The Ramadhan Diaries

Fasting in London and beyond

Archive for the month “June, 2014”

Football and Fasting

The Match We Have All Been Waiting For

The Match We Have All Been Waiting For

The Algerian national team’s coach, Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic is angry with the constant questions regarding which players within his team will be fasting. I am curious as to why everyone is fixated with that. I am also surprised to hear that he has received criticisms against him personally. I was reading the post by David Ornstein on the BBC online Sport pages.

“Ramadan is here and I read in some Algerian newspapers criticisms about me, about my image, about my honour. They are trying to raise hatred against Vahid, against my family, and this is really disgusting.”

Of course it was one of the things we all anticipated if Algeria, the only Arab/North African country go forward at this years World Cup in Brazil. I was watching the last match with an Algerian friend where they drew with Russia, breaking through into the last-16.  “They will be playing in Ramadan – that’s huge.’ I was thinking about the symbolism of a predominantly Muslim country playing at the World Cup during Ramadan and less the practicalities of it. My friend pointed out that we will be having Iftar watching the match.

Fasting is very much a private matter and it is also one of those acts of worship that no one else has to even know about. If you are fasting you are not displaying an outward action – it’s internal and more personal. A struggle against your own desires, habits and enforcing will power.

It is interesting that everyone is keen to know if the players will be fasting. Is it because it is deemed such an enormous feat to undertake? Particularly if you are playing sport at world level in the heat the Brazilian climate promises? It does make you wonder about human abilities. But Algeria is a relatively conservative country and some if not all of the team are observing Muslims. One thing I noticed about Algerians through friends and networks is that despite other aspects of Islam that may not be adhered to as strictly, even the five times a day prayer – fasting is observed throughout Ramadan in a steadfast manner.

And yet it is still a matter between the individual and Allah (God) as eluded to by the coach in the BBC online piece.”This is a private matter and when you ask this you lack respect and ethics,” said their coach.

Although Ramadan is mandatory for Muslims and one of the five pillars of Islam, those that are sick, and elderly are exempt and those who are pregnant, travelling or going to war are permitted to avoid it until a later time. Athletes sometimes delay their fast according to these exemptions. Not being judgemental is key and sadly Muslims can be an extremely judgemental bunch.

The coach said that it is not the first time he has had Muslim players in his team and that he leaves them free to make up their own minds. He sees it as a private spiritual matter and I have to agree.

‘It has to do with private freedom of expression.’

“Those who continue criticising our team and my actions, I think it’s shameful. But I will continue [as coach], I will continue working with this team. I’m sorry that you continue criticising what I do.
“Stop asking me about Ramadan, otherwise I will get up and leave.”

We know though that the Algerian captain, Madjid Bougherra will be fasting during Ramadan and that does not surprise me. I met him in Glasgow in 2010 and interviewed him for a film I was making about the Algerian football team. He was striking in his humility, even bringing his two little daughters for us to meet.

I was also amazed to read that the Algerian squad have been accompanied by one of Fifa’s leading experts on fasting footballers! I never knew there was such a thing! But obviously then footballers fast whilst playing matches. And they survive. It is all to do with the preparation and being careful. Something I think expensive footballers and their managers will be most aware of.

1,2,3 Viva L’Algerie and Ramadan Kareem to the team.

 

Day Two

I dozed off watching some TV waiting for the morning prayer that falls just after 3am at the moment. It’s called Fajr and is just before sunrise.

As the title credits rolled to that iconic film Something’s Gotta Give , I stirred with the sound of birdsong. That’s twice in two days the pre- dawn chorus has got me up for the first prayer of the day. The birds are singing so loud.

The Dip Has Come

When I interviewed Dr Michael Mosely a couple of days ago for the Ramadhan program I am presenting for BBC 1 – he suggested keeping a diary of how I was feeling throughout the day. Prior to starting fasting I have also taken a set of bloods, weighed myself and recorded my BMI. I want to tackle this Ramadhan with a difference. It is supposed to be a period that develops you as a person for the better through the discipline of fasting and I want to measure that. Spiritual development will be recorded through reflection and the changes in terms of my own physiology and body through science! I have had a set of bloods taken prior to fasting and then will have a set taken after – the results of which I will reveal within the BBC programme.

