After Tuesday’s wavering and my debate of ditching the fast I decided yesterday to stop focusing on food. And anyway, abstaining from food, drink and sex during daylight hours is the surface layer of Ramadan. This is the physical stuff. Relatively straight forward. But, dig a little deeper.
The next level – in Irish-speak but adopted from the famous Islamic theologian and mystic Al Ghazali – involves abstaining from bitchery, backstabbing, whinging, gossip, negative vibes. And the final layer relates to thought – to think good. The heart layer. The layer of love.
“The whole idea of fasting is to increase your God consciousness” is how Dr. Ali Selim, senior member of staff at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, puts it. “This can be increased not only by shunning evil but also by doing good.”
Muslims believe that doing good during Ramadan creates multiple rewards. Dr. Selim explains that “saying “Glory be to God” during Ramadan is equivalent to saying it seventy times before or after Ramadan”.
It’s also about charity. “When people fast they become hungry and thirsty and this helps them to feel what deprived people feel” he says “and this helps to maintain a more charitable character.”
He says that he just heard of one woman in Syria who was unable to feed her children for three days. That puts it in perspective. This fasting is optional.
For me, as a non-Muslim, I’m trying to bridge the gap between layers one and two. But for the last few nights I have been a contrary grumpy-ass during the hours just before eating so I’ve a stretch to go.
Ramadan is also about changing habits. Habits of food, drink, time, acts and thoughts. Changing some of the habits occurs effortlessly as a natural spin-off of doing the fast. Others require more of a conscious effort.
Normally our days are broken up into segments punctuated by cups of tea or coffee, breakfasts, lunches, ice-creams, dinner. And with these food-stops comes shopping, cooking, preparing, eating, drinking, cleaning up.
During Ramadan the days stretch from the mornings like blank pages. There are no pre-ordained eating events to break up the day and this is why days seem so long.
I bumped into Boualem (the Algerian man I met on my first visit last week) at the Golden Olive restaurant in the Clonskeagh mosque in Dublin again yesterday. Surprised to see him every time I go there I ask him if he ever gets days off. “I like to work every day during Ramadan” he says. “It makes the day not so long”. This is despite the fact that the restaurant stays open until around midnight.
Muslims however, do have their day broken up with prayer pit-stops. Prayer is five times daily at times determined by the position of the sun. Muslims are called to prayer – not by a bell but by the human voice. During Ramadan there is an extra prayer – the Taraweeh prayer which takes place at night. Dr. Selim says the mosque is packed for this prayer despite the fact that it is close to midnight.
Yesterday I was back at the mosque to film the prayer-caller (muezzin) do the call to prayer (adhan, pronounced azan). My view was from a perch up on the woman’s balcony. The muezzin was down in the men’s section. The call is broadcast live via special radios into Muslim homes all over Ireland.
I returned to the mosque later again. The second time in one day. This time for food. The Iftar meal. Take-away version. Three portions.
For the first time since I started fasting I was being joined for the breaking of the fast by a friend (who interestingly argues that burqas and bikinis are the basically the same because both are about the objectification of the female). And by my husband. A full meal.
Last night’s sunset time of 9.48 arrived announcing the end of the day’s fast. The adhan was being delivered via Clonskeagh mosque into Muslim houses all over Ireland. It was time to eat and time to pray. And for a change I had company for the food.
Having company changed the meal. I got the sense of what it might be like for Muslims who meet up for meals throughout the month. It’s much more fun to share it – debates, discussions, laughter and trying out new food – that was part of the package from the Golden Olive restaurant.
Unlike Muslims however, I did have a few glasses of wine. And in the meantime I’m on that bridge between level one and two. I hope I make it to the other side.
(If anyone is interested the iphone quality video is available on youtube – the prayer call is in Arabic and the video lasts over four minutes but you can also see a man performing his prayer a short way into the thing : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LejXRlytJ0w&feature=youtu.be )