Today is the first day of the most blessed time of the year for Muslims. The last ten days of Ramadan.
This last third of the month is when Muslims try to perfect their fasting by delving deeper into the heart or soul-layers with the likes of generosity, forgiveness and prayer.
It is believed that it was sometime during these ten days that the Prophet Muhammad first received the revelation of the Quran.
Over the next few days I’ll be recounting some of the stories of the women I met at the Clongriffin gathering on Saturday night. Tonight it’s Hannah’s story.
Hannah is introduced to me as being ‘Libyan’ but she was born and bred in Ireland and has only been to Libya on holidays. She’s a young woman and she tells me that this is her first time working during Ramadan. She is finding it exhausting.
For Muslims working in Ireland during Ramadan the ease, or not, of their experience is often dependent on the level of understanding of their workmates and employers. Hannah is lucky.
“I’m just very tired” she says. Time to break the fast is around 9.30 so after eating and praying it’s already late. Then it’s up out of bed before three, more prayers and food, back to sleep by four, up for work a few hours later. At weekends she tries to attend the Taraweeh prayers which go on until after midnight.
“People at work think I’m brave” she says. “And they are always asking “how are you feeling today?” They are starting to understand it. I’ve told my boss and she has let me go home early to do some work from home.”
Although she hasn’t had any negative response she says that sometimes she gets the impression that some people think “why are you starving yourself?” or “there is no meaning behind it”. “But” she says “it is a spiritual thing”.
“My mother makes the best food” she tells me, smiling, when I ask about breaking the fast. “There might be stuffed peppers called Mashi or Dolma, potatoes stuffed with meat (mbaten), a soup called sharba. There is also dates, milk, fruit salad, toast, juice. By two spoonfuls you’d be too full”.
It’s a very different experience for Hannah this year and she is finding Ramadan tiring. She tells me that she does know people who don’t fast because they’re working. “It’s a personal thing” she explains. “It’s between them and god.”
I think it’s kind of appropriate that I, as a non-Muslim, am exempt from fasting during at least some of these more important days. But part of me feels regret too. And I’m even a tiny bit envious of those who are.
Shayk Umar from Al Mustafa Islamic Centre in Blanchardstown posted this story on his Facebook account today:
“A Shaykh was asked about another person’s character. The Shaykh replied “I have not yet completely purified my own character from its evil characteristics, then how can I spend this time focusing on other peoples characters??” Friends the last 10 days of Ramadan have begun. This is the time to seclude yourself from the world and focus on purifying your lower self and cleaning your heart. Let us all focus on ourselves and get rid of our own evil characteristics.”