The Ramadhan Diaries

Fasting in London and beyond

Archive for the tag “Ramadan”

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.


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.


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


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.



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.


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.



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.


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.

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 :

And his youtube link :

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).


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.

Ramadhan 2019 – It’s here

Ramadhan 2019.

Where did the year go? Where did the years go since the last time I blogged on here? It’s been a few.

That’s just the thing with years. If you don’t keep track of them they will speed past like a bullet train and all you’ll remember is the blur.

I’m going to blog through the month. Again. I want to see how far into Ramadan I can keep up a daily burst of content.

The last 12 months have been varied and challenging in a whole host of ways.

This time last year I was in Panama on an island with no contact to the outside world. By now I had found water with Martin Kemp. I had looked after James Cracknell and Anthony Ogogo who were suffering from abdominal pain and diarrhoea. I had hung out looking for limpets with Jo Wood and I had steri-striped Pete Wick’s finger together which he later tried to loose again when a shark bit him. I had looked after Eric Roberts and his headaches and visual black spot. Montana Brown had been super kind when she came to talk to me when I was having a bit of a moment.

Meeting all these people came about because I was on the Bear Grylls Celebrity Island series and we’d met Bear just a few days before.

We had no food and had to filter water to make sure we had enough to survive on. But it wasn’t like fasting all day.

I missed a large part of Ramadan back at home with my family and husband last year. It feels pretty special to be home with hubby from day one. I think this is the first one where we have been home together for the start of the month. Last year it was Panama, and the year before I was working in Bangor ED. Finally feeling a bit married now even though it’s our 3rd year.

It’s also been a hard 12 months in terms of navigating the new normal with family. My parents have been unwell loads and I’ve spent a ton of time in hospital with them. Flash backs to some of my scariest days with both of them are still pretty raw and make my knees feel like jelly when I linger over them.

And so with all this in mind, I’m so blessed to have the chance to contemplate and repent, to pray and worship and to be thankful. It’s Ramadan and this is the month to stop. Take a moment. Get closer to God in a way that you have not had a chance to all year, because life has been happening around you.

Ramadan Mubarek.

Ana Ayana – I am Tired

Ana Ayana – I am tired.

This is why.

Ten hour shift in A&E turned into a twelve hour shift.

12 hours of standing on my feet and chasing patients who don’t want to me to look after them.

3 hours of chasing a patient around the hospital, trying to get him to take his meds and persuade him not to go outside for a cigarette because he can barely breath and his oxygen levels are low.

3 hours of being abused by said patient for trying to stop him from getting so hypoxic and hypercapnic that he needs ITU. He was young but his judgement was so off, it was questionable if he had intact capacity. His hypercapnia (retaining carbon dioxide) was just over normal so I wasn’t thinking confusion at this stage.

2.5 hours over the time when I should have left to go home so that I could rest up ahead of my shift tomorrow morning.

But then I turned to the sister in charge and she saved the day. All is well. The patient is safe for now. Until he tries to get out of the ward again for another fag.

A long time since I have had such abuse for doing my job or experienced such disdain for my presence by a patient. In fact I think today was a first.

It was bizarre this morning – I bought a packet of chewing gum to get some change for the hospital car park but at the time had dismissed ever even opening the packet as it’s Ramadan and I am fasting. I had put them in my scrubs top pocket and forgotten about them. It was only as I was walking to my car, realising that the sun was setting and the fast was breaking did I realise that the small rectangular thing I was touching in my pocket was the packet of gum I thought I would never need. I thought to myself in that moment of fatigue and thankfulness that God knows the plan ahead of us, better than we do. I used the gum to break my fast as I had nothing else on me. I was not expecting to be so late getting home.

I had to go an sit in a coffee shop to decompress my brain before going home.

Home now and kind of floored. At least I know that I can fast a full day, be on my feet for most of it and deal with challenging patients – I have more of it for the rest of Ramadhan so it’s kind of confidence building.



Iftar East London style – Maedah Grill

Shakeel and the team with me, my niece, nephew and sister.

Shakeel and the team with me, my niece, nephew and sister.


My last post said I was bored, but being a creature that is easily distracted, my periods of boredom are short-lived.

This evening the plan was to film with the BBC team I have been working with all week. We were going to film an iftar – the breaking of the fast – and the venue was a favourite of mine – Maedah Grill in Whitechapel. It’s really beautifully decorated Turkish restaurant just opposite the Islamic Cultural Centre in Whitechapel. As the taxi driver dropped me off, he asked me what it was like. He also asked if I had been to the restaurant on the opposite side of the road – Tayyubs. I have and the food is great but today it was a Maedah Grill day. The vibe inside is great and it has the room to accommodate everyone comfortably. Even when it is at full capacity, diners can sit without feeling as if they are knocking elbows with the next table.

