SHAFAQNA -Â In the middle East and North Africa, the Muslim holy month isnâ€™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 Quarâ€™an was revealed to theÂ prophet Muhammad.
It starts around eleven days earlier each year â€“ so sometimes itâ€™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 â€“Â like the five daily prayers. Late sunsets mean it could be 10pm before families settle down to their evening meal (or Iftar).
Miil Farad â€“ a 20-year-old student enthusiastically serving up cakes and other treats at an Eid festival gathering in Crumlin â€“ is eager to talk-up the positives of the month-long fast.
â€œTo be honest, there is a bit of difficulty â€“ but itâ€™s not too hard,â€ she insists.
Itâ€™s not really about the hunger. Its more about the spiritual cleansing.
â€œFor the whole month youâ€™ll be focusing on prayers, focusing on connecting with God,â€ she explains.
â€œEach and every Muslim individual will be putting a lot of time into strengthening that connection. You donâ€™t really focus on the hunger, you just sort-of focus on reading the Quarâ€™an and secluding yourself with religion and God.”
â€œSo, yeah, you will get hungry â€“ but the hunger will be suppressed by all these other feelingsâ€¦ Tranquility â€“ and all that.â€
For the last month, Miil explains, herÂ first meal of the day has been at around 3am. After that, itâ€™s no food or drink until 10 or so (doing the maths, thatâ€™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 â€“ particularly when he has an early shift.
The job is â€œphysical as well as mental,â€ he says. â€œThere are some days, it is tough.”
I work some days from half-six till half-two, on Thursdays. And this Ramadan, youâ€™re looking at morning prayers at about 3 oâ€™clock-ish. So between and three and probably half-six â€“ thatâ€™s your rest period â€“ and you have to start work at half six? So I literally slept for, like, two hours each 24 hours then.
Itâ€™s not meant to be an endurance test,Â Aurub explains. The period is supposed to be about perspective and personal improvement.
â€œYou get a lot of self-discipline,â€ he says.
â€œYou get to know the reality of whatâ€™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 hungerâ€¦Â You really donâ€™t know how it feels unless you are hungry.
So that actually trains us â€“ thatâ€™s what weâ€™re meant to feel, that we really know what the pang of hunger is.
Heâ€™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 â€œdonâ€™t know where the next meal is coming fromâ€.
However, â€œWhen you see an advert like that, it softens your heart so youâ€™re able to give moreâ€.
36-year-old Riadh MahmoudiÂ Â – an MBA student and a member of the trustee committee of the South Circular Road Mosque â€“ Â is also keen to talk about the self-improvement and community-improvement aspects of Ramadan.
â€œItâ€™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.â€
Detailing work the congregation has been carrying out with local homeless organisations, he insists â€œitâ€™s all about the extra â€“ doing extra good deeds: helping, being patientâ€.
â€œYouâ€™re not eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset â€“ but you also have to be more receiving to othersâ€¦ More of a good listener: giving, not taking.
Itâ€™s beyond stopping yourself from having food and water â€“ and intercourse if youâ€™re married â€“ from sunrise to sunset. Itâ€™s something beyond that.
Around 400 Muslims from the South Circular Road Mosque and elsewhere in Dublin turned out for yesterdayâ€™sÂ Eid al-FitrÂ celebrations at Crumlinâ€™s Transport Club â€“ 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:Â â€On the Eid day, itâ€™s forbidden to fast.â€
â€œIn my family what we do â€“ itâ€™s something similar to Christmas: we decorate the house, we give gifts and have breakfast with the familyâ€¦ We have two daughters.
We go into the sitting room and start unwrapping the giftsâ€¦ Thereâ€™s always that moment of joy when theyâ€™re given the gift.”