Ramadan means something different to everyone. For me, it’s a surreal month. I love the opportunity to be able to feel closer to my faith. On the other hand, I was a little nervous about how I was going to cope. Summer fasts are long, and the days can be very warm (although, this is Britain.)
Ramadan has also made me realise that most of my friendships are based on food. In fact, most of my day-to-day activities work around cooking, baking, planning cakes for special occasions – it’s all about the food.
It’s also made it painfully clear how amazingly fortunate I am to live in a society where I can meet friends at my favourite Italian place, or hole up in my local coffee shop with my laptop and a caramel latte. There are so many people in the world who don’t have those luxuries.
So, as challenging as it was at first for me to go a month without enjoying these things, I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be for those people who don’t have enough food to fill their bellies. Who don’t have enough food to feed their children. Who are killed every day, hour, minute because they have no access to basic nutrition.
And, isn’t that realisation part of what makes Ramadan so important? It’s a reality check. A reminder to gain some perspective, when I’m complaining that my favourite restaurant has increased its prices, or changed the menu.
I am reminded how important it is to give to charity – even in a small way – whether it’s food, money… as much as can be afforded, more if I can manage it.
Ramadan 2017 is almost over. It may even have finished by the time you read this. The weeks seem to have flown by this year, yet at the same time, it feels like it’s been so long since that first fast, back in May.
I remember the nerves I felt approaching that first fast. I wasn’t sure how I would manage my working days while fasting. Actually, work have been incredible. I was able to reduce my working hours for a month, which meant that I could get a lie-in, after being up until dawn to eat and pray.
Ramadan is a wonderful time for the Muslim community to come together, but the support I get from my non-Muslim friends is especially heart-warming. You guys are awesome.
I love it when people around me express curiosity about the month of fasting. I’ve had a lot of questions in the past, including a standard set which seems to be asked each year. I thought I’d share some of them here.
1) Why do you do it?
Each person has their own reasons for fasting in Ramadan, so I can only answer this question based on my own views:
a) Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam.
b) It helps us to practice self-discipline and self-control, which can be transferred into other aspects of daily life.
c) It feels a bit like a ‘refresh’ button to me. A chance to break poor habits, like an unhealthy diet. It’s a chance to let go of petty irritations and appreciate the good. It’s a chance to become closer to my faith, and my family.
d) It is a great opportunity to feel and understand a fraction of what those in poverty are enduring at this very moment, and reminds us to give to charity and those in need.
2) How do you break the fast?
This is a personal question, because everyone will have their own traditions. Many Muslims open their fast with a date, like the Prophet (pbuh). In my family, we first have some fruit – watermelon is absolutely scrumptious in the summer – which is followed by sunset prayers. Afterwards, we have our main meal.
3) Not even water?
No, not even water. While we fast, we do not eat or drink anything during daylight hours.
4) Don’t you get thirsty?
Obvious answer to this aside, myself and others do find that we have an increased endurance (for lack of a better word) during Ramadan. Ordinarily, I would start to feel dehydrated or hungry within a few hours. Yet there has been more than one fast, this year, where I have felt that I could keep going for a few more hours. This is one of the wonders of Ramadan, for me.
5) Do children have to fast?
No. Children are not required to fast (and neither are those who are elderly, or for whom fasting could make them unwell.) I used to do ‘half fasts’ when I was a kid, which basically meant no snacks between breakfast and lunch, or lunch and dinner. This is a great way for children to feel more included with Ramadan, and is good practice for when they’re older.
6) What if you draw the curtains shut so there’s no daylight in the room?
Then I’d be sat in a darkened room, continuing to fast. Please do bear in mind, before you pose this question to a fasting Muslim, that it may be thought offensive by some. There are no sneaky cheats to get around fasting during daylight hours without it being known. And if that is the aim, then I think the whole point of Ramadan has been lost.
7) When is Eid? How does that work?
Ramadan can consist of 29 or 30 days of fasting, depending on the lunar cycle. According to Islam, the previous day ends with the setting of the sun. When the new moon is sighted, Eid celebrations and prayers can begin in the evening of the last fast. Sometimes, due to a longer orbit, or a number of reasons, the cycle can be slightly longer and so the length of Ramadan can vary.
8) What if no new moon is sighted? Do you have to carry on fasting?
If the new moon is not sighted at all, we stop fasting after 30 days.
Preparations for Eid have started, as I write this. We all have our own traditions when it comes to celebrating. Usually, my entire family gathers at my grandparents’ house. We all make a dish, and I bake, and it’s lovely. This year, we might have Eid breakfast at mine, go out walking in Derbyshire, and maybe head to a favourite restaurant for dinner. The kids get presents, and friends will occasionally drop in to share in the festivities.
So, this is what Ramadan means to me. I’d love to hear your stories.
Thank you to Marriam for sharing her experience in writing this post! You can follow her on Twitter @MarriamYahya.