The Eating Ramadhan

 

Ramadhan is the lunar month in which Muslims abstain from food and drink between daylight hours, offer extended night prayers, and generally aim to make the most of the blessings we believe God has placed in this special month.

Majority of Muslims will begin fasting this May, and subsequently the influx of Facebook posts, Tweets, and WhatsApp messages will begin to circulate, spreading goodwill and expressing joy at welcoming in the month. I also like to post in a similar spirit; wishing my friends and family a spiritually uplifting month. Mainstream media also tends to report on the arrival of the special month for Muslims, and with the expected exception of the bigot that is Katie Hopkins, it tends to be an overwhelmingly positive coverage. Many articles will be shared dispelling myths of starvation and Ramadan being a harsh month all about abstaining from food.  There is, in fact, a recurrent theme amongst these messages; the reminder that Ramadan is about self-control, mastering one’s carnal desires and ego, allowing sincere empathy for those less unfortunate than ourselves, and ‘emptying the stomach to feed the soul’, and become closer to God.

Despite the deeper meaning and purpose of Ramadhan, it cannot be disputed that the majority emphasis is placed on hunger and abstention from food. Fasting is the most commonly associated verb with this month. No doubt, with the month of Ramadhan fast approaching, millions of Muslims worldwide will begin their preparations by preparing copious amounts of savouries to be deep-fried…you know, to aid with sustenance throughout fasting, of course. So, quite naturally, or so it may seem, one of the most asked questions during the month is ‘how is fasting going?’

As a Type 1 diabetic for whom it is dangerous and physically near-impossible to observe the long summer fasts, my reaction to this question has led to deeper thinking. To many, I don’t disclose that I am not fasting. For a week or so, they will automatically put it down to my menstrual cycle but beyond that, I cannot bear the usual look of sympathy if I tell them the delicate reason why. And believe me, to this day, it is a delicate reason, especially in the closed knit community within which I live, where it is viewed as a shame that a young woman like myself cannot fast. Unfortunately for myself, and the no doubt countless other seemingly able looking young Muslims, any invisible illness is viewed as something to be hidden away. On a brighter note, I do believe over time this mindset will change, and that I have a role to play myself in being more vocal and accepting of my life-long condition.

And so I find myself asking, am I experiencing a lesser version of this blessed month because I eat regular meals? Or are we subtracting from the true purpose of Ramadan when the one thing we ask about is another person’s hunger? Perhaps the reality is closer to a mixture of both, but I truly believe in a Just and Merciful God who wouldn’t have given me this chronic illness, if in it He didn’t see a way of allowing me to become closer to Him. I also believe in a God who loves me more than I could ever love myself, and has placed a special emphasis on looking after one’s self. I believe that self-care is a Divine responsibility, and whilst I am nowhere near the stage of accepting this as a rule for governing my life, I am trying my best to get there.

So, when we ask ‘how is your fast going?’ as our point of enquiry about the welfare of others during Ramadan, surely a more apt question would be ‘how is Ramadan going for you?’ Surely, we are at risk of neglecting, or not allowing ourselves to realise the true essence of this month when we place emphasis purely on the abstention from food and drink.

For me, the most fulfilling part of Ramadan involves Taraweeh, the extended night prayers. There is inexplicable beauty in congregational prayer; bowing in unison and experiencing the emotive power of recitation of the Qur’an. Congregational prayer reminds me of the importance of my religion; how we are all equal when we all bow on the same floor, and all say Ameen to the same prayers. It brings me closer to both my fellow Muslims, and it brings me closer to God.

Ramadan is also the month in which Muslims believe the Qur’an was revealed, and therefore, it is often referred to the ‘Month of the Qur’an’. If Muslims spend the 30 days concentrating on abstaining from food and drink, but do not make an attempt to build a connection with the Word of God, are we truly doing justice to this month?

