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Embracing Cultural Diversity #5

Ramadan: From April 12/13 to May 12/13
by Robina Lillecrapp
Robina with her mother

As I sit down to write this, I suddenly feel overwhelmed with sadness. Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, will once again be observed in lockdown. How many more events synonymous with family and friends will we have to endure alone? Lockdown disrupts the very essence of what is important about these occasions—connection, being together, and enjoying time with family and friends.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar year, begins and ends with the sighting of the new moon. Each year it arrives about eleven days earlier, thus enabling Muslims to experience Ramadan throughout the seasons.

Over one billion eligible Muslims observe the fast, abstaining from food and drink from dawn until dusk. Menstruating women, young children, and the sick or frail are exempt. It is considered a time for self-restraint, reflection, and a strengthening of faith, but in reality, it is so much more than that. It is a social tradition, which means engaging in the community, in communal prayers, in charitable work, as well as sharing the evening meal together. It is a time to be with family and friends. It is definitely not something to be done in isolation.

My earliest recollection of Ramadan goes back to when I was around ten years old. I wouldn’t say my family was particularly religious as I was growing up, but observing the fast, as well as all the holidays, was something we always did. Introduction was gentle, first skipping one meal and eventually being encouraged to go the whole day. Our short winter days are ideal for this, and our “reward” was being able to choose all our favorite foods to break the fast with. By the time I was fifteen, I was able to fast the whole month. The body’s metabolism requires three days before it reaches an equilibrium of adjustment.

Preparing the evening meal (iftar) was a real family affair. After a whole day of abstinence, your sense of taste is heightened. Dreaming of all the tastes and flavors you crave can literally induce a feeling of euphoria. This feeling of intense excitement and happiness can only be fully appreciated if it is shared. And the more the merrier! With five siblings and ten grandchildren, family gatherings are never quiet! Meal preparations can take several hours. Delicacies, such as samosas, pakoras, chaats, chutneys, and fruit salads, as well as spicy curries, welcome us at the breaking of our fast. That is not to say we gorged ourselves! That would simply defeat the purpose. It’s about satisfying all the senses. More important is to observe Prophet Muhammed’s wisdom when he said, “It is enough to allow one-third for food, one-third for water, and one-third for your breath.”

Dates and Quran 7851 Photo credit: Photo by khats cassim from Pexels

The fast is traditionally broken with a date and some water, as was the custom of the Prophet. Dates are a superfood, packed with restorative properties. You immediately feel the benefits. This is then followed by the meal you have so lovingly created. Ramadan ends with a three-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr. Celebrations involve special prayers, delicious foods, and gifts. It’s a time for hospitality, gatherings, and exchanges.

Non-Muslims may find it hard to imagine undertaking a whole month of abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours, but it is something which is learnt and requires much discipline. It also requires truly understanding the deeper goal, which is to reach a state of total submission, to the point that you feel completely subservient to your creator and dependent on him in a realm outside of the materialistic world. I can quite honestly say that the lockdown has actually aided me in this pursuit, and for this I am truly grateful. Ramadan Mubarek!

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