The Ramadhan Diaries

Fasting in London and beyond

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Another fasting Olympic story

Another fasting Olympic story

….but this one looks at those who have fasted. it also looks a little into scientific opinion on how fasting affects athletes. Best of all it talks about how one of my local mosques, East London mosque, held huge iftars to which Olympic athletes attended!

 

Surah Iqra – the Qu’ran’s first verse to be revealed.

Surah Iqra – the first verse revealed of the Qu’ran

Here is a link to the first verse to be revealed by the angel Jibril to the prophet Muhammed (PBUH) in Mecca in 610 CE – high up in a cave on  mountain just outside the city.

I was first told this story of what happened by my mum – she told me about the angel coming to see the Prophet (PBUH) and ordering him to read. The Prophet replied he could not read – he had never learnt. The angel again said read. The Prophet said again he could not. The third time Jibril said “read, in the name of Allah” and the rest of the verse was revealed. I always feel very strongly about the fact that the first instruction given to the man chosen to deliver the message of Islam was associated with education, seeking knowledge and that the use of the pen was mentioned. I am very proud to be a Muslim on many fronts but this area is one of the main reasons.

All those sceptics out there wondering why I am talking about angels and revelations -things that Dawkins & Co will call ‘fairy tales’ – well it boils down to this. Over the last few years a number of debates and discussions have surfaced in association with Islam such as to wear hijab or not, to fast or not, are you an extremist or not, do you support the Muslim brotherhood or not, your thoughts on jihad…blah blah blah. It all kind of deviated from the fundamentals of faith. It reduces down to basic beliefs. And yes I believe in angles, in heaven and hell and most of all I believe in Allah and his Messenger, Muhammed (PBUH).

Day 27 Looking for the Night of Power

We are well and truly on the countdown to the end of Ramadhan 2012. It always amazes me how fast this month flies and every year it gets quicker. This is day 27. We are within the last ten day section of Ramadhan which means that Muslims step up their worship, their prayers, their devotion to Allah ( Arabic word for God) as it is within this section of Ramadhan the Night of Power  or Lailat ul Qadr is promised to fall.

As Muslims we describe this rather special night as ‘better than a thousand months’ (83 years, 4 months).

According to Hadith, which are  sayings or acts ascribed with varying validity to the the last prophet, Muhammed (PBUH)], this night occurs during the last ten days of Ramadhan on one of the odd numbered nights. Although Muslims are not given a precise date there has always been a leaning towards the 27th night. But effort is made for most of the odd numbered nights and then further still for the last ten nights as a whole. The Night of Power is a night of great importance and enormous blessings for Muslims.

 I remember hearing about this special night from my mum. We always observed extra prayers and thoughts during this period. I remember standing in prayer all night as a young girl.   I think I was about 14 and I prayed a hundred rakaahs in one night-that’s a repetition of two section of prayers 50 times. I can remember it so clearly. It was a long night of endurance but I remember feeling really close to Allah and really calm. I just started and didn’t stop.

In the Qu’ran it says:

