The Ramadhan Diaries

Fasting in London and beyond

What’s it all about? This fasting thing.

IMG_1178Ok so before I begin to hit the blog hard with Ramadhan 2019 content, I better explain what it’s all about.

During the month of Ramadhan every year, Muslims are instructed by God to fast. You may have heard of your Muslim friends and colleagues fasting at different times of the years. Wasn’t it at the height of summer last year? Yes it was – you are right. It’s earlier this year because we follow a lunar calendar. The month of Ramadan falls within the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The actual date of Ramadan is dependent on the lunar calendar and is calculated by the moon. The lunar calendar is 11 days shorter a month than the Gregorian calendar. That’s why this year we’ve started in May and last year it began in June.

We fast from dawn to dusk and that includes water. Yep hardcore fasting. No water or fluid of any kind for us. If you are ill, or travelling you are exempt and can make up the fasts at a later date.

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It’s a deeply spiritual month for Muslims. It’s a time when we try to get closer to God, both through fasting and also through prayer. Every evening just after the last prayer of the day – called Isha – Muslims gather for the extra prayers said during Ramadhan called Taraweh. So if you see lots of people gathered around mosques at night these days, that’s what they are doing. They last about an hour and after a day of fasting, it can be challenging and a test of stamina, if you’re a bit tired. But you do get used to it after a day or two and it becomes incredibly addictive. The pull of standing in prayer with other’s doing the same as you. The aim of taraweh prayers is to complete the entire Qu’ran over those 30 days. It’s sizeable book with 30 Surahs or sections and 604 pages. There’s a huge sense of achievement, togetherness and satisfaction when you are getting to the point of completing the Qu’ran towards the end of Ramadhan in Taraweh.

Many Muslims try to read the Qu’ran themselves during this month – some finishing it multiple times.

So why are we so attached to the concept of reading the Qu’ran particularly during this month? It’s the month in which we believe the Qu’ran was revealed to humankind – when the archangel Fibril (Gabriel) brought the first word of God to the last prophet, Muhammed (peace be upon him) – and thus began the revelations that form the Qu’ran. Muslims believe the Qu’ran to be the exact word of God and so you’d expect that to be pretty important to us. It is. Just break that down for a moment. Sometimes I need to take a moment and consider it. A book I believe to be the word of God, delivered through revelations. Unchanged from the time it was first delivered, starting in 610 A.D. The final revelation came 23 years later again during the month of Ramadan. I write this as I am doing so, because the true gravity of that concept has just hit me. Yes I’ve been reading the Qu’ran for years on and off. Yes I knew what it was. But something has kind of struck today which explains my wonder.

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We are often told that we can speak to God and that He hears us. We are told to pray and to confide in Him. But this is not a one way conversation. Muslims consider the Qu’ran to be the words of God and thus Him speaking to us.

We are told that during Ramadhan – the holiest month of the year for Muslims – the devil is chained and unable to influence us. What we battle instead are ourselves. Our own self-discipline, will power and attempt to find focus.

This is recognised as a month of forgiveness as well as a month of worship, reconnection and centring when it comes to our relationship with God.

For me, personally, I really need it. It’s come to me like a gift. I need this time to do all of the above and to remind me of who I am. In the busy lives we lead, we can forget ourselves and our core beliefs get buried under other things. I’m looking for courage for all that I have to deal with in my life right now and I get my strength from my faith. So for me, Ramadhan is like an answer to some of my deepest prayers asking for a bit of guidance, a bit of strength and a bit of hope.

I’m writing all that I feel quite openly (and maybe later I’ll cringe a little) because I want this to be a space for honest reflection and exploration. I know it’s a long month ahead and being human I’ll wax and wane at points along the way. In true Sal style, I’ll get distracted or lazy or overwhelmed by other stuff. I’m hoping at those times, I’ll remember to read back to get the reminder of what I think this month is all about.

I’ve been reading around for some more insights and I came across the #MUSLIMGIRL blog which was pretty helpful. It’s called  ‘Why It’s Important to Read & Recite Qu’ran This Ramadan’ by Tahira Ayub.

One more thing I’ve got to point you to is a bit of a discovery of mine. I’m not one for knowing great Qu’ran reciters. It’s a bit of a thing within the Muslim world and folk get excited by great reciters of the Qu’ran. Well I’ve discovered mine today. My goodness what a voice. For the first time in my life I had ‘something in my eye’ as I listened. It was an accidental find on Youtube, I will confess.

It is stunning. Do listen if you get a moment or even if you are curious. The reciter is Omar Hisham Al Arabi. The part of the Qu’ran he is reading is from the first section called Surah Baqarah. It’s the only part of the Qu’ran that mentions and describes the significance of Ramadhan. Confession time here, I’ve never really absorbed it’s meaning before until today, when I heard it recited by Omar Hisham and read the words in English. I had goosebumps. I found it spiritually really beautiful and even though I know it’s a challenging month ahead, I feel I’ve started it the way I’ve always meant to but never managed before really got my act together in time.

Here is his Insta link : https://www.instagram.com/omarhishamalarabi/

And his youtube link : youtube.com/omarhishamalarabi

Surah 2. Al – Baqarah 183-187

O you who believe! Observing the fast is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al- Muttaqun (the pious).

Enjoy.

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