Glancing at the clock the time is now 3.19am which means that officially, it’s Thursday, so first of all, Eid Mubarak to all of those who are celebrating and Eid Mubarak to me too! Not because I have reverted to Islam, my religious status still remains ‘undecided’ but after starving myself of food and water for around 18 hours each day for the past month, I deserve a massive pat on the back for completing what has been one of the biggest mental challenges I’ve had to-date, Ramadan.
For most of the Muslim community, Ramadan is a highly spiritual journey and family-oriented time. From what I’ve gathered, it’s actually less about the physical sacrificing of food – though that provokes appreciation and is the only way to empathise with those who have so little – Ramadan’s true sentiment lies in what the religious event represents which is a time for cleansing, charity, prayer and love, more importantly. (Watch Channel 4’s Ramadan Diaries here)
My reasons for taking part, I’ll declare now, weren’t nearly as profound as any of those. Intrigue is a distinct feature of my personality and Ramadan was an opportunity to really share in other’s experiences, some millions of others which I think is just amazing. A huge advantage to not growing up in a devout religious household, and it’s only now that I see the real beauty in this, is that my family are very lax in their traditions and beliefs which means there are no qualms if like, on this occasion, I seek to adopt customs from outside. Why fuss about not having your own traditions when you can be creative and borrow some?
Being a verging hippy, I’ve read about the innumerable health benefits of fasting, some even go as far as to claim that fasting is powerful enough to cure diseases as harsh as cancer. For a while I’d wanted to take part in an extensive and structured fast so it was either do it now and not think about how weak I might feel mid-way through or wait another year when I may not have the pleasure of experiencing it amongst friends as who knows which exotic island I could be working from next year, Insha’Allah (God willing).
That said, I took a brave leap of faith, despite being anaemic and knowing that I was going to have to endure some of the hottest temperatures this summer and still go to work, with school children, may I add. Then to only have around 4 hours of sleep after forcing myself to eat at foreign hours of the night, but I’m extremely happy that I did as I know now that my willpower isn’t at all out of order and it really is mind over matter. Plus my sugar cravings have been squashed once and for all.
When I was deliberating taking part in Ramadan, my reluctance grew from what I imagined the reactions to be. Would those in the Islamic community feel that I was mocking their religion? Would I be on the receiving end of comments more ignorant than, ‘Yuh tun Muslim now?’ (English translation: Have you become a Muslim now?) Strange looks when I decline offers of a drink because I’m fasting until 9pm? It all crossed my mind, however, I feel lucky to have had this ‘alien’ experience as it’s one in a long line of many that we encounter in our lifetime, in this multicultural society that we exist in but choose to not be part of.
As open as my mind has been is as open as my friend’s homes have been for Iftar where I broke fast with them and their families; as open as their hearts have been in sharing gifts and something as sacred as their religion with me, an outsider. Abstaining from eating and drinking, like I was assured, got easier throughout the month but the modest gestures of kindness really took me aback and will stay with me a very long time.
From the Qu’ran: ‘The true servants of the Most Merciful are those who behave gently and with humility on earth and whenever the foolish quarrel with them, they reply with [words of] peace.’ (Al-Furqan 25:63)