RAMADAN ON SESAME STREET

Not Even Water

We are now well and truly in the blessed month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year. Because the Islamic calendar is based on a lunar cycle and the western (Gregorian) calendar is based on a solar cycle, Ramadan keeps shifting back about 11 days every year, which is why this year’s start of the month is earlier than last years, as will be the case next year.

For me this month is an intense spiritual period where we Muslims step up a gear, where we try to be a better version of ourselves compared to the previous 11 lunar months. I remember reading Ramadan being described as ‘high altitude training for the soul.’ This is the month where we use the power of fasting to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. This month is when we Muslims try to rebalance our spirituality, in order to gain further insight into our faith, a concept best expressed by the Muslim caliph Imam Ali:

Conquer your lustful desires and your wisdom will be perfected. – Imam Ali (AS)

Also, it is this time of year where Muslims have to listen to the famous non-Muslim proverb of “What? Not even water?” There is even a website called notevenwater that provides further details of Ramadan. The idea of fasting for religious purposes is something that other faiths, such as Christianity, are also fully aware of:

We observe that in the scriptures, fasting almost always is linked with prayer. Without prayer, fasting is not complete fasting; it’s simply going hungry. – Joseph B Wirthlin

As expected, there is currently a glut of articles written about Islam, Muslims, fasting, and Ramadan. Below is my attempt to collate a few bits and bobs that I have come across over the past few days, things that I hope provide further awareness and deeper understanding of what Ramadan is all about. Enjoy!


An interesting article about Ramadan and the British retail industry…

Fun, Fashion And Halal Lipstick: Retailers Cash In On £200m Ramadan Economy

Harriet Sherwood, 29 Apr 2018, theguardian.com

Muslims observing Ramadan are increasingly being targeted by supermarkets and brands in the UK, which has led to a rise in spending on food and gifts during the month, according to new research.

The Ramadan economy in the UK is worth at least £200m, with supermarket chains such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons increasingly gearing products, displays and special offers on popular food items to Ramadan in areas with significant Muslim populations. This year, for example, Morrisons is selling a Ramadan countdown calendar, similar to an Advent calendar, aimed at children.

The month-long Muslim religious observance starts in mid-May and its ending is marked with the Eid al-Fitr holiday. MAC cosmetics, the Body Shop and Godiva chocolates are some of the brands specifically packaging goods as Eid gifts.


Why do Muslims fast? Here is an interesting answer…

The most common question I get from people of different faiths has to be why we fast. Many people answer this question with a response, “to feel how the poor feel when they have nothing to eat.” Personally, I think that since fasting in Ramadan is not that difficult, it is almost an insult to claim that it is to feel the poor’s hunger. The hunger they feel is much greater, especially since they may not know when their next meal will come. Fasting is a means to gain something called Taqwa. Taqwa is an Arabic word that means many things, such as being aware that Allah (our word for God) has full knowledge of your actions and intentions. In Islam, Allah has knowledge of everything we do and even think. Fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. It is understanding that Allah has full knowledge. And because of this, we must navigate through the world with caution of our actions and intentions – to be good to our fellow human beings and to yourself. All of our deeds and intentions should be virtuous and for the sake of Allah. Ramadan is an opportune time to be able to reflect and be more aware of this. – Dr Magda Abdelfattah, May 2018, from an interview in the Wisconsin Muslim Journal


My favourite Ramadan 2018 tweets so far…


Wajahat Ali wants more from his Ramadan…

This Ramadan, I’ll Try Praying for Enemies, Friends, Frenemies and Kanye West

Wajahat Ali, 16 May 2018, nytimes.com

In recent years, Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, has become part of mainstream American society. It is frequently cited in hip-hop and even made an appearance in Eminem’s epic freestyle takedown of President Trump at the BET Awards. In keeping with the tradition started by Thomas Jefferson, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama hosted community leaders and dignitaries at Ramadan dinners featuring a variety of exquisite halal meats. (Mr. Trump eliminated that beautiful gathering. That’s not surprising given his belief that “Islam hates us.”)

