Few Americans have experienced the practice of fasting during Ramadan, the sacred ninth month of the Islamic calendar that begins on Monday.

Yet most of us can recognize the discipline and restraint it requires.

That’s among the beauties of Kazim Ali’s disarming new book, “Fasting For Ramadan.” Ali, a poet and author who teaches at University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Program, is a practicing Muslim in secular America.

When he describes craving a cup of coffee in the middle of a day’s fast, we, as readers, know that impulse. His candor makes this book highly accessible — by turns, lyrical and wry, instructive and revealing.

The book follows Ali through Ramadan in two different years. The first section derives from a daily blog that he posted while teaching at Oberlin College in Ohio; the second is more of a journal that he kept for himself. Both chart his daily musings on the process of fasting, a hybrid of quips and ponderings, questions and koans.

“The point of the fast is not to flagellate yourself to nothing, but to sharpen your attention,” he says, “to diminish distractions so you can better perceive what is actually around you.”

The constant tension between the spiritual and the mundane grounds this book firmly in the here and now. At the start of the fast, Ali fixates on the lack of food and the logistics of his day. Since food and water can be consumed only before sunrise and after sunset, he metes out his activities accordingly. His daily run, for instance, moves to the hours before dawn, despite his fear of the dark. Later in the day, he’ll be too fatigued for anything so energy intensive.

As the days pass, Ali’s outlook shifts. He finds himself on an emotional roller-coaster, feeling alternately lost, joyful, moody, humbled and sad. He goes from reveling in his own attentiveness to hunger, to wishing that the fast would end, with stops at boredom and restlessness along the way. Nor are practical concerns ever far off: the urge to work and write, comforted by that cup of joe, always beckons. “And classes start next week,” he says. “How will I manage?”

Among the challenges Ali faces is the disparity between his natural aloofness and the communal aspects of Ramadan. On various nights, he gathers with others to break the fast. These group dinners provide a useful counterpoint, adding other views to the mix.

For one guest, fasting underscores the extent to which food permeates our days — shopping, cooking, eating. In the absence of food, he wonders, how does one fill all that time? Another speaks of fasting as “approaching holiness.”

By the 27th day, Ali comes to embrace the rewards of fasting and no longer welcomes its end. “I will miss the feeling of emptiness that foodlessness offers me,” he writes. “I will miss the weird focus that comes from removing consideration of this huge thing from my mental space.”

Still, he knows that the fast is meant to be finite. “Which means even if you come to a realization about the illusions and temporality of the world,” he writes, “you are still supposed to come back to both.”

By book’s end, Ali has not only conveyed a sense of Ramadan, but indirectly he has held a mirror to the food-centric nature of modern life.

Food is many things — sustenance, power, social medium, diversion. Ali’s intimate, poetic book allows us to see appetite as a continuum, and fasting as a source of spiritual strength. 

Joan Silverman of Kennebunk writes op-eds, essays, and book reviews for numerous publications.