Blessed Ramadan to you all.
Yep it’s that time of year where Muslims are truly tested on many levels …. And I am not only talking about the hunger games! In this blog post I want to try and clarify and explaining what is Ramadan. Starting from the basics and then I tell you how I am observing the month of Ramadan this year.
Alert :::: This is a rather LONG blog post !
The month of Ramadan is the 9thmonth of the Islamic lunar calendar. This month is the holiest and more scared time to Muslims because it is when the Angel Gabriel reviled the Holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad. In the Holy Quran, God (Allah) declares that in this month, all his blessings and mercy are poured on to the earth and to those who observe certain acts in this month are to have all their sins forgiven, their prayers answered, their souls elevated to a higher level. So what are these acts? First and foremost is fasting during daylight hours. Other acts include, giving to charity, helping the less fortunate, learning more about your religion, reciting and understanding the Quran, reforming your character by not getting angry, not backbiting and gossiping and making new resolutions to better your life and others.
Ramadan is a lunar month so it begins with the sighting of the new moon. It is therefore 29 or 30 days long as it ends with the birthing of the new moon.
Since the lunar calendar is 10 days shorter than the solar calendar (the one we are currently using January, February, March…) each year you find that Ramadan rotates across the solar calendar, so for instance this year 2018, Ramadan fell on 17th May next year it will start maybe 6thMay 2019 and so on. Why do I mention this, because daylight hours will change, one Ramadan you will be fasting 18 hours (as I am now) and on another year it will be 10 hours?
When Ramadan starts we greet each other with ‘Ramadan Mubarak’, ‘Ramadan Kareem’ ‘Blessed Ramadan’ etc.
Eid Al-Fiter is the day we celebrate the ending of the Holy month and the fast. It is a day of celebration and joy. I will probably write a separate blog post about it.
Fasting is done only during day light hours, which are dawn to dusk. You are not allowed to eat or drink. You are also not allowed to do anything resembling eating or drinking like smoking, chewing, injecting yourself, blood transfusion, putting ear drops and anything that enters the body. You are not allowed to have intimate relationships or sex during daylight hours. You are not allowed to use bad language and bad behaviour and you are not to waste time on useless activities. You are also not obliged to strain your physical body.
What are you to do then? Apart from doing your normal regular activity, you should pray (salah) and read duaa (supplications), read and understand the Quran, learn more about Islam. You are also expected to help others of all religions and backgrounds in any form you are able to. You must give to charity and give something back to your community. You evaluate your life goals and work on bettering them. You also need to rest physically or mentally by sleeping or meditation! I am partial to an afternoon nap !
All Muslims who are 12 years old and over observe the fast, children and the elderly do not. You must be of a sound mind and body.
If you are ill mentally and physically you are not to fast, if you are taking regular medications then you are exempt. If you are pregnant, breast feeding or menstruating you are not to fast. If you are travelling then you are not obliged to fast either. However, the days you are not fasting and are able to fast in another time you must make up. I make up my fast during winter, less day light hours. It’s not cheating, it’s being practical !!
To cleanse yourself from the material world and elevate your spiritual self to God and thus reach closeness to him. There are many benefits both individually and collectively, spiritually and physically.
Collectively; a sense of fraternity with others and the less fortunate is emphasised in Ramadan. It makes you aware of your own blessings and how you can share it with others and not to waste it. Social misconduct is reduce as you become aware of the manner in which you treat others.
Individually; it trains you to be tolerant, committed person in achieving your goals. Fasting teaches you discipline, devotion and contentment. You can see it as your intensive training programme! A bit like entering the army.
Spiritually; entering the month with humility, seeking Allah’s forgiveness, mercy and generosity along with reading and reflecting on the word of Allah in the Holy Quran sets you on a good path of enlightenment. By increasing your spiritual practices of salah and duaa you are making positive change internally that will show externally. You will notice a shift in your mind-set to a more calm, clearer and aware self …you.
Physically; it gives your stomach a break! Your body will use glucose stored in your liver and uses fat for energy. This will aid weight lost (but not guaranteed) thus help to reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Because you eat after dusk your body will prevent the breakdown of muscle for protein, so you are not harming yourself. Also fasting is a BIG detoxification process yeahhhh…. See Muslims knew about the fasting diet way ahead of time! It has been researched that Fasting increases alertness; endorphins are ‘alert’ hormones that get realised resulting in a better feeling of mental well-being. No excuse for not doing your studies!
The Prophet Muhammad said that we should be gentle with our body as it has a right over us, this means take care of yourself. If fasting is harming you STOP. Self-infliction of pain or injury is forbidden in Islam. Yes it is.
