One third of the way there – Ramadan

One third of the way there. The numbers underneath the fraction line are getting smaller. Today is day 11 of the long-hot-summered Ramadan fast. There’s just 19 more to go.

I began the fast wanting to see what it felt like for Muslims to not eat or drink on an Irish July sunny day. The magnified pleasures of food and water at the end of the first day, coupled with my innate curiosity (call it nosiness), was enough of an incentive to keep going.

The first few days I made some attempts to conserve energy and avoid the midday sun but now I go for walks, play tennis, go shopping, even cook dinners and lunches for my husband and toddler. Life has normalised.

My solitary breaking of the fasts have also been broken up with very welcome company of friends which has doubled and tripled the dusking pleasure.

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The version of the Quran that I am reading – one section a day. Given to me by an Imam in Waterford when I made some radio programmes 6 years ago.

Today I am on section XI of the Quran. I’m reading a translation. The English doesn’t trip easily into my brain. I stumble over words and sentences. And the messages and meanings clog up my clock-works.

There is a lot of talk in the Quran of believers and unbelievers, of faith and fear, of fighting and peace and doing good and charity.

I questioned Dr. Ali Selim, senior member of staff at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland about my understanding that believers should not be friends with unbelievers but he said it was a matter of translation and also of understanding the context in which the verses were written.

“I have a friend” he tells me “a good friend, who is an atheist and we go for meals together and talk about religion and if I am giving talks I always invite him. We’ve been friends for over ten years.” He jokingly tells me “he has a very stubborn mentality”. My friend, who has accompanied me to the ICCI says to him laughing “and he probably thinks that you do too”.

Dr. Selim made it clear to me that it is okay for Muslims to have non-Muslim friends but as a non-Muslim, ignorant of Arabic and of Quranic interpretation, this is not the message that I took from it. There are many similarly problematic passages for me which I’m sure cannot be read at face-value.

In the meantime, there’s no sign of a break in the weather. The grass on the road verges is burnt dry. Sometimes we can smell smoke off the mountains as the gorse catches fire. There’s talk of water shortages and we are officially in drought. For Muslims working at manual labour in Ireland it must be difficult. But for me, in my summer holidays, I’m doing just fine.

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The brown sunburnt grass at the side of the roads

Ramadan and reading the Quran

Never before has a strawberry tasted so divine as the one I ate for the break-fast that came with the falling sun and fading light tonight.

I broke today’s fast with a date (fruit variety) followed by the strawberry. I closed my eyes and let the tastes melt into my happy mouth and sighed. The explosion of taste and gratitude for food and water at the fast’s end is what made the fast easy today. I knew what I had to look forward to.

The no-food factor is ending up at almost 24 hours daily simply because I’m too lazy to get out of bed before 3 a.m. for a refill. The hunger is easy. The thirst is thirsty. I lick my lips a lot. The stomach cranks up a few notches by eight or nine and shifts gears – loudly. But energy levels today were high. And I started reading the Quran. That is also part of what makes up Ramadan.

It’s my second time reading the Quran. I read it for the first time a few summers ago when I did a tiny bit of research on women in Islam. It took me the whole summer.  This time I’m trying to keep up with a chapter (or section) a day. There are 30 chapters and 30 days in Ramadan – it’s meant to be read one section a day. I’m already playing catch up.

The Quran is very different to the Bible. Less narrative. A very strong emphasis on faith and on the woes that will befall those who are faithless. The 114 Surah’s are not arranged chronologically but according to length.  It is an interesting read. They say that in Arabic it is perfect poetry but I’m on an English translation. I’ve heard the Arabic recited and it’s beautiful even to my ignorant ears.

I think it is perhaps okay to say that as a non-Muslim, Catholic-raised woman, like meself I do find the Quran a difficult read, a challenging read.

There are many verses about doing good and the importance of charity and looking after the needy, and being forgiving, and also on restraint, honesty, equality, hypocrisy. And then there is what is perhaps the most contentious verse – which happens to be in chapter 2 – and which is interpreted in many different ways:

‘Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loves not transgressors. And slay them wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. But if they cease, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.’

Sometimes I feel afraid of the potential reactions that my thoughts (if voiced) about Islam could elicit. And so I cannot (do not) speak them. Or write them. And so I stay silent. I don’t know where the boundaries of discussion lie. What is safe to say, what is not safe? What is acceptable to discuss and what is not? I know not what.

When I was researching Muslims in Ireland for my Master’s degree I received at least two emails from an Irish Muslim man asking me which intelligence agency I worked for. Was it the CIA or the FBI. The fear works both ways.

I will continue to read the Quran – I remember there are many beautiful sections. And in the meantime, from tomorrow, day three, it’s meant to all get easier again.

And regarding Ramadan? Right now I see only positives so there are no hidden silenced thoughts. But if there were? Who would be to know?

A discussion on the merits of fear, faith, silence, free speech is for another space. In the meantime, I’m off for another litre of uisce (water).Image

The Ramadan calendar I was given at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland yesterday