Every year the holy month of Ramadan begins ten days prior to the year before and means that over time, Muslims have the chance to experience Ramadan across all seasons. However, this year it has come about during the warmer months and for those living on either side of the border in Pakistan and Afghanistan, their eating habits – before and after their fasts- have had to be altered to adapt to the conditions.
Prior to sunrise, people wake early in the morning to eat their fill of food in preparation for the oncoming day. This time is known as peshmany- pre dawn time. “It is the summer season and so the nights are very short. We need to wake up early, around three in the morning, so we cannot get a full night’s sleep after waking up to eat,” says Aftab Khan, a resident of Peshawar. Alongside changing routines for Ramadan, general problems, common during the summer months add to people’s difficulties. “Unscheduled and prolonged load-shedding has multiplied our miseries even further and we usually face a lot of trouble when waking up early.”
Despite the difficulties, people still make the special effort to eat in the morning, not only because it was recommended by the holy Prophet, “Eat Sehri, because in it lies great blessings,” but also to help them last the day of fasting.
“I am happy to wake up for peshmany and eat food, so that I can keep my fast during the day,” says Wasifullah, who lives in Mohmand Agency. For him, peshmany is a family affair, as his mother prepares nutritious and tasty food, as well as cold drinks so they can be ready to fast. “We have the usual breakfast foods of cream, malai (whey) and bread, as well as some fruit for extra energy during the day. Sometimes, we even have heavier meals of curry and because of the hot weather, I have plenty of cold drinks.”
However, such heavy meals are not recommended by others, as it may help with staying full, but not with warding off thirst. Aziz Khan from Peshawar tries to avoid such foods; “Oily bread, spicy food and eggs make me thirsty the whole day. I prefer to eat rice, fruits and dates, which are light dishes, so you feel better throughout the day.”
Alongside varying food choices, all agree that water is an essential part of their morning meal. Aziz says, “Water is the most important during this hot weather and since we cannot drink during the day, I make sure that I have one jug during peshmany and one when I open my fast.”
Wasifullah also drinks a large quantity of water before he begins his fast. “I also mix husk (ispaghul) in water, which helps to stop you from feeling thirsty.” For some, the amount of water drunk prevents them from eating a full meal. “I have a lot of cold drinks and water in the morning- sometimes five or six glasses – but then I can hardly eat even half of a bread for breakfast, which makes fasting difficult,” says Aftab Khan.
With all the difficulties people face fasting in the hot weather, people from the cross-border regions try to remain diligent in their duty to fast and encourage others to do the same. Aziz says, “The hot weather is difficult to fast in, but it is obligatory in our religion. I have had kidney problems for the last thirteen years, so if I am able to fast regularly, everybody should also make the effort.” Wasifullah also acknowledges that despite his own hardships, others may have it worse. “I work in the office, so I can easily fast- it is much worse for those working outside in this hot weather.”
Even in the hard conditions, people remember that the Prophet said “Allah said, The fast is for Me and I will give the reward for it.” For many this reward is the motivating factor, as they eagerly await returning home to open their fasts. Aziz says, “I feel very thirsty because of the hot weather, but I always try to keep patience in my heart, because I know that at the end of the day I can go home to my wife and children, who wait for me so we can open our fast together.”
It is in this spirit that people in the border regions continue to make the effort to fast, knowing that their struggles to choose foods for peshmany as well as lasting the day in the hot weather are all a necessary part of Ramadan’s challenges, for it has been said that Ramadan is half faith and half patience.