“There are some days, it is tough”: Irish Muslims reflect after a long mid-summer Ramadan

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SHAFAQNA - In the middle East and North Africa, the Muslim holy month isn’t quite such an endurance test. Daylight hours are more regular year-round, so daily fasts last around 12 hours.

Difficult, but not onerous.

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Muslims believe it marks when the Quar’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.

It starts around eleven days earlier each year – so sometimes it’s in the winter, and sometimes (like this year) right in the middle of summer.

In Ireland, for the past four weeks, observant Muslims have been rising well before sunrise for their first meal of the day.

No food or drink is consumed during daylight hours during Ramadan.

There are other rituals and traditions to observe too – like the five daily prayers. Late sunsets mean it could be 10pm before families settle down to their evening meal (or Iftar).

Miil Farad – a 20-year-old student enthusiastically serving up cakes and other treats at an Eid festival gathering in Crumlin – is eager to talk-up the positives of the month-long fast.

“To be honest, there is a bit of difficulty – but it’s not too hard,” she insists.

It’s not really about the hunger. Its more about the spiritual cleansing.

“For the whole month you’ll be focusing on prayers, focusing on connecting with God,” she explains.

“Each and every Muslim individual will be putting a lot of time into strengthening that connection. You don’t really focus on the hunger, you just sort-of focus on reading the Quar’an and secluding yourself with religion and God.”

“So, yeah, you will get hungry – but the hunger will be suppressed by all these other feelings… Tranquility – and all that.”

For the last month, Miil explains, her first meal of the day has been at around 3am. After that, it’s no food or drink until 10 or so (doing the maths, that’s around 18 hours of fasting).


42-year-old Aurub, who works in store operations in the warehouse of Marks and Spencer on Mary Street, admits he does occasionally find it tough – particularly when he has an early shift.

The job is “physical as well as mental,” he says. “There are some days, it is tough.”

I work some days from half-six till half-two, on Thursdays. And this Ramadan, you’re looking at morning prayers at about 3 o’clock-ish. So between and three and probably half-six – that’s your rest period – and you have to start work at half six? So I literally slept for, like, two hours each 24 hours then.

Self-improvement

It’s not meant to be an endurance test, Aurub explains. The period is supposed to be about perspective and personal improvement.

“You get a lot of self-discipline,” he says.

“You get to know the reality of what’s going on in the world. I mean, you see an advert from Concern on the telly, and you see a sick child that is succumbing to the hunger… You really don’t know how it feels unless you are hungry.

So that actually trains us – that’s what we’re meant to feel, that we really know what the pang of hunger is.

He’s quick to point out that while he can look forward to a generous meal at the end of the day, people elsewhere in the world “don’t know where the next meal is coming from”.

However, “When you see an advert like that, it softens your heart so you’re able to give more”.

36-year-old Riadh Mahmoudi  – an MBA student and a member of the trustee committee of the South Circular Road Mosque –  is also keen to talk about the self-improvement and community-improvement aspects of Ramadan.

“It’s something we start training ourselves for from a young age: training yourself how to remember the poor people in the world, training yourself about patience.”

Detailing work the congregation has been carrying out with local homeless organisations, he insists “it’s all about the extra – doing extra good deeds: helping, being patient”.

“You’re not eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset – but you also have to be more receiving to others… More of a good listener: giving, not taking.

It’s beyond stopping yourself from having food and water – and intercourse if you’re married – from sunrise to sunset. It’s something beyond that.

Eid

Around 400 Muslims from the South Circular Road Mosque and elsewhere in Dublin turned out for yesterday’s Eid al-Fitr celebrations at Crumlin’s Transport Club – along with various local politicians and other invited guests.

Most had been up early to greet the traditional festival of the breaking of the fast, exchanged gifts with family members and gathered for morning prayers.

Says Riadh: ”On the Eid day, it’s forbidden to fast.”

“In my family what we do – it’s something similar to Christmas: we decorate the house, we give gifts and have breakfast with the family… We have two daughters.

We go into the sitting room and start unwrapping the gifts… There’s always that moment of joy when they’re given the gift.”

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