We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power:
And what will explain to thee what the night of power is?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah’s permission, on every errand:
Peace…This until the rise of dawn!
Sura 97 Al Qadr verse 1-5
It’s such a beautiful verse.
Laylat al-Qadr (لیلة القدر‎) can also be referred to as the Night of Destiny, Night of Power, Night of Value, the Night of Decree or Night of Measures. It has a significant historical aspect related to Islam. It is the night that Muslims believe the first verses of the Qu’ran where actually revealed to the last prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Muslims believe that the Quran’s revelation occurred in two phases. The first phase involved the entire revelation to the angel Jibril ( Gabriel) on Laylat al Qadr in the lowest heaven. Heaven has different levels. Then on this same night there began the first revelation of many over the coming years to the last prophet Muhammed (PBUH) delivered by the angel Jibril. On the first night, the Qu’ran was first revealed to the Prophet when he was alone, contemplating and meditating in the cave on Mount Nur known as Hira cave in Mecca with the year being 610 CE. When Muslims visit the area, they can climb the mountain and visit the cave. It’s there still to see.  The first Surah or chapter to be revealed was Surah Al-Alaq ( in arabic ) “العلق” also commonly referred to as Surah Iqra “اقرأ”.
It was when angel Jibril appeared to the Prophet and ordered him to read.
I always shudder with tingles in my spine when I think of that – the first words of my religion delivered by Allah to humans were those instructions for us to seek knowledge and read.
It is on this night Muslims believe that Allah decides everyone’s destiny and the observant spend much of this night in prayer- although there is no way of knowing which night in the last ten days it will fall on.
The normal practise is to pray extra prayers to the normal obligatory five daily prayers. Many lights can be seen on around various parts of towns and cities where Muslims are still awake in worship through the night until dawn. I have in the past spent the night awake at home or in the mosque. When I lived in Edinburgh, the most amazing times of night worship were had in the rather community friendly Edinburgh central mosque. There was a real feeling of congregation and day and night seemed to blur. The only important thing was to pray. I miss that atmosphere and my fellow sisters I used to spend the night praying next to. It’s also a night to read the Qu’ran and try to feel it – every word and it’s meaning. It’s a time to ask for forgiveness, for help, for guidance. It’s also a time to give thanks. It allows time to contemplate all that has been and all that is to come.

There is also a further way to capture the blessings of these last ten days and that is through a spiritual retreat. In mosques you will find men who have moved in for the last ten days- the facility also exists for women but depends on where the mosque is. Often women have their own retreat at home. Those that move to the mosque for the last ten days, spend the days fasting and then the night in prayer – but away from normal distractions of life and work. It really allows cutting off and focusing on building a better relationship with Allah and with realigning oneself back to the centre, when during the course of the year the path may have become diverted. The retreat or itikaaf holds a place of respect for those that do it.  A real community spirit develops with members of the family providing food for breaking the fast.

The Qu’ran describes what happens on Laylat al Qadr – it’s quite beautiful. To me it is as real as from the first time I heard about it as a young girl – amazed by the concept of what goes on beyond the limitations of our eyes. In Surah Qadr (97:4):

“The angels and Jibril descend in it by the permission of their Lord for every affair” (97:4)

The whole month of Ramadan is a period of spiritual training and that is why we fast, pray additional prayers, recite the Qu’ran and remember Allah. We also give charity having had the rather era reminder through fastin gof what it means to be hungry and thirsty. Islam is a rather practical religion.

The last ten days are like going for the final sprint, the final push to get the maximum out of Ramadhan and with the hope of finding Laylat al Qadr.

No Break From Fasting for Algerian athlete Mohamed Khaled Belabbas

Mohamed Khaled Belabbas fasting during the Olympics

Breaking Muscle article on fasting and it’s health benefits

Another article on fasting and it's health benefits.

BBC article on Olympic athletes fasting in Ramadhan

BBC article on Olympic athletes fasting – a lovely piece

BBC Horizon’s Michael Mosely looks at the health benefits of fasting

BBC Horizon programme on restricted and fasting diets and their health benefits –

Catching Up….

So the diary suffered a little over the last couple of weeks. There has been a lot going on and time has slipped. I have also learnt that keeping a blog requires discipline and I’m afraid I am not the most disciplined person I know. Far too much of a free spirit. But as the days rolled by unwritten I kept everything logged in my head – my thoughts were with the blog on a daily basis although I didn’t get to physically connect. 

What’s going to happen now is me filling in the gaps from the last time we met. There have been a variety of things going on such as fasting, making meals to break the fast for the family, massive huge family rows resulting in near dis-ownership – yes, I know it’s not what we are supposed to be doing in Ramadhan but family stuff happens despite ourselves – and lots and lots of tests for potential kidney donor screening for my brother. 

Oh I also moved to a room near to the hospital where I work. It took a few days to get used to the quiet and the routine of living on my own again but I have settled in now. Hence that’s me back to writing.

The Olympics have left London and the Paralympice have not yet bsgun. I totally loved how London became a cool friendly place to be. I am on the Underground tomorrow – I wonder if the fantastic atmosphere and the smiling policemen will still linger? Will let you know.

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