Belong sits down with Zak Hussain who is running a marathon to raise awareness for cancer research during Ramadan.
During Ramadan, Muslims around the world observe fasting from dawn to sunset. We discuss the challenges Zak has had to overcome in training for a marathon of 26.2 miles, sharing advice to any Muslim who may wish to do something similar. The race takes place on Sunday 16th of April, one week before the end of Ramadan, and when the Eid celebrations begin.
What does Ramadan mean to you?
It’s a really important holiday for us Muslims around the world. For me, it means a lot. I was four years old when I first went to the mosque to learn Arabic and about the faith of Islam. Every day, from four to 11 years old, I went straight after school from 5-7pm! I was learning the meaning behind each prayer, learning about the faith, trying to come closer to it all.
Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam we abide by, it’s more than just fasting or read the Qur’an, it’s a month that tests you, it brings you closer to God – well, Allah (SWT) for us.
You abide to Ramadan obligations because it’s about cleansing yourself. You do it to get closer to your religion, challenge yourself for a whole month, sort yourself out, and ideally take the lessons you learn into the rest of the year.
You are running a marathon in the middle of Ramadan; how do you plan to balance your training schedule and its obligations?
It’s going to be challenging, really hard, I might fail on the first day!
I’ll have to run in the daylight, but I’ll also have to eat early, pray, then work – it will be super tiring.
The fasting will be the most challenging part, as I can’t even take a sip of water. That I could handle, but it’s more the food intake, as I won’t be having any nutritional gels or anything like that.
How challenging is the marathon training right now before Ramadan?
I knew the race was going to fall one week before the end of Ramadan, so I knew I had to prepare my body beforehand. I’ve been training for nine weeks. Blimey… It’s not easy! But I took it really seriously.
‘Ramadan is a month of working on yourself, whatever that means for you’
What else is helping you?
Words of support from my friends and my coworkers, my boss calls me and first thing he says is: “how’s the running going”. You know that’s all I need.
And most importantly, my wife. She checks up on me.
So, the fasting during Ramadan and the race, how are you going to get through it?
It’s going to be so hard, I can’t quite imagine it yet. Here’s the thing, there’s one rule which states that travellers can break their fast. And because I’ll be travelling to the race as it’s in a different city, I’ll try to take a nutritional gel with me for the run. But, most importantly, I’ll be conscious of it – it won’t be an easy decision to break the fast. I’ll only break it on the day of the run, not during the training.
What advice do you have to younger Muslim people who want to challenge themselves during Ramadan, perhaps in a similar athletic way?
Don’t kill yourself like I am. I’m doing this because I’ve always wanted to, and my friends and extended connections passing away from cancer just made me decide to do it this year. I’ve always been into athletics; I am one of those gym freaks.
Here’s the thing, you shouldn’t over-exercise during Ramadan, don’t do anything too taxing. But it is a month of working on yourself, whatever that means for you. You shouldn’t just sit in bed all day, fast, and then eat at night. That’s useless, it makes Ramadan slightly void.
You want to try challenge yourself. If you want to do something crazy, try to do it within your means. Get out of your comfort zone, life is too short! And try to soak up all of the lessons that come from that month, don’t forget what you learn about yourself and what you learn about your body.
You can support Zak’s fundraiser here.