By Rachel Lindley
I wish I could tell you that my Ramadan fast was a wholly spiritual experience. But, I’m afraid it wasn’t…
I decided to fast for one day during Ramadan after being invited to a community iftar (meal to break the fast).
I’m used to giving up something for Lent and years ago, at school, did one or two 24-hour sponsored fasts for World Vision and similar causes.
However, I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of the holy month of Ramadan. So, this seemed an ideal way to take part – and easy enough, I thought, as it was for one day only.
A caveat; I drank water all day long. Plan A had been to do it “properly” – no eating and no drinking from dawn until sunset.
But, I quickly realised my heart and mind weren’t in that. Despite some guilty feelings about the cop-out…
More guilt was to follow…
I’d heard others says they find Ramadan deeply spiritual. So, I really hoped the fast would feel like an act of worship and a day of observance for those who go without food by necessity.
I hoped NOT to think about my stomach all day. But things seemed to not quite go to plan…
I learnt that at the very outset!
Suhoor: Pre-dawn starts!
I set my alarm for 2.45am to eat before dawn, and forced down some peanut-butter sandwiches and a litre of water. I hadn’t wholly decided the water vs no water question at that stage.
As for prayer and reflection, I managed one sentence before I got too distracted by how very much I did NOT want to eat at that time of the morning. And then I drifted into resentment at being too full to sleep. Hardly a holy start…
Liz had sent me some of the Ramadan prayers so that I could translate them as appropriate into my own faith. But, I failed on that one too.
I did, however, enjoy reading them later and being reminded of the similarities between faiths. The rhythm and ordering of the prayers brought back the pattern of ‘ACTS’ (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) that I was taught at C. of E. confirmation classes years ago.
Incidentally, I was also reminded of the similarity again when later attending a meeting at a Benedictine monastery, where the day was punctuated by five daily prayers.
In our polarised world, I love being reminded we have so much in common.
Back to my one-day fast!
My lack of spiritual focus kicked in again on the train to work. Having decided by then to drink water through the day, I spent most of my commute wondering whether I might as well drink coffee too…
After all, coffee isn’t food and as I drink it black, that’s practically water, isn’t it??
I argued with myself on this most of the way to work. I totally failed to spend the time reflecting on how lucky I am to have food and drink readily available whenever I want it.
My day at work was fine, despite the no-caffeine headache and a noticeable lack of concentration mid-afternoon. I did feel some social awkwardness at a couple of coffee meetings where I was the only one who kept refusing tea or coffee or biscuits.
It seems that work, as well as socialising, revolves around food and drink!
This left me curious as to how others fasting in the UK find this.
Perhaps practising faith should set us apart? Maybe it’s fine to be the one saying “No thanks” in social or work situations in Ramadan? Or maybe people instead prefer the solidarity of being with a majority all fasting together, where you aren’t constantly being offered what you can’t have?
Sunset: Breaking bread together
On to the evening, which was my highlight of the day for two reasons. And no, not (just) because I got to eat!
I really enjoyed the iftar in Croydon for the way it brought different parts of our community together. I love that all religions share a tradition of “breaking bread” together.
Yet, to do that with the whole community when you’ve not eaten since before dawn is even more special.
And when those who can’t afford food are invited too, it’s of course way more than a symbol. At last, I was reflecting on those in need and what “being a community” should mean.
That was my first highlight (as well as the delicious Turkish food!).
The second was attending evening prayers with Liz and Lauranne. I really enjoyed this space to contemplate on the day and feel part of the act of worship.
Of course, I didn’t understand the prayers as they were in Arabic. But: that didn’t matter. Perhaps especially because of the constant movement accompanying the sets of prayers, it reminded me that prayer doesn’t always need words.
Most of all, I felt very lucky to be sharing prayers with two sisters from a different faith to my own. We had broken bread together, in our community, and now we were giving thanks together – in different languages, maybe even to different Gods, but together.
They had invited me into their place of worship and been so hospitable – as so many religions emphasise. We were united by the human need for community, companionship, compassion and to seek something beyond ourselves and our humdrum everyday.
Food for the soul as well as the body.
So, maybe it was a spiritual experience, after all!
Thank you, Liz and Lauranne, and Ramadan Mubarak to my Muslim brothers and sisters.
About the author
Rachel runs a small microfinance charity, Five Talents which supports women in eastern Africa with literacy, money management and business skills training. The women form savings groups and provide loans to each other so they can start small businesses to support their families sustainably.
Outside of work, Rachel is a trustee of Maji Mazuri UK, secretary of Song in the City charitable trust, treasurer of Croydon Amnesty Group and a keen runner and reader of children’s books.