnostics. Science is advancing at an astronomical pace, and with the rise in education and logic, people want to be able to see things and ask for the reason behind why things are the way they are. I completely understand their choice to not associate with organised religion; the atrocities of the Catholic Church are outrageous, and even in Islam, things are perfect. So when people see me fasting during Ramadan, they are amazed that I am willing to not eat or drink water from sunrise and sunset every day in the name of something that I cannot see. 

My relationship with my faith is a work in progress. I am not the best Muslim, but I pray daily, try to be a good person. Prayer helps me calm down; it lets me think that life is more significant than mine. In this world that revolves around the individual, the best job and the next exam, prayer makes me feel like I can count on God to leave my stress with him, hoping he will guide me to solve it. Prayer has changed my life. People would not flock in their millions to Hajj or Lourdes if there was nothing there, and people would not give up food and water for nothing. Faith gives me hope in this dark, gloomy world. 

Fasting is not just about giving up food and water. It is about thinking of those who don’t have access to food and water every day and putting yourself in their shoes for once. It shows us how privileged we are. It is about resisting temptation and finding purpose beyond capitalism’s false promises. When Muslims fast, they are looking for ways to be better. They are trying to incorporate the lessons that God teaches us about kindness. It encourages people to be more respectful. It enables us to be patient. It encourages us to give charity and look beyond ourselves. It discourages us from doing wrong. It reminds me of the values that religion encouraged before those in power tried to manipulate it for their own gain. 

Religion can offer a sense of community to people. Places of worship used to act as a free social space where people would come together and connect. Nowadays, finding a place to socialise that does not involve payment can take time and effort. During Ramadan, people are encouraged to share their Iftar (night meal) with friends or neighbours and open their fasts together. We are encouraged to pray together and attend mosque. Ramadan can inspire us all to be better people. Faith does not need to be something extravagant; it can be as simple as trying to manifest something but believing that maybe God can fast-track the process. It can be helping someone out with a problem or simple acts of kindness to brighten up someone else’s day. I cherish my white friends who actively wish me Ramadan Mubarak, avoid eating and drinking around me and do what they can to ensure my fasts run as smoothly as possible.

Being a person of faith does not mean someone is less intelligent or disregards science. In fact, science allows me to marvel at the world that God created with everything in perfect alignment. It makes me want to find answers and dig deeper. Science and religion are not in conflict with each other. Science can be the tool for answering religions’ most profound questions. 

So the next time someone gasps at me, “not even water?” I will politely answer, “yes, I do it for God; yes, I know it sounds crazy”, but it actually adds sparkle to my life.