Published On: Thu, Jul 18th, 2013

The Hard-Copy Guide to Ramadan

 

For more than 30,000 Muslims in Glasgow, it’s that time of year again. One month of fasting, praying and increased spirituality. A yearly tradition that serves as the precursor to one of the biggest religious holidays in the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is both difficult and rewarding in equal measure, but still remains an unknown for many people not of the Muslim faith.

Tell someone that Ramadan is coming and they might ask you what episode of Game of Thrones you’re on. At the very least it’s still not a commonly known term in Glasgow; at least not in my experience. Referring to it as ‘that yearly Muslim fasting thing’ will probably get you a vague look of recognition, or at least a polite feigning of understanding.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about the experience of juggling a full time job and increased religious responsibilities, not to mention the hunger, thirst and general discomfort that come with spending the daylight hours fasting. For now, I’ll be kicking things off with a bit of background about the month and trying to answer a few frequently asked questions:

 

When does it start?

Ramadan will begin on either the 20th or the 21st of July. The reason for the uncertainty at this point is down to the start date being based on the sighting of the new moon. Islam you see, is based on the Lunar calendar as opposed to the three hundred and sixty five day Solar version. This means that the month itself works its way back by around eleven or so days every year. When I was in Primary School, it fell in the Winter months. Over the course of the next few years it will fall within the Summer with the full cycle lasting over thirty years. This means that eventually Scottish Muslims will fast on every day of the Gregorian calendar, through all seasons and through various day lengths.

Similarly, the end date will be either the 18th or 19th of August, again depending on the sighting of the moon on the previous nights, which is always an interesting time, what with those crystal clear Glasgow nights.

 

What does it involve?

Ramadan typically lasts for thirty days, on each of which it is a healthy Muslim’s responsibility to fast from the time of sunrise to sunset. That of course means no food or drink (yes, even water) but also covers things like swearing, sex and negative things like gossip, losing your temper and watching/ listening to things that might contain any of the above. The general idea is that you maintain a spiritual outlook on the day and exercise your self-control and discipline.

In a greater sense, even when not fasting, the month is about raising your spirituality levels, being more charitable and getting more in touch with your religious side.

Prayer, already a big part of Muslim life, is also increased during the month – with an extra set (on top of the usual five) added into the Ramadan prayer timetables stuck on the fridges of every Muslim household.

 

What’s the significance?

The way I personally look at Ramadan is as a reminder of those less fortunate. The act of depriving yourself of food and water for the majority of the day can’t replicate someone who lives in poverty or starvation’s existence wholly, but gives me a small taste. Most of the time, that small taste is all I need to put my life in perspective and understand that whatever struggles I might have with bills, my job or in life in general can pale in comparison to someone from some far off third-world country who doesn’t even have clean drinking water, or someone who begs underneath Central Station just down the road from my place of work.

The broader significance for Muslims is that the first parts of the Quran is said to have been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (to Muslims as Jesus is to Christians and Moses to Jews) during this month. As a community, we value the month highly for this reason perhaps above all others, as our religion and therefore our lives revolve around this Book and the example set by the man to whom it was revealed. The month promotes piety, discipline and observance. It’s supposed to bring you closer to God.

I guess for atheists reading this, the spiritual point may seem lost, but in the vein of looking at the month as a physical exercise exclusively, getting the opportunity to exist on a minimalist diet (only eating that which will sustain/replenish you most effectively) and getting to know your body’s limits and rhythms in a structured and rigidly set out manner can be a positive experience.

For me, sitting in the office thinking about how my throat is bone-dry and that even a cheese and onion pastie out of Greggs would seem like Michelin Star cuisine in my times of hunger, serves as both a way to extend the limits of my mental endurance and to keep me humble. I know I’ll get my dinner when the day is done. As soon as I take the first bite of the traditional dates used to open a fast, I also know that there’s people who won’t, and that my temporary sacrifice is their indefinite suffering. It’s a brief, sombre thought when surrounded by friends and family usually laughing and joking after finally being able to fill their stomachs, but one that is present every single day.

 

The Hard Copy

Over the next four weeks, I’ll be giving an honest insight into my experiences and thoughts during the month. I’ll try to cover various aspects in each of my articles, in the hope that someone out there finds my inner dialogue interesting enough to read the (potentially) boring background. I’m not perfect, and this won’t be a series of dry information articles (although my aim is to inform). It will be the writing of a real, honest Glaswegian Muslim, who sometimes forgets not to swear, can sleep in occasionally and usually gets cranky around about week three when he realises he’s only half done.

 

by Adil Qazi

@TheRealAdil

Image by Scottog


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