The holy month is now even linked to the most sacred American tradition, consumerism: Party City has introduced a line of Ramadan decorations featuring mosques, stars and crescent symbols.

But I want more. This Ramadan, I’m in search of something substantive that nurtures my soul and truly transforms America, which is wounded, suffering from a resurgence in open expressions of hate against racial and religious minorities, and politicians who seek to profit off the divides. I know the solution will start at home, so this month, I aspire to evolve into an overweight, middle-aged superhero without a cape, disciplined and mindful, grateful for my privileges, spiritually aware and more compassionate. I’ll try praying for enemies, friends, frenemies and Kanye West.

The Arabic root for the word Ramadan means “scorched.” The month deliberately disrupts your routine, your comfort and your mode of thinking. You hunger, you thirst, you long for sex, you engage with family members and community members that you’d otherwise avoid and disown.

The disruptions bring pain and annoyance, but they can also create opportunities for growth. I welcome these strictures as an invitation to expand my community and capacity for generosity. This might sound like a Deepak Chopra Hallmark card, but I really do try to practice what I preach.

Try is the key word here. The hassles of everyday life don’t stop during Ramadan.


The casual Muslim Zanny Ali confesses all…

On Ramadan – Confessions Of A Casual Muslim

Zanny Ali, 16 May 2018, refinery29.uk

I wouldn’t say I’m a bad Muslim. I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly good one. I’m not so sure you can even say either of those things about someone that follows Islam. There’s a sense that, simply put, you are or you aren’t a Muslim. But what about someone that’s a ‘bad’ Muslim for 11 months of the year and then tops up on God points for 30 days during Ramadan? That’s the category I’d fall into.

Still, I identify as Muslim. I am Muslim – albeit a sinful one for most of the year, during which I’ll overindulge without a second thought: eat and drink what and when I want, stay up all night, live the life of a heathen. Then for one month I’ll be on lockdown: eating well, no boozing, early nights, working hard, thinking pure thoughts. It is genuinely my favourite time of the year and I always look forward to it.

I wouldn’t say I’m a bad Muslim. I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly good one. I’m not so sure you can even say either of those things about someone that follows Islam. There’s a sense that, simply put, you are or you aren’t a Muslim. But what about someone that’s a ‘bad’ Muslim for 11 months of the year and then tops up on God points for 30 days during Ramadan? That’s the category I’d fall into.

Still, I identify as Muslim. I am Muslim – albeit a sinful one for most of the year, during which I’ll overindulge without a second thought: eat and drink what and when I want, stay up all night, live the life of a heathen. Then for one month I’ll be on lockdown: eating well, no boozing, early nights, working hard, thinking pure thoughts. It is genuinely my favourite time of the year and I always look forward to it.

Towards the end of the month, with nearly 30 days of clear(er) thinking in the bank, it becomes obvious that Ramadan is not about the hunger or thirst at all. My favourite thing about Ramadan, and one of the things that made me start fasting again in my mid-twenties, was seeing how it brought family and friends together each day. Having the excuse and making the effort to see my large extended family, and eating with them at sundown, is something I cherish. Every day there is genuinely something to look forward to. How many are fortunate enough to say that? And what I’m most anticipating on Eid isn’t being able to stuff my face during the day, or going to meet my friends for a drink afterwards – it’s seeing my family all together.

For me, Ramadan serves as a reminder to do things that I should already be doing throughout the year. To be kind, to help people out. I shouldn’t need a month of fasting to be reminded of this, but it does help. It is carrying out, or at least trying to carry out, these lessons for the rest of the year that forms a large part of my identity as a Muslim, despite other people’s assumptions of what a Muslim is or should be. And in the current political climate, with some idiots-calling-themselves-Muslims preying on the softest of soft targets with increasing regularity, it does make you rethink your own relationship to your religion and the expectations that go with it.

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