The Ramadhan Diaries

Fasting in London and beyond

Archive for the tag “Qu’ran”

D1 – Iftar like home

9 a.m – I fight the urge to make a coffee – that robotic trance like walk to the kettle and the mechanics of opening cupboards. Instead I pace myself …. and do nothing much. Watch tv and chill.

12.30 p.m –  Still chilling out. Husband says to think about prepping food. It’s only just gone midday. There’s 8 more hours to go. Is he hungry already? I know he’ll be having a caffeine withdrawal headache the size of Britain.

1.30 p.m – I say my afternoon prayer. Feels nice to not miss it and pray on time. I then do something I’ve never in my life done, even in Ramadhan. I find myself walking to my bookshelf and pulling off two books. One is the Qu’ran I was given in Mecca last year when on Hajj and the other is an English translation  of the Qu’ran. I look up Qu’ran recitations on Youtube and discover Omar Hisham Al Arabi and his reading of the section on Ramadan in Surah Baraqa. It’s beautiful. For once it hits home what this month is all about.

I start to read the Qu’ran and honour my promise of trying to read 10 pages a day. Will I keep this up? For now and for today, it feels good. Like a connection being made to the words. As I follow the text in my copy of the Qu’ran to the voice of the recitor I have time to appreciate the text, the aesthetics of the letters. I remind myself, it’s just day one. Come back on day 20. If I’ve got the energy to keep it up I’ll be impressed. I also expect this blog to disintegrate to a few lines a post, if lucky.

2.30 p.m – In Algeria, so I am told, the traditional dish to serve at Iftar is called Lham Lahlou – lamb with prunes, with a sauce made of honey and sugar. I can’t quite get my culinary imagination around that so my husband says to make a version without the honey and sugar – which turns the dish into Tagine Barqork. I have all the will in the world to be as trad as possible but sugar and honey with lamb is a leap too far. For now.

The reason they make this for Ramadan is because it’s made without salt thus helping to stave off thirst the next day.

So armed with the best youtube videos and Algerian recipe blogs out there I began to work.

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7.30 p.m – I am still in the kitchen cooking. I’ve been cooking the Tagine Barqork version of Lham Lahlou for quite some time. The prunes which I dutifully soaked before adding to the pot have almost dissolved. My pot doesn’t look like the images on instagram and PinInterest. I peel the almonds and brown them. Ready to scatter at the end, with the hope that it will at least look like how it’s supposed to. I throw in some more un-soaked prunes that will at least look intact, although not cooked through as they should be.

The shorba is something I can manage – I think. I’m feeling confident as I do the normal onions, garlic, cumin, ras -al-hanout and meat thing. It begins to smell how it should. But then in a moment of lack of faith, I reach for the packet of Majji shorba. A ready made mix of the traditional North African soup that is eaten commonly during Ramadan. It’s unnerving cooking without eating to taste so that’s what guides my hand to cheat. We are allowed to taste as long you don’t eat it but I don’t go that route. Sometimes it’s a bit like lucky dip. Cook it and then see if it works when you break your fast. Risky! But if it all goes pear shaped there’s always Deliveroo.

The last part of the trad Iftar is Borek – it’s a bit like somosa but long and cylindrical like mince meat filled cigars. I’ve got the mince ready with some peas and diced potatoes. A dash of cumin and some parsley. I’m all sorted and then husband decides he wants to help. It becomes a bit ‘too many cooks spoiling the broth’. Add to that a hungry caffeine withdrawing Algerian and then the tea towel gets it as it flies through the air.

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I am amazed at my response. I say, quietly and composed,  the words ‘calm down’ instead of what would normally come from my mouth at such times. I am quite impressed if not also taken aback. Maybe it’s Ramadan already having an impact. But the whole tea towel incident takes 20 minutes off my plans to be the ultimate housewife with a perfect table laid for iftar. Instead it’s a made rush and it’s all a bit chaotic. The thing at Ramadan is to make the table look appealing and ready. A time to celebrate breaking the fast every day. Mine is a bit lastminute.com.