I arrived twenty minutes before the fast was due to break but people were already seated around tables. In front of them were dates, grapes and watermelons laid out on plates. Each table was set with this selection of fast breaking food. People sat together waiting for the moment when the fast would be open. It was such a beautiful thing to see. The togetherness and the discipline. We didn’t know each other but we were all bonded in that moment – in obedience to Allah, in unity as Muslims and in our desire to appreciate the plight of those who have far less than we do so we can be better in giving to help others. Waiters from all sorts of backgrounds but mainly Turkish were attentively hovering around tables, making sure everyone had what they needed to break their fast. They themselves were all fasting. The chefs behind the hot grills had been cooking and preparing since midday. They were fasting too. I have no idea how they do it – but they do. I am in awe.


The Maedah Grill team hard at work but still smiling

The Maedah Grill team hard at work but still smiling

As my family arrived to break their fast with me, they were so wonderfully greeted by the owner of Maedah Grill, British born Indian Muslim, Shakeel. His manner and hospitality was just superb and each group of people arriving were greeted and made welcome in the same way. For those that might find themselves standing in a queue waiting for a table, a large platter of dates and fruit lay in the restaurants reception area. No attention to detail is left out in respect of the fasters.

We wondered how we would know when the fast would be broken, other than clock watching. But being right across the East London Cultural centre, the adhan – call to prayer – is audible and a waiter stands at the door waiting to hear it then goes around the tables letting people know. It was a lovely touch, having someone come to tell you in a way that is almost congratulatory that we had succeeded on another fasting day. I am not sure if I can even put into words the way Muslims who fast feel about Ramadan and the what the actual act of fasting means to us. It is just so much more than the actual abstinence of food and water. It means something other worldly. And when we are together fasting the meaning and feelings are magnified. It is hard to explain and maybe to those who are watching us from the outside won’t truly understand why being hungry and thirsty is something we love going through to this degree of 30 days in the height of summer but we do.

After having our dates and starters, with drinks brought to our tables by energetic and attentive waiters, we left the table to hop across the road to the mosque to pray the Maghreb or sunset prayer. Most of the restaurant had done the same. So the orders are put on hold until we are all back at the tables. It gives enough time for the first hit of food and drink taken into our tummies to move around and digest a bit, before coming back for more. The time to pray is also a time to reflect and worship. The practical and the spiritual working together in harmony.

A waiter talked to us about his daily routine. After finishing at the restaurant he would be making it to a local London mosque for the late night Taraweh prayers and then he would eat breakfast and get ready for the next day’s fast. Three days a week he studies for his degree in business management and the rest of the week he works in Maedah Grill . I asked him if it was hard whilst he was fasting. He looked at me surprised.

‘No, I love it.’

‘But it’s hard in this weather and it’s so long?’ I continued

‘No I really look forward to Ramadan – when I pray it gives me power. We are so lucky to have this month.’ On that I felt ashamed that I had even asked that question. It is true, I do love it too but I get distracted from the higher gains promised through Ramadan when I’m dwelling on myself.

The food was absolutely amazing. The restaurant had 300 people tonight. The atmosphere was buzzing. My sisters and niece and nephew could not make up their minds over the alcohol-free cocktails but when the mojito and mango snow arrived they were thrilled. The sweets arrived after the mains and the tiramisu was just out of this world. Highly recommended. We thought that was us and then they wheeled in the hot cookie dough and ice cream desert. Yet again on another level.

Shakeel had a vision for this restaurant – a place for the community, for customers to come and enjoy a comfortable meal and share an experience. Muslims and those of other faiths or no faith dine here within the heart of Whitechapel with freshly cooked Turkish cuisine. My sister, a vegetarian was over-joyed with her heartening stew of tomatoes and potatoes. It really was delicious.

The hospitality was one of the best I have ever encountered and tonight I was reminded of the beauty of my Muslim community. I saw it and experienced it at it’s finest. It has given me the right perspective as I say goodbye to the first week of Ramadan 2014. We are approaching day 7 already. A week has gone and soon the rest will fly by too. So it’s time to really embrace it and to make the most of every moment.

 More more info on Maedah Grill click here

Warm welcome in the Reception area in Maedah Grill

Warm welcome in the Reception area in Maedah Grill


Hannah watching the BBC team film me speaking to Maedah Grill boss, Shakeel

Hannah watching the BBC team film me speaking to Maedah Grill boss, Shakeel


Me doing my piece to camera about Ramadan and Iftar with the BBC team

Me doing my piece to camera about Ramadan and Iftar with the BBC team


The BBC team with Shakeel from Maedah grill plus my little helpers!

The BBC team with Shakeel from Maedah grill plus my little helpers!


Maedah Grill - definitely worth a visit.

Maedah Grill – definitely worth a visit.



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.

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