I began fasting for Ramadan thinking that besides learning loads myself, a blog would inform non-Muslims about Muslims in Ireland and about the aspects of Islam that aren’t so often portrayed in the media – fasting, charity etc. All very altruistic aims. But I’ll be honest – I was also thinking that I’d surely lose a bit of weight in the process.
I weighed in at the beginning of the month at 9 stone four pounds. I had visions of being a lithe 8 stone 8 at the end of the month. Fasting for around 20 hours a day? Surely the weight would fall off. Right? Wrong.
Almost one week into the fast and the question I’m asked most often by women is ‘are you losing any weight?’ They sound hopeful for me. Or maybe hopeful that I’ve stumbled on a tactic for losing a few pounds. The truth is that in the first few days I was up two pounds and now I’m just back to the pre-fast weight. This is despite the fact that everyday I’m starving. What am I doing wrong?
Turns out lots of people actually gain weight during Ramadan. I found this out AFTER I began the fast. No turning back. Emergency stations. Google.
Technically the fast only lasts during daylight hours so Muslims can eat all night if they fancy. The norm would be to eat a meal when the sun sets and another before the sun rises but to date I’ve been too lazy to get out of bed for the pre-sunset rise circa 3 a.m.
Seemingly because I’m only eating once a day my body detects famine and tries to hold on to my fat stores and so my metabolism has changed to ensure I’ll survive. I’ve obviously a very healthy metabolic calculator. So I have to soothe my fat stores into thinking there’s no famine and everything is alright by eating the 3 a.m. meal too.
During the day with my stomach grumbling my thoughts are often on what I’ll eat once the sun has set. Around nine o’clock I start lining up food across the kitchen counter in preparation for the breaking of the fast. Dates, strawberries, olives, tomatoes, salads, sweet desserts. Ice cream in the freezer.
Then it’s time to break the fast and I eat one date and drink a few glasses of water and feel full. And I feel cheated. But I’m determined to eat the food that I have been looking forward to all day and so I do. Or try to. Probably not a great idea in terms of weight loss. So today I went for a long walk and we went to play tennis.
At the tennis courts I get chatting to two teenage boys – Marwan and Hossam – who are fasting. They are tall, athletic and good looking and have soft Dublin accents. Their mother is Turkish, their father is Palestinian and they were born in Saudi Arabia but now live in Tallaght.
They are at the courts with a friend, Reece, who, when the subject of Ramadan comes up is quick to say that he is Christian but does know all about Ramadan. Marwan and Hossam jokingly tell me that Reece is their adopted brother.
The boys say they find the days long and do get thirsty but they do the things they would normally do if not fasting. They tell me there are two mosques in Tallaght – one in an industrial estate and another in a house and this is the one they go to for prayers. They don’t really have much family in Ireland so for the Iftar meal their parents sometimes invite friends including one Irish woman who is a convert and ‘knows more than we do about Islam’.
It’s Reece who tells me that Marwan used to have difficulty in airports before he got his Irish passport. ‘Really?’ I ask. Marwan laughs it off ‘yeah, the security guys would look at my passport and call over the others to check me out and it used to take ages’. ‘And now that you’ve got your Irish passport?’ ‘Ah it’s no trouble now’. He says he didn’t used to mind it. I myself feel annoyed on his behalf.
This kind of treatment at airports is the kind of thing that many Muslims in Ireland are faced with regularly. And it’s a behaviour born from media portrayals of Islam and Muslims. The meta-narrative of Muslims as enemies. Tying in with the Clash of Civilisations theory put forward by Samuel Huntington in the early 90s that the biggest clash in the world today is that between civilisations and of these the biggest is one between Islam and the West. And we buy into it. And we look no further. But there is a beyond. The beyond includes fasting, Ramadan, prayer, charity, brotherhood, sisterhood, food. And tennis. And more.
And so with all this tennis and walking I’m confident that the next person who asks me hopefully about weight loss will receive an affirmative response. I remind myself that losing a few pounds was just a side-order, an added bonus of the exploration but tonight I will be getting up pre-three for a second almost-midnight feast.