But today – in fact right now at about 7pm I am having a dip. I feel a little tired and a bit woolly around my head. Michael suggested that fasting is like putting the body under stress in a way that we ‘stress’ our bodies when exercising. It is during this time of stress that the body repairs itself. It does that by creating new cells. We do the same thing when we lift weights where our muscles rip – then we create a healing process to repair. Michael’s words of how this process happens in fasting are ringing through my head now. He said the process happens throughout the body including our brain. When I begin to feel a bit fuzzy minded, I should think of it as my brain ‘getting a polish’ as new brain cells form in response to the process.

So I think that’s where I am right now. My body is relying on my fat reserves right now to draw on the energy it needs. I have plenty of those and so the essential organs I need to keep functioning are certainly not in any shortage of what they need! It is more that I as a human being am a creature of habit and it would be around now that I would be drinking tea or coffee and also looking for the evening meal.

And I find that if I distract myself, mentally, I can overcome the dip. Michael described that within the 5:2 diet process he also used meditation and that mindfulness is an important reinforcement for helping to go through fasting. So for me the mindfulness and the ‘meditation’ process actually comes through the process of prayer. It’s the time to pray the afternoon prayer – Asr – and so I will use that as a time to reflect, to connect and to relish what I am doing and why.

In two hours I will be able to eat and drink again. Taking time to think of the entire process from both a spiritual and physical perspective has been a more meaningful way to approach Ramadhan.

I have the strongest desire to eat pasta – I hardly ever have it normally but how bizarre to experience the cravings our minds create for us.

Ramadhan Kareem 2014

So it’s here. Like most things that require a bit of work and may prove a bit of a challenge, I have been mentally prepping for this first day of Ramadhan since about May!  I have been worried about how fasting for 19 hours will work out, especially with the normal routine of work but reading back over my last two years of blog posts, has been quite helpful. Writing this blog again is really something I anticipate eagerly and look forward to every year. Thinking about the first few posts I have planned this year I know I have something different to offer.

This Ramadhan has already proven a bit different before it even began. I have never been to an Islamic Relief event but was invited to the Pre-Ramadhan Dinner the other night. It took place in the the Church House, near Westminster Abbey. A rather lovely setting and the food was delicious. Speakers included Minister for Justice and Civil Liberties Simon Hughes MP, Amir Khan and Jon Snow. The night was dedicated to launching the latest fund-raising announcement – DFID is to match pound for pound money raised by Islamic Relief. I’ll write more about this event in a piece later when armed with a post Iftar cup of tea.

Also I want to bring in some thoughts about the Algerian football team playing against Germany on Monday 30 July at the World Cup. I am a Les Verts fan – the Desert Foxes are back. I will actually be watching the match tomorrow evening around Iftar time with an Algerian friend and no doubt we will be heading to little Algiers in Blackstock Road, Finsbury Park, London to see the fans. Algerian football fans are a unique bunch and one can’t help but love them.

And then I have been given the rather unique and wonderful opportunity to make a film for the BBC about Ramadhan which will be screened on the 20th July. It has involved meeting and interviewing the London based imam, Ajmal Masroor. It was inspiringly hearing what Ramadhan means both to him personally and to the Muslim community. I also had the chance to sort the science of fasting out in my head with a really insightful meeting with the fasting expert Dr Michael Mosely. It was fantastic. After what I learnt from Michael and also the reassurance I gained from him about what was going on physiologically inside me I felt so much more ready for the challenge ahead in fulfilling my religious obligation of fasting through Ramadhan.  He told how the fat burning stage kicks in about 8 hours into the fast, which for me today at about 6pm I know I am well within. He talked through the dips and cravings we can experience and why. He also explained that over-coming habits is an important part of the process. Michael told me that I should be careful about what I eat in the evenings so that I avoid what normally happens to me every year – I put on weight. it’s because I anticipate the day ahead and eat the food I think will help. He advised lot’s or protein and fresh veg. Sounds rather sensible. Will I stick to it though?

Michael also talked about really taking time to savour the food and not to just gorge. It all makes perfect sense. It is a time of restraint and control and could provide lessons to learn that will remain after the last day of the 30 days.

I am also going to use this time to yet again sort my life out – both the spiritual, physical and the disorganised pile of stuff I keep under the desk.

So today is being spent taking it easy. No caffeine withdrawal headache thank goodness – the reduction in intake over the last few weeks has obviously paid off. I am however struck by how much food is thrust at us on the television. Most of the adverts are screaming at us to buy food, eat and drink all sorts of stuff.

Although I actually feel fine and full of the eagerness of spiritual awakening that fasting can bring, I am switching over from Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me.  I am human after all and have not eaten since 2.49am!!

 

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