Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam. How do I keep growing and moving forward after all these years?
Ramadan, the holy month of prayer, reflection and fasting, is an opportunity for Muslims to strengthen their faith and compassion. I have always vowed that my observance of this sacred month should be better than the previous year.
The recent Ramadan (12 April to 14 May) was my second time to practice its principles during quarantine. Last year, under a strict lockdown, I fasted and prayed at home, enjoying the solitude since gatherings in mosques were banned. The daylight fasting gave me mental clarity while the full attention to the prayers transformed my fears into trust, disappointment into forgiveness and blame into accountability.
This year has been my best Ramadan ever because I managed to strike a balance between my passion for fitness and my spiritual practice. This integration of body and soul has given me a sense of achievement.
Walking and fasting
Before the pandemic, I was the gym junkie who would come to Kerry Sports for my early morning rituals, followed by hours of exercise. But Covid-19 changed all that. When Kerry Sports reopened last year, the gym hours for its members were restricted.
During the third lockdown, gyms were yet again closed but the restrictions were not as harsh. Outdoor exercise was permitted. Since the lockdown extended into Ramadan, I challenged myself if I could work out for long hours without breaking the
sunrise-to-sunset fast. I had faith that God would look after me. My determination allowed me to hold myself up despite not eating and drinking after a vigorous activity.
My Ramadan routine began with Suhoor, the pre-dawn meal. I drank gallons of water and fresh juices and loaded up on wholesome foods. The Fajr (sunrise prayer) set my intentions for the day.
By 6 a.m. I was off to Legaspi Active Park or my happy place, Bonifacio Global City. I would walk from Burgos Circle to the American Cemetery. As I passed by restaurants with al fresco dining, I avoided the temptation to grab a cup of coffee which has been my morning routine.
The daily two-hour walk gave me so much motivation as the happy hormones kicked in. It kept me stable. I didn’t allow the fear of the pandemic to affect me. Walking and my prayers protected me from the worries and anxieties of other people. I had this faith that Allah, God, was always with me.
I would be home by late morning for my two-hour workout in my home gym and to practice Dhuhr, the midday prayer. Then I would rest, study the Quran, have spiritual conversations with Muslim scholars and online chats with sheiks and perform the Asr, the mid-afternoon prayer.
Sometimes I got urges to drink or break the fast in the afternoon. Allah gave me the determination not to cave in to my desires. Ramadan was a test of mind over matter and of being uncompromising. I was surprised that my thirst and hunger pangs were in control.
The Maghrib, the sunset prayer, is a time to wind down and to examine the conscience. I would ask myself that just as I resisted food and water, did I also abstain from any form of negative thinking, speech or behavior? Did I keep God in my heart and mind?
Allah, my spiritual guide and fitness buddy
The fast ended the Iftar, the after-sunset meal. Before the pandemic, Muslims gathered in the mosque for the Maghrib. This was followed by the Iftar, a buffet of our comfort foods that broke the fast. I observed that other Muslims overindulged during this meal to compensate for the feeling of deprivation during the fast. I believed this was counter-productive to the self-discipline that Ramadan instilled. Moderation was important most especially during Ramadan because it taught us, souls, to be the masters of our senses.
Following the Isha, night prayer, Taraweeh, was a special evening meditation during Ramadan. Taraweeh has prayed between Isha and the Fajr, dawn prayer.
By 10 p.m., I slept but woke up by midnight to welcome the new day with the Tahajjud, which was performed upon arising and before the Fajr.
Throughout the Ramadan month, I conquered sleep. Yet, I felt revitalized because I was so focused on my prayers. These gave me a boost of energy to continue my activities, engage in four hours of exercise and take the stairs to my condo on the 41st floor without any food and drink until sunset and work with concentration. I never got cranky because I felt that Allah was like my spiritual guide and fitness buddy.
Once, I had a mild sprain from my ankle to the top of my foot. I refused to swallow a painkiller. I just prayed to Allah and soaked my feet in warm water to stimulate the blood flow. My calmness eased the pain.
Ramadan was also the month of charity. I hired a vehicle and sent food to the community pantry for Muslims in Quiapo. I called up my brother in Islam, Mayor Muhammad Juhar D. Disomimba, to update me on Ramadan in Lanao del Sur. He said it was very peaceful, and the pandemic was not a hindrance for them to do more Islamic activities.
Fasting and exercise work like a detox. Don’t wait for a special occasion to cleanse the body and soul from unhealthy foods and wasteful and sinful thoughts. Don’t wait to get stressed, stiff or fat to exercise.
The physical and spiritual detox and workout give you the strength not only to face surprises and problems but also to find creative solutions.
My takeaway: When I hold myself fast in spiritual awareness and be with God, Allah, everything is possible.