Here in Lahore, Ramadan means a lot of things. For the outsider in my city, the month of Ramadan may seem to slow everything down.
Everything does indeed slow down, but only during the day.
First, a bit of background. The month of Ramadan is one of the 12 months in the Islamic calendar. Muslims all around the world fast during this month, but please note — we fast daily for 30 days. It is humanly impossible to fast for 30 days straight.
Being a month of the lunar calendar, this means that, 15 years ago, I fasted in the cold, cozy and lazy months of November and December. Now, I will be fasting in the hot, face-melting months of June through July. Ramadan begins tonight, June 17, at sundown.
Sehree is the time when we eat before the fast. (Read: gorge and drink till our eyes pop out.) This begins about 90 minutes before the start of dawn. In June, the sun starts to rise around 3:30 a.m., and we must finish eating by then. Cooking therefore starts at about 2 a.m. Or earlier, if you are into taking Sehree meals outside of the home.
Iftaari, on the other hand, is when we break our fast. (Read: gorge and drink till our eyes pop out.) This will be around 7:30 p.m. In Lahore, most activities happen between Iftaari and Sehree. That is, during the night.
Being self-employed, I am able to set my own time table. (Alhumdulillah!) For me, during this year’s observance, I plan to sleep at seven in the morning and wake up around 1 p.m. But I am not the typical example.
Consider a student — my nephew — who lives on “University Time.” Given that he is studious and diligent, that means he’s hardly around during the day as it is. During Ramadan, for the most part, he will be home for Iftaari; he will sleep during the afternoon. This only works because universities and professors understand; timings change across the board.
At night, like most of us here, my nephew won’t be sleeping. First there is the matter of prayer, especially the long prayer associated with Ramadan, called Tarawih. Between roughly 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., many will be busy praying. But then there’s football starting at midnight in the park in front of our house, so there’s that. Or maybe this year there will be cricket. Last year, I remember playing Generals on the computer. (It’s somewhat like World of Warcraft.)
Now consider my friend who works for a big international company here in Lahore. His work hours will be adjusted from the regular 9-to-5, back to 7-to-3. If, on some days, he leaves the office at two? No one minds. He, too, will catch up on sleep during the afternoons, as night times would only allow for two hours of sleep at best. (If he sleeps at midnight, he must rise at 2:30 a.m. for Sehree.)
At other offices, the timing may be shifted even earlier, from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Why so early? Because they’re up at dawn anyways, and there’s no point trying to sleep for just an hour after Sehree. These workers will also sleep in the afternoon.
Eating and drinking is always critical to social interactions, but they are even moreso during Ramadan. All socializing happens at Iftaari, at sunset. Lahore has always been the food capital of Pakistan, and most restaurants will be open for business at Iftaari. In recent years, something new and unique has cropped up — full-fledged dining experiences at Sehree time. It’s now common for our fast-food joints (e.g., McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway) as well as roadside food shops to be in full swing at 3 a.m.
Getting enough sleep is essential during Ramadan. The shift in sleep patterns during this month is remarkably evident, and finding enough quality sleep can become a challenge for everyone, no matter their typical schedule and lifestyle. Interestingly, research published in 2014 concluded that, while REM can be affected, there is no meaningful loss of wakefulness amongst those who fast during the month of Ramadan.
In a city where nearly everyone fasts in the coming month, ours is large-scale shift in sleep patterns. But between prayers, gorging and socializing, most of us do end up getting a good day’s sleep.