The Ramadhan Diaries

Fasting in London and beyond

Archive for the tag “Ramadhan”

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.

No Break From Fasting for Algerian athlete Mohamed Khaled Belabbas

Mohamed Khaled Belabbas fasting during the Olympics

BBC article on Olympic athletes fasting in Ramadhan

BBC article on Olympic athletes fasting – a lovely piece

Catching Up….

So the diary suffered a little over the last couple of weeks. There has been a lot going on and time has slipped. I have also learnt that keeping a blog requires discipline and I’m afraid I am not the most disciplined person I know. Far too much of a free spirit. But as the days rolled by unwritten I kept everything logged in my head – my thoughts were with the blog on a daily basis although I didn’t get to physically connect. 

What’s going to happen now is me filling in the gaps from the last time we met. There have been a variety of things going on such as fasting, making meals to break the fast for the family, massive huge family rows resulting in near dis-ownership – yes, I know it’s not what we are supposed to be doing in Ramadhan but family stuff happens despite ourselves – and lots and lots of tests for potential kidney donor screening for my brother. 

Oh I also moved to a room near to the hospital where I work. It took a few days to get used to the quiet and the routine of living on my own again but I have settled in now. Hence that’s me back to writing.

The Olympics have left London and the Paralympice have not yet bsgun. I totally loved how London became a cool friendly place to be. I am on the Underground tomorrow – I wonder if the fantastic atmosphere and the smiling policemen will still linger? Will let you know.

Ramadhan ER on the Libyan border in Latitude News

Portrait of Libyan doctor during the revolution.


This is a portrait of Dr Emad Abosrewel – the senior doctor and clinical lead who cared for the wounded being evacuated out of Libya last Ramadhan. He arrived after he heard that the border hospital of Tataouine was dangerously under-staffed and that a mass influx of evacuated war wounded were arriving. The work he did was highly commendable but sadly that has yet to be recognised by those in charge today. I witnessed a dedicated, quiet doctor working with very few resources, fighting for better facilities for his patient – whichever side of the battle they were on. He, together with Nader Elhamessi of World for Libya co-ordinated evacuations and arranged ambulances, drivers and volunteers. It was all done during Ramadhan 2011 with a mass surge on Aug 20, when the revolution fighters broke through into Tripoli.


Ramadhan 2011 – Libyan medics caring for the wounded in Tataouine on Latitude News

Ramadhan 2011 – The Libyan Wounded in Tataouine

I wrote this last year when I was on the border between Libya and Tunisia, Tataouine. It was a unique experience. I am finding myself remembering and comparing how different last Ramadhan was out there last year. For one it was almost 50 degrees during the day. It was so hot it was painful. But the main thing was being with some really dedicated, hard working doctors who had turned up to look after the evacuating wounded from Tripoli – with very little support coming from the higher authorities.

I can say that without them, more lives would have been lost.

To Fast Or Not To Fast…That Is The Question

To Fast Or Not To Fast…That Is The Question

The UAE team qualify for the Olympics – this article looks into the issue of fasting whilst competing at Olympic level

Muslims Fasting in Finland

Muslims Fasting in Finland

Here we have Muslims fasting in Finland-described as the land where the sun doesn’t set. In Ramadhan, Muslims break their fast when the sun sets and then start to fast again when the sun rises the next morning. So when the gap between sunset and sunrise narrows, it becomes even more of a challenge!

Day 3 Iftar Under House Arrest

I went home after the tomato based discussion on day 3 at about 4pm. I had stayed away since the argument-not wanting to get involved in dietary debates anymore. It was a Sunday and I allowed my self a multi-faith shared day of rest. When I got home I found mum sun bathing in the garden.

During that day myself and a friend who is currently living under house arrest on bail facing deportation back to Algeria were watching Jamie Oliver in Marrakech on Channel 4. How Jamie did all that cooking, exploring, eating and shopping in the craziest bizarre on earth in just two days I will never know. But it was an excellent programme. It did not help us in that we were both fasting but it did put me in the mood to cook later. Dangerous!

It was even more important to be there that day. When I turned to my friend – let’s call him Khaled because his conditions of bail request that he is kept anonymous – he had tears in his eyes. He was remembering all the Ramadhans he had missed with his family in Algeria. He first came to the UK after fleeing Algeria where he had suffered torture and found himself with a death sentence in absentia. He was granted leave to remain in the UK almost immediately. 9/11 happened and attitudes towards young men from Algeria changed, becoming suspicious. Khaled was accused of being involved in a plot to poison London-the ricin plot of 2003. You may have heard of it. Especially when the verdict came back from the jury as non-guilty and then one of the jurors, Lawrence Archer, went on to write a book about the experience called ‘Ricin-The Terror Plot That Never Was’.

Khaled was a free man for about six months after his acquittal , but then after Tony Blair’s Rules of the Game Have Changed speech – Khaled found himself on a deportation order, with a verbal diplomatic assurance in place between the UK and Algeria authorities that he would not be tortured on return. No papers were signed to cement that arrangement because as Algeria explained-to sign to such an agreement would be an admission to the fact that they torture. That was 2005 and since then Khaled has been in an out of detention as bail has been won, revoked on secret evidence and then won back again. Being on bail means house arrest with curfew hours. In the beginning they were pretty tight but as time has passed and months have turned into seven years-the hours allowed out of the house have increased. It also means only having visitors who are Home Office cleared to visit. I got that clearance a few years back.