A renowned Islamic teacher very eloquently articulated the following reminder on social media last Ramadhan which I feel is pertinent to all, and especially relevant to my situation when I cannot fast:

‘The purpose of fasting and the purpose of Ramadan are different. The purpose of fasting is to develop Taqwa (God-consciousness). The purpose of Ramadan is to get closer to the Qur’an. The spirit of Ramadan is lost…if you don’t come out of Ramadan more in love with the Quran than you were before.’

This is a beautiful statement and profoundly important. There are many avenues to become closer to God and more aware and in love with his Mercy and his Wisdom. For those who cannot fast during this month, the avenues to explore and deepen your faith are immense. But this is also the case for those who can fast, and it is the overall experience of Ramadan (not just the hunger and perhaps the few pounds lost) that is supposed to mould you to come out of the other end the better version of yourself. Isn’t that the point of it all?

On Muslim women and political engagement

February of this year marked 100 years since White, Middle Class, property-owning women won the vote in the UK. The Suffrage movement is a significant part of our national history, whether we like it or not.

I say this because I don’t particularly like the Suffrage movement. I roll my eyes at it, and the subsequent trope on social media. However, I recognise that it did get the ball rolling for many women in this country. I can argue that my Muslim identity means that I come from a religion which determined I had democratic rights from the moment I was born. That argument is whole and valid, and something I am immensely proud of. But a large part of my identity is also made up of the fact that I am a British citizen. This means I recognise how far this country has had come to give me my rights as a citizen. This also means I recognise the significance of politics on my everyday life.

Since September 11, and indeed, the more recent, harrowing contexts of 7/7 bombings, London Bridge, Manchester Arena, I feel, along with many other Muslims, that I am a walking, talking stereotype. Assumptions about my beliefs are constantly being made, from assuming I am from Pakistan, that I am oppressed, that my headscarf means I have a link with ISIS, or any other political conflict in the Middle East for that matter.

Religion and politics have become inextricably linked in so many ways, and has begun to shape policy which affects us all, and the future generations of Muslims. It is important now, more than ever, for Muslims to use whichever platform is available to challenge the narrative which has shaped our faith for us.

When I first began to study Politics at A-Level, I was asked to introduce myself and share why I chose this subject. My answer was very simple: politics is in play in every aspect of our lives, and I want to understand it. There were many who scoffed at my choice of subject; politics is all illusion, they said. Yes, maybe so, but does it not affect you all the same when budget cuts mean a change to your benefits? Are you not affected all the same, outraged even, by changes to your child’s education? This reasoning carries through to this day, amplified through the politicisation of my religion.

As women, we often face backlash by male peers who are affronted by our engagement or  vocality around politics. Unfortunately, this is all the more the case for those of us who are in misogynistic family units, attempting to quieten us down into ‘seen. not heard’ women. We must remind ourselves of our worth. Moreover, we must remind ourselves that we need to strengthen our arguments and our positions, as we are visible targets of microaggressions and growing Islamophobia every day (this Islamophobia in itself being a manifestation of right wing politics).

Aristotle said “man is by nature a political animal”. I am inclined to agree, with the extension: ‘so is woman’. When we understand that politics is understanding the structures of power all around us, we may begin to better understand how we fit in.Even for those who have made an informed decision to stay away from organised politics (I am of course referencing the incredible Lowkey here), are still vocal about politics. They still hold valid, informed, and well-reasoned opinions. They are still engaged.

When we look back at our Islamic history, we can see that the Seerah is rich with examples of the Prophet pbuh engaging in political life. Take the example of the Treaty of Hudaibiyyah, for one. His pbuh ruling of Makkah and Madina came about through his diplomacy and strategy. The Muslim Ummah was able to flourish and expand all the way to Europe through engagement with governance. This essential part of our history should be used as a strong example for us to be engaged citizens, rather than used as a defense mechanism or an argument for politics being out of our reach.

Emmeline Pankhurst may not have represented us, and she may never do. But we are part of a society which means we can engage on our level, regarding issues which matter to us. In whichever shape or form is accessible to us, we should stand up and not allow our civic power to be taken away.