As the days are getting longer and the sunshine stays out to play, I am sure many of us are enjoying and quite frankly relishing the freedom bestowed on us after A WHOLE YEAR in lockdown (well... it sure feels like it). Signing out of Citrix and getting ready for a bite at one of the many open outdoor locations is but a luxury for many at this time as we enter and observe the 9th Month of the Islamic calendar year (kindly place your snack/glass down for the remainder of this article).
Across the UK and the World, millions of Muslims will be fasting during the hours of sunlight to observe one of the five pillars of Islam, to pray and to become closer to God. Ramadan is considered the holiest month of the year as it commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation of the holy Qur’an by the Angel Jibril (otherwise known as ‘Angel Gabriel’ without the Arab accent). It is also believed that during the month of Ramadan the gates of heaven are open, and the gates of hell are closed (undeniably metaphoric of the lockdown lifting during this holy month, right?).
What happens during the month of Ramadan?
Following the sighting of the ninth new Crescent Moon over Mecca, ‘Sawm’ Ramadan begins for millions of Muslims.
There are five pillars of Islam; Shahada (profession of faith), Salah (Prayer), Zakat (Charity), Sawm (Fasting) and Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca). The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic word ‘Ramad’ which means ‘heated by the intensity of the sun’ or ‘burning’ which reminds Muslims that the purpose to fast is not about losing body weight but to detach from the weight of your sins.
During Ramadan, those who are not exempt and who are considered ‘able’ must abstain from food, drink, smoking or any sort of sexual activity. Whilst many of us many on occasion intermittently fast from such activities (willingly or unwillingly), Ramadan seeks to embed self-control of indulgence in all aspects of life. Muslims seek to be model humans during the fast to ensure such behaviours become habits rather than occasional endeavours. Fasting also reminds Muslims to practice empathy for those around the world who are less fortunate, and it is usually a time of charity ‘Zakat’ and generosity.
Muslims begin fasting at Sunrise typically just past 4am. It is then they will eat ‘Suhoor’ and ensure they energise themselves for the fast ahead. After the Magrib prayer (‘evening prayer’) and the onset of the sunset, Muslims will break their fast ‘Iftar’ usually by eating a date and drinking a glass of water as did the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This is usually past 8pm.
Why is Fasting relevant to me?
Whilst many of you have probably caught me sneaking a Krispy Kreme (or three) in the Asta office, fasting and Ramadan is important in the El-Telbani household and not only for my waistline. As a child my father brought me and up learning and following the Islamic tradition. I would attend Arabic school (every Saturday 9-3pm for 15 years, yes evil, evil parents) and would go to Regent’s Park Mosque every Sunday to learn Islamic teaching until I was 9. My mother, whilst a Portuguese Catholic encouraged my dad to ensure we knew how to respect religion, to be respectful and to practice the five pillars of Islam.
Fasting was something I always endeavoured to do, perhaps partly because Ramadan is considered a time where doing good can clear the ‘sins’ you have committed over the previous year, but mainly because I was determined to embrace my oft’ confusing culture and to commit to being part of a communal spiritual practice with God.
Undeniably this was difficult at points and as aforementioned my vices seem to fall quite solidly under the food and drink category. Breaktime at school would leave me looking wide-eyed and salivating at something as simple as a Jacob’s Cream Cracker or a glass of South London tap water. Friendships were laden with jokes about how delicious their tuna sandwich was or how refreshing their squash tasted, alas during a month of charity I couldn’t really retort.
As I am older, I endeavour (there have been failures) to fast every Ramadan to not only tie me to my culture but to ensure I am grounded in good morals and to empathise with those less fortunate than I.
As I have grown older, I realise how important Ramadan is for people around the world, particularly for my father who I is a very devout and pious man (he even fasts when it’s not Ramadan!). And whilst my parent’s religious binary means my mother won’t practice fasting, my mother really can’t cook so she actually doesn’t pose much of a distraction from the goal.
Just like Easter is for Christians following lent or Christmas is for Asta staff after some hard work in Q4, Eid is also a time of celebration, presents and banquets of food. The word Eid al-Fitr means ‘the breaking of the fast’ and this typically lasts for two or three days. People will great each other with ‘Eid Mubarak’ meaning ‘blessed Eid’ and Muslims are encouraged to practice forgiveness and charity. This is called Zakat Al-fitr where Muslims are expected to make a charitable contribution (usually food but can also be money) to help those less fortunate.
As we enter the last week of Ramadan and the Eid festivities are looming perhaps this article has encouraged you to partake in a fast for a day? To give back and to remind yourself how fortunate you are, or simply to sympathise and understand how such practices can unify believers and non-believers to appreciate culture. Culture matters. I hope I have given you some insight in to the holy month of Ramadan and the value of abstinence. You may now resume your delicious lunch and sip that tea or coffee (I shall join you at around 8pm)