Two years ago, I decided to join CrossFit. For those who are unfamiliar CrossFit is a high-intensity workout program that incorporates various sports and exercises. In my local CrossFit, our workouts tend to be either AMRAP’s or for time. An AMRAP stands for “as many rounds as possible,” essentially you have a designated amount of time to do has many rounds as possible. One of our most recent AMRAP’s consisted of 5 box jumps, 10 calorie row, 50 jump ropes, and 20 barbell curls for 15 mins. Once the trainer yells go the clock starts ticking and everyone gives it their all. Time is limited and one can only do so much within 15 minutes. An urgency is created where one feels the need to push and exhaust themselves within those 15 minutes.
During the month of Ramadan Muslims are often exhausted. We do not eat or drink for about 16 hours, we are up all night praying, and we sleep very little. Additionally, in this month of high-intensity spiritual training, we still have our regular day to day lives which include work, school, family, and the ups and downs of life. Such a lifestyle is not sustainable year-round, but Muslims give it their all because Ramadan is an AMRAP. The Qurʾān explains that Ramadan is only a for a limited number of days (Q. 2: 184). Muslims understand that Ramadan is short and will soon end, therefore they give it their absolute all. Some Muslims read the entire Qurʾān once, some read it multiple times. It is said that some great Muslims of the past even read the entire Qurʾān once a day. My own Qurʾān teacher once told me that he would read the entire Qurʾān every 3 days.
Like CrossFit, Ramadan is also a communal practice. Muslims fast and pray together during this month. While performing an AMRAP if one feels exhausted and the thought of quitting often crosses his mind, he is encouraged and motivated by those around him who are perhaps working just as hard. During Ramadan, one might feel a similar fatigue, but it is the community that helps one persevere. As any Muslim will tell you, fasting alone outside of Ramadan is more challenging than inside of Ramadan. When the clock gets closer to that 15-minute mark, I find myself a surge of energy and push myself even harder to squeeze in every sit-up and box jump I can. This new energy emerges from the knowledge that there is very little time left. Likewise, during the last 10 days of Ramadan Muslims enter them with a new sense of urgency and energy that might not have been previously present. Time is running out and Ramadan will soon end. This is the moment Muslims seize to squeeze in every prayer, charity, supplication, and good deed they can.
Ultimately God is All-Wise, had Ramadan been all year-round people would not participate in it. That is why we find many Muslims who do not pray 5 times a day and do not consider themselves practicing Muslims, but they are very committed to fasting. Ramadan is an AMRAP of not only quantity but quality. Once the workout is over, one feels exhausted but amazed at what they have accomplished in such short time. One realizes the potential they have when they work hard. When Ramadan ends there is a relief in knowing that one can get a break from the physical demands of fasting, but there is also a sense of sorrow that the training is over. One can look back and easily see moments where they could have squeezed in an extra prayer, a little bit more of Qurʾān recitation, or charity. This intensive training is meant to give Muslims spiritual strength and discipline. As my CrossFit trainer says “it hurt’s so good” or “it is the best worst feeling ever.” Ramadan is painful but simultaneously sweet. One experiences hunger but tastes spiritual sweetness. In Islam, spirituality is not fluff, but just like physical health spirituality is something you must work hard to attain and maintain. No pain no gain.