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8.35 p.m – Time to break the fast. I taste the date and a rush of flavour comes to my mouth. It’s delicious. I know it’s bizarre to admit but I remember my time on the Bear Grylls Island last year or rather coming off it after 25 days of no food other than some occasional fish and coconuts.

I couldn’t quite stomach coconuts after day 2 on the island and I still can’t even stand the smell of them. All my cocoa butter lotions and potions have remained untouched for the last 12 months.

The flavour blast in my mouth, after no flavour whatsoever on the island, from eating a pineapple was incredible.

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We pray the Magrib (evening) prayer and by then all thoughts of tea towels aerial displays are forgotten. And yes the shorba is appreciated even with the Majji addition. I confess to that addition as if I’m on Come Dine With Me.

Coffee is drunk in copious amounts and all is well in the world.

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10 p.m – It’s time to walk to the mosque for the late night prayers – taraweh – said in congregation during Ramadan. It’s the first day of the fast and so the mosque is packed. Taraweh prayer deserves a whole blog on it’s own. But for now suffice to say it’s that time of year again when we stand next to strangers in whatever floor space you can find. The whole prayer time takes about an hour with the aim of the imam completing the entire 30 chapters of the Qu’ran by the end of Ramadan. Whatever anyone says, it’s a practise in stamina and standing for an hour with intermittent bowing and kneeling after a whole day of fasting. After the first 10 minutes you get into a rhythm. By the end of it I leave feeling like a champion for making it to the end. My feet are throbbing. But it also helps digest all the food you’ve just eaten. I often think Islam does have some logical practises – fast, then eat then prayer – in that order works for making you feel kind of put together.

Walking home just before midnight in the dark streets crowded with other worshippers makes it feel like community. I feel part of something. I also feel less full.

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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.

Acclimatising – Day One Fast

A new routine for the month begins today. It’s only when you commit yourself to a journey like this that you realise how powerful your own mind is in controlling what you do. On the one hand my mind is focused, determined, full of resolve and hopeful. On the other hand another part of my brain is conjuring thoughts of self-doubt, fear and even wishing the month over. I’m going to be brutally honest.

This is without a doubt a test of will-power, self-discipline and of also confronting yourself.

No morning coffee. The husband, who is Algerian, is already having a sleep to get over the caffeine withdrawal headache he is dealing with. He’s a hardcore coffee drinker – the stronger the better. For me, there’s no headache because I don’t actually physically drink as much as he does but it’s the habit of making that coffee that I’m missing. The act of switching on the kettle, choosing the drinking vessel – which mug with which quote to fit with which mood – and then is it going to be be instant or filter?

With none of that going on, there’s more time. Time to do the things you avoid doing because you are procrastinating and then escaping to make a brew instead. Or fooling yourself that you are actually working, hunched over your laptop on a coffee shop.

When you take away all those practises that actually stop you from being productive, working and focusing – what is left? Just the work itself.

But fasting during Ramadan isn’t just a body thing. It’s very much a spiritual thing. An act of worship and also one of the five pillars of Islam.

You find that during this month, even the most lapse of Muslims during the remainder of the year, will take part in the fasting of Ramadan. For them as it is for the more devout, it’s unmissable. You just don’t even consider not fasting and being part of it.

It’s already 2pm and I’m feeling fine. Not hungry. Not thirsty. Not even tired.

The Plan:

  1. I’m going to try to get as much of the Qu’ran read as I can. I’ve never read the entire Qu’ran during Ramadan. Many people finish it multiple times during this month. So I’m going to make a commitment to read it every day and to get a decent way into it. That starts today. So today, I’ll begin and spend time to read, reflect and connect. I have always found it deeply spiritual to pray and read whilst in a state of fasting.
  2. I’m going to cook (scary) but yes it’s that time of googling all those North African recipes out there and getting my Shorba, Harira and Boreks at their peak. Kitchen is sparkly clean and ready for my North African cooking adventure.
  3. Blogging my way through this Ramadan so I can share, discuss and learn with brothers and sisters the experience and journey we are on.

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.

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