The Ramadhan Diaries

Fasting in London and beyond

Archive for the day “July 4, 2014”


Ok because this is an honest blog I have to say how it is. Today I am bored. Fasting slows you down and that’s not something I can normally do. I am not used to just focusing on one thing at a time. Normally I’m working on three different things at the same time. Sometimes it gets a bit stressful but generally that’s how I roll. It’s how things work for me and it deals with my short attention span. Never hanging around on one thing for too long for me to get bored with it.

But at the moment, fasting during these long hot days I am slowing right down – thinking through one task, one project or one commitment per day. I know its good for me but it is boring. I like being pushed and on the edge. I don’t normally realise that about myself until I get to Ramadan because I slow down and see things much clearer about myself. I know more about ‘me’ from the process of fasting than when I am full throttle into normal life. But today as I realise this I am bored.

Exercising fasters

Today was a bit different. The plan was to film with Muslims who are fasting and exercising. I had got permission to film with a gym in East London, dedicated to training wrestlers but runs classes in other disciplines. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.

The gym is called the Legion gym, named after the infamous French fighting force, known for it’s sheer toughness. The gym is run by Dr Amir Islami, a half Iranian half Uzbek origin British GP. His father was in the 1970s the national wrestling champion for Britain and Iran. Those were the golden days of wrestling in the UK. It was not just all about Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy. The amateur circuit was a different bag.

So today I went to this Rocky-style gym – it had opened up this evening to allow for an extra training session in the evening before fast opening. People came for a wrestling training session one hour before Maghreb – the sunset prayer and the time for opening the fast. Today was also the hottest I believe all year. It was certainly very warm. One of the wrestlers was a British man of Chechen origin, who also had won a Bronze medal in the Olympic pre-trials – but sadly had not been selected for paperwork reasons to be allowed to represent the UK at the Olympics. He took the warm-up. I was astounded by what I saw. At least 7 of the 10 men were Muslims who were fasting – but by the effort they were using in their warm up of amazing acrobatics and contortionist neck exercises you would never have been able to guess who the fasters and non-fasters were. Even the father Dr Amir was there – now 75 years old, fasting and still thrashing himself around the gym, training and wrestling with young men – some 3/4 his age. At a break in between training, the coach suggested those that could drink, go for a sip of water, but I noticed no-one left the room. Some default abstinence there I believe. It’s that respect thing again.

I went off and ran on a treadmill for about 15 minutes, did some weights and then cycled on an exercise bike. I was exhausted and very hot. More than a drink I wanted to just jump into an ice cold swimming pool. At the end of the training session, it was time to break the fast. Fasters and non-fasters alike shared dates and water bottles. One the guys training, another son of the now 75 year old wrestler is a personal trainer – he had been doing his job of personal training today and had then come for the training session. It was immense. I have no idea how. When he broke his fast, he spoke about the blessings of being to have water to drink when other’s out there don’t have any.

Then the fasters gathered next to the boxing ring on the mats for the sunset prayer of Maghreb and those that were not Muslim hung around chilling out on the mats, drinking water.

If you want to know more about the Legion Gym – grab a look here:

I left the gym to attend the taraweh prayer – but as I left it I read the quote on it’s walls:

‘Champions are not born but carved from stone.’


Default fasters

Thing is when you are fasting and other’s around you are not, they end up fasting by proxy. That’s because in general people are considerate to those around them and on an individual basis have respect for one another. Take the fourth day of Ramadan for instance. I was filming with two crew from the BBC – neither are Muslim. Our filming day was quite long and just a little challenging because we were filming in a hospital. Filming in hospitals is always difficult because the parameters of what you can get and what you can’t are quite narrow – practically nothing or no-one can get into shot unless they have signed two pieces of consent. Even the shoes of patients. So yes a challenging day but nonetheless good for the perspectives we got. After trawling through the camera shy staff, we found some doctors who were fasting to tell us about what working in A&E and fasting is like. They smiled and said it was fine and that actually it makes the day go quicker. I can relate to that. Although I dread the thought of a busy A&E shift, when I am in the middle of one I have to admit that it does make the day go quicker and I can forget myself in amongst it. Sometimes the anticipation is worse than than the fasting day itself. It’s the fear element within it – no-one wants to fail at their work and no-one wants to crumble under the fast. It’s all about fighting the urge to give in on both accounts. It’s mind over matter.

What was interesting to get was the consideration other members of staff gave to their colleagues who were fasting. One nurse said that her team were trying to avoid eating and drinking in front of their fasting nursing colleague. A group of male doctors said that they felt as if they were pseudo-fasting with their Muslim colleague because whilst they were around him they didn’t eat or drink and then they would find themselves too busy to eat when away from him.

In fact the two BBC crew who were with me all day ended up not stopping for lunch or coffee because time was against us. There were things they needed and we had to keep shooting. It was a busy day and quite intense. For me, I was prepared mentally and physically. I had begun to acclimatise to the fasting day and had anticipated it before the day had even begun. The BBC crew hadn’t envisaged that they would not be stopping for food – we were so rushed with the filming that I think they had managed breakfast and a hobbit style- small second breakfast before the shoot began but that was it for them until 7pm that evening. They looked like they were flagging. Filming is an intense experience.

I was fine as my adrenalin of presenting was keeping me going. It was only when I climbed into the taxi home after the end of the shoot and instantly fell into the blissful sleep of the exhausted that I realised that fasting and presenting can be a challenge. I was that exhausted I couldn’t even write this blog piece yesterday. I also naughtily ordered take away protein and salad of lamb cutlets and a mediterranean salad. Then I fell asleep.


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