Khaled had tears in his eyes as he watched Jamie Oliver cooking the food his mother had made him and his family all those years ago. When he was last there, fifteen years ago, he had shared Ramadhan with all his family. Now as the years have moved on his father, grandmother, aunty and a fair number of uncles have died.

Even though it was Morocco, the part of Algeria Khaled comes from is closely related to Morocco, being so close to the western border. The programme and all it’s explanations, insights and descriptions were spot on – credit to the Fresh One Productions crew. It made one North African man devoid of true liberty really remember home. He can’t go home because he will almost certainly face some degree of harm.

Now I knew I could never replicate Jamie that day but I was going to stay and break my fast with Khaled. And so I set to work. I have never been the best cook in Essex-that goes to Jamie-but I thought I could at least make a chicken curry and rice. It’s something tried and tested. Khaled however has a really sharp palate and so my slightly overly brown onions in the sauce were highlighted instantly. How he could taste them in amongst the other herbs and spices I will never know. I was really pleased with myself. Referring back to Jamie again and his 30 minute meals programmes, I worked fast. It’s amazing how when you start moving about doing something with purpose that you forget that you are indeed fasting.

We broke our fast together with the traditional dates and milk and as often happens-were too full to eat most of the food. It got packaged and put into the fridge. That’s what you often find in Ramadhan-that somehow fridges and cupboards are bulging with food-with no extra mad dash Christmas style shopping having taken place. There just seems to be plenty of food about. Some people call that one of the blessings of Ramadhan.

After eating and having that essential cup of coffee and doing the sunset prayer, Maghreb, it was time to go out. Khaled has been given permission to attend the night prayers, taraweer, in the local Turkish mosque. He is only allow to go to that specific one within his conditions.

Initially we had no idea if there was a space for women in this mosque. Men and women pray separately, but the women’s section will be connected with a loud speak so we can hear the imam leading the prayers. As I sat in the car waiting, I spotted a few women disappearing into a door on the other side of the building. I went to have a look. There inside was a very organised, tidy and freshly decorated layout. About three rooms side by side had rows of women in prayer. Some of the women had been entering the secret door in knee length dresses, leggings and no headscarves, but once inside they were dressed for prayer and hardly recognisable. I loved the tolerance of it all. Plus no screaming kids. Sorry to all the mums with little ones, but sometimes during those night prayers, all you can hear are crying babies and young children having the times of their life as they run up and down the rows of praying women, unable to stop them because their heads are bent in prayer. They don’t seem to have that in the Turkish mosque. I’m impressed.

The thing that took me by surprise was the break neck speed in which the imaam recited Arabic! He was so fast-if you can imagine Arabic with a Turkish accent read on fast forward – well that’s it. I controlled a smile as I first heard it, regained my poise and got on with praying. I managed to pray my night prayer, Isha and then 8 parts of the taraweer following the imam in all of about ten minutes!

Emerging from the mosque myself and Khaled discussed the recitation. It was different. But I had liked going and joining in. I had never prayed in a Turkish mosque before. It did however make me remember praying in a mosque in Sarajevo where the imam was a Kosovan,with a strong Turkish connection. I couldn’t remember him having read so fast. I remember that time as quite defining in my appreciation of Muslims from around the world. It had been most profound.

Getting back to Ramadhan night 3, we decided to go in search of coffee. Khaled has boundaries outside of which he is not allowed to venture. So in my red Nissan Almerra that sounds as if the axle is about to fall off, we drove careful around the permitted areas. It was interesting to see the different communities and groups of Muslims walking in the cool night air, relaxed and gently making their way home after finishing the night prayers. Somalian ladies with their children, Pakistani men leaving their chosen mosque and other groups just taking some time to meet each other after the day of fasting.

In search of coffee we looked for the Algerian coffee shop in Khaled’s boundary. You can spot it a mile off. It’s typical to the behaviour in Algiers. Groups of Algerian men stand outside the coffee shop, drinking their espressos and double macchhiatos. They’ll be up until sehur at 3am.

Khaled rushed in and grabbed two coffees and two yummy fruit tartlets. The Algerians are rather good at their patisserie skills. We go back to the house in time for Khaled to call the tagging company to say he is back in before his curfew expires.

I leave to drive home at about midnight with a cup of coffee, listening to Radio 4 all the way. I stay up for breakfast or Sehur and try to wake my sister. She manages to raise her head out of the bed and then vanishes back in to sleep. She blames me the next day for not trying hard enough to wake her up. There will be bells and whistles next time!!

Travel Chaos Coming

Daily Mail on Olympics, Ramadhan and Traffic!

The Daily Mail has a good point! East London during Ramadhan is a pretty exciting place to be if you are a Muslim faster in the capital. It’s vibrant, full of atmosphere in the evenings and essentially a good place for congregational prayers. But this year it’s going to coincide with the Olympics. the already predicted travel chaos is going to be that much more interesting.

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