Breaking the fast
The meal in which you break the fast is called IFTAR. The meal you have before starting the fast is called Suhoor. When dusk passes we break that fast with some dates and water. We say a prayer of thanks when we eat the first mouthful. We break our fast with others and share our food. We make sure not to waste food, and ENJOY our food. Cooking our favourite meal, or eating a specific sweet dish as a treat for fasting!
There isn’t in fact a certain meal or dish to eat during Ramadan. The point is to eat healthy foods slowly in moderation and consistently throughout the night. You must void spices, fried food, sugars and fizzy drinks. These will not help your body retain fluids and essential nutrients and it maybe do you harm like increase your weight, causes dehydration, upsets your stomach etc..
Each country and culture has their own dishes that they eat in Ramadan.
Basically it’s breakfast ! Porridge and cereals as they have slow realising energy which is vital! I avoid tea and coffee ….. yes its hard so I compensate with water! I tend to have a boiled egg because it has lots of protein.
Fasting starts at dawn, so I do my dawn prayers and read at least a page of the Quran and try to go back to sleep … again not easy to do. Then I wake up to get the kids breakfast ready and get them to school and start my day as I normally do, but I inject lots of rest and other activities I mentioned above.
The bit we all wait for and count the hours too !
Because Ifatr is so late this year, I get dinner done for my kids first , put them to bed then go and set the table ready for the countdown ! I have usually cooked and prepared Iftar during the day. Main thing on my table is dates, water and yogurt. Next is soup, usually lentil soup, (have a look at my blog for recipes) along with a main meal and salad. Dessert is fruit and traditional sweets such as baklawa, mahalabi or kunafa. Usually I have my food coma pretty much 30 minutes into eating !
I wrote a lot (apologies) about the meaning and rituals of Ramadan that is expected, thankfully I do all if not most of them, they are testing but that is the purpose, it is not mean to be easy, you are testing yourself in order to become better.
The spirit of Ramadan is important to me. I sensed it growing up as a child in Abu Dhabi (UAE) and in London (UK). What is the spirit of Ramadan? I can’t exactly explain it, I guess it’s the feeling of togetherness and joy. The sense that I am engaging in something that is benefiting me spiritually by physically training myself. I am working hard in this life and getting benefits from it in this life and in the next. It is a collective thing, I am fasting and observing Ramadan with family, friends with my community, we support each other, we invite each other to break our fast, we work together and that sense of oneness is special.
To be honest with you, I have not felt this strong Ramadan spirit since I moved to Paris. I miss my family and friends, my community that I have not found here in Paris. But that is okay, as I am slowly working on it. I am starting with my family and installing the fundamentals of Ramadan with them. HOW ?? Well I know they are too young to fast but they are not too young to learn and have fun during Ramadan.
Firstly I did a Ramadan table, or corner. I placed items of importance like the Holy Quran, a sibha (prayer beads), dates, nuts, dried fruits and yogurt, they are the things we break our fast with. You can make your own Ramadan corner by adding lanterns, candles, incense sticks, decorative lights and even framed quote from the Quran. You can be as creative as you like, as small or big, colour or country themed.
I have also decorated part of my kids room with Ramadan decorations that some we made out of coloured paper and arts and crafts and Ramadan lantern lights that I got from my last trip in Iraq.
I have a Ramadan calendar, a bit like an advent calendar, where I put a small toy or a sweet in the pocket of each day, I ask them or teach them something about Ramadan or Islam and if they get it right they get the treat. They always get the treat even if they don’t know the answer …lol I get them to draw and colour things associated with Ramadan, we do a quiz and I explain to them with songs and illustrations what we do in this month.
For next year I will make them a Ramadan Journal, and stick a to do list and they tick what good things they have done each day, so for example did I help mum out today? Did I help a fried in school? To give some pocket money to charity, to thank Allah for something specific that happened that day etc.. There is a world of info and activity on the web and Pintrest that you can tap into and use … its been rather fun and a learning curve for me discovering it all. So it seems I am slowly making MY OWN Ramadan spirit.
Now do you want to know what I am struggling with? Hunger anger! So I am really trying hard to control my anger and to take deep breaths and use other techniques. This for me is a constant work, especially when your husband demands all sort of food from you and then disagrees on how it should taste ! Another thing I am struggling with is the sleep interruption and slight deprivation, it reminds me of the first months of being a mother ! This year the heat is not that bad in Paris so far and to be on the safe side we brought a small air conditioner as last year was super hot and I was amazed at how we survived fasting ! But I don’t get upset as I know these are small struggles that when done with right intention will eat away my bad deeds or sins, maybe using eat away is not right LOL but I am hungry so it seems appropriate !
I hope that this rather long blog has helped to demystify Ramadan and fasting for you. Apologies for any shortcoming and I would love to hear from you. Leave me a comment below and tell me what you think and if you are observing Ramadan and how is it going for you.
Wishing you peace in this blessed month and praying for Allah’s mercy to touch us all and for our hearts to be filled with love.