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DarbyKoogler Aug 3, 2023

Fast Meal Counseling and Cultural Considerations

For the past few years, intermittent fasting has gained attention, but intermittent fasting is not new—some of our grandparents and great-grandparents held to fasting by letting the rotation of the earth determine eating and non-eating hours; as in, some would not eat after sundown and continue fasting until sunup. Most are aware that this is where we get the term: breakfast—the time to break the fast.

Speaking of breaking fasts, do you, your friends, or clients fast during Ramadan? If so, you know that Ramadan can affect the therapeutic environment. Because Ramadan activities begin at sundown (and sometimes last until sunup), some schools begin a little later and end a little earlier to accommodate Ramadan hours. And, the many healthy adults who fast from food additionally abstain from vaping, smoking, chewing gum, drinking water, coffee, et cetera. And in support of those who fast, some food and beverage businesses block their windows from public view and/or many businesses do not play ambient music. While it may be overlooked, it could be considered rude to sip coffee, water, tea, eat, or play music in the presence of a colleague or client who is fasting during Ramadan. Additionally, the Muslim high-holy day is Friday (as Saturday is for Jews and Sunday is for Christians), so, it could be a kind consideration for counselors who have clients who are observing Ramadan, to not schedule appointments first thing in the morning, too late in the afternoon/evening, and/or try to avoid Friday appointments during Ramadan in respect and support of Ramadan observations. As always, if counselors do not understand Ramadan priorities of a client with Islamic faith, a good starting point is the ethos of authentic curiosity regarding their preferences; and how therapy can best support client-centeredness throughout Ramadan.

During the month of Ramadan, observers fast all day—from sunup to sundown. Although I have never observed Ramadan, I have had the pleasure of taking part in Ramadan’s meals—iftar and suhoor. Iftar is the sundown meal and suhoor is the meal before sunup. Both iftar and suhoor are Arabic terms and both meals traditionally consist of Arabic foods—although naturally, foods can vary regionally and preferentially.

I attest that both iftar and suhoor are delicious, yet I have been to many iftars and only one suhoor. However, the suhoor experience was fabulous! It was set in an auditorium with a stage. Instead of individual seats facing the stage in rows, the floor was full of long, rounded U-shaped booths. The booths were open to the stage and arranged around big tables. The group I was with had 8 people and we all sat comfortably in our U-shaped booth. Food and shisha were served throughout, and although I personally have never ordered shisha, one late night/early morning of shisha [secondhand] smoke was worth it because of the moments when nearly everyone around the tables sang with the performers on stage—some even stood and energetically sang the Arabic lyrics. It was like nothing else—celebratory, loud, musical, expressive, and fun!

Iftar meals are great too. Typically after the sun goes down, fasters simply break fasts with dates and water, juice, or a another sweet [non-alcoholic] drink such as Vimto. Then, they may go to pray and return shortly after for the main meal. Or they may pray, skip the dates, and jump to the main meal—it can vary by the gathering, setting, and/or family. In fact, one Ramadan my family and I were invited to hand out iftar meals to those in need. Close to the end of the work day, we gathered near the end of our friend’s driveway, and within about 20 to 30 minutes around 100 people came by for the meals she put together. My friend is not Muslim—in fact, we are both Christians, but her faithful daily preparation of Ramadan meals, the gentle words she spoke in both English and Arabic, her kindhearted sharing, and her meal provision expressed love during Ramadan—and throughout the year. Her caring and consideration is parallel to our profession’s person-centered unconditional positive regard.

If you have further ideas or experiences you’d like to share regarding unconditional positive regard, Ramadan counseling considerations, and/or fasting, please share!

Darby J. Koogler is a graduate counseling intern, writer, former teacher, and hopeful international school counselor.


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