Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

Ramadan: ‘It will be a test but the peace you get is beautiful’

Published on May 6, 2019 by   ·   No Comments

A month of fasting brings both challenge and rewards. Three Muslims explain how they combine its spirituality with their busy lives/Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

Tonight, after sunset, hundreds of millions of Muslims across the world will embark on Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar, in which it is believed the Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. For 30 days, many Muslims will be fasting – no food, no water – from sunrise to sunset, getting on with life while taking on one of the greatest acts of faith. Not eating, or drinking even the tiniest drop of water, is hard.

It is more difficult still in the long days of a British summer, where the morning meal (sehri) has to be eaten by 2.30am and the fast can’t be broken with the evening meal (iftar) until after 9pm. But it can definitely be done. Some will keep working out, playing football or heading to the gym, even after a day at work or school. Others will dedicate more time to meditative prayer or studying the Qur’an. As so many of us will attest, the challenge is mental rather than physical. Feeling weak or lethargic by the end of the day is common, but the body adjusts and willpower is extraordinary – as with any sort of training, fasting gets easier as you go on.

Exemptions are made for the elderly, the young, anyone who is ill, for women who are pregnant or menstruating, and for those travelling. In these cases, fasts are made by fidyah – donating money or food to those in need. Fasting during Ramadan isn’t just about resisting the temptation to eat: it also means no sex, no smoking, no bitching, no general bad behaviour in daylight hours. Instead, love, charity, kindness and prayer are prioritised. Consider it a spiritual detox.

Asha Mohamud, 20, British-Somali model, and the face of Asos’s modest fashion line. Lives in west London

The question I get asked most in Ramadan is, “You can’t drink even a sip of water?” People think that models don’t eat anyway, and so Ramadan should be easy, but that’s not true. For a start, you always end up putting on weight because your body craves heavy, greasy carbs at iftar and then you can’t move afterwards. My mum always says when we’re piling our plates up, “You won’t finish that!”

My family are from Somalia, and like other Muslim cultures we have a lot of food on the table at iftar – things like curries and samosas and fruits – and it’s a really amazing time for getting the family together.

“You put yourself in the shoes of people who live this reality every day and it reminds you to be grateful and patient.”

I look after my body and always eat while I’m on shoots, so this month will be a test, but the peace you feel during Ramadan is beautiful. It’s difficult to explain, because most people can’t get past the idea of no food or drink, but you gain so much spiritually. It’s a different, calmer perspective. You put yourself in the shoes of people who live this reality every day and it reminds you to be grateful and patient.

I have been fasting since I was 11, and it has always been in the summer months [Ramadan moves back two weeks each year, in line with the lunar calendar] and during exam season. That was hard! Not the food, but keeping your concentration and focus. Alhamdulliah, I got really good grades and I’m at uni now. The last hour is the one everyone finds difficult but I cope by going to the gym. It’s not that mad – just light running and some weights. I find it a really good way to be distracted and make the time pass more quickly. I have eight siblings aged between six and 23 years old – it’s so exciting to do Ramadan with the younger ones. They don’t fast but we all love the family get-togethers and Eid. It’s so nice and special knowing that so many Muslims are doing this together – it really makes you feel strong.

Rahima Mahmut, 49, Uighur musician, activist and translator. Moved to the UK from north-western Xinjiang, where up to 3 million Muslims have been detained in “re-education camps” by the Chinese government. Lives in north London.


Monday May 6, 2019

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