Growing up in sunny Sydney Australia, I must say I never knew when it was Ramadan*. When I was in Infants school (the first 3 years of schooling here) the only “different” religions were Catholic, Church of England, Methodist and Presbyterian. We ate vegemite sangas (thats slang for sandwiches) in the summer, meat pies in winter and delighted in Sunny Boys, Razzes and Glugs on hot days, which from memory cost around 10 cents each. (Incidentally I believe the Sunny Boy has been trying to make a comeback). By primary (the next 4 years, still in the 70’s) I had changed schools, not far but nearer to an immigration hostel, so we had a host of ESL classes within the school, my small world was expanding, just a little. But by High School, despite the variety of backgrounds of the student body, I was still largely unaware of Islam and Muslims. Also, by this time I did not attend school scripture anymore and in my family Sunday church attendance had pretty much waned completely.
For most of my youth I didn’t know Ramadan existed, let alone when it took place. It came and went whilst I was totally unaware.
The media for me back then consisted of a bit of afternoon telly before riding my bike and climbing trees; there was no internet or screen at every turn, and I had little interest in the 6 o’clock news that my parents viewed daily. But even if I did, Islam and Muslims were not a topic du jour. I suspect most people in Australia who weren’t Muslim (ie most of them) also never knew when Ramadan occurred, even if they knew it existed.
Now years later, with my best friend practically a seasoned Muslim (and married with kids), Ramadan reached my radar. And one year, late last century, with knowledge of its impending arrival, I felt compelled that I should fast.
One thing I should mention here also – is that in Islam, it says people who fast without praying are just starving themselves. I had read this and I knew that for my fasting to mean anything at all I had to pray – 5 times a day.
I was about to take on 2 new things that would change my life.
* * * * * *
My first ever Ramadan began one hot December day in the late 90’s. After a pre-dawn breakfast and the short “Fajr” prayer, I went to work with a little prayer mat and hijab (to wear whilst praying) in a bag. I had one of those learner prayer mats with all the words and actions printed on it for you. (At 5 times a day it only takes about a week or so until you’re on your P Plates :-))
I may have been nervous and excited about Ramadan, but I was totally apprehensive about revealing my new “religion” to my boss and coworkers. It was a small business and I was always making coffee and tea and doing cappuccino runs, fasting would have been difficult to conceal. I blubbered forth with a un-thought-out upfront approach. “Oh Hi. Good morning. By the way I won’t be eating or drinking today”. “Ok” came the reply, “Why’s that?” I went on to explain I had decided to fast Ramadan. “I’ll try not to eat in front of you then”. What a sweet boss.
Next came time to pray – Salat al Dhuhr (Midday-ish Prayer – when the sun has come off the meridian). I made my Wudu (ablution) in the little girls room and returned to my desk. “Umm.. I have to pray now… where can I pray?” New and nervous I seemed to be blurting things out rather than asking quietly or politely explaining. “Anywhere you like” came the laid back reply. My boss was as cool as cucumber about all of this.
Afternoon. Next came the headache of my lifetime. After a decade or so on a constant caffeine drip, I had gone cold turkey with no thought to consequence. I probably had never or rarely gone without before, and had no memorable experience of withdrawal. I ended up having to leave work feeling very ill; drive home, and with my headache now blindingly painful, I failed my first day with Panadol or Neurofen, whatever was around at the time :-/
* * *
Dented but not deterred, I continued with the month of fasting. I continued with the 5 daily prayers, I continued on the path of Islam – attempting to submit ones will to the will of the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth.
A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders.
A peaceful contented joy entered my heart.
My boss said I looked as though someone had switched a light on inside me.
As it so happens, as I write this post it is the last week of Ramadan right now.
Must be about my 17th one. (Though nowadays of course my caffeine wean begins a week or two beforehand :-))
* Ramadan is the 9th Month in the Islamic calendar which begins and ends with the sighting of the new crescent moon. For 29 or 30 days Muslims the world over refrain from all food and drink (and marital relations) from the time of dawn until after the sun has set. They also try to engage in extra acts of prayer, worship, charity and good deeds.
During the evenings, mosques are full with worshippers performing special prayers, called Taraweeh. During the course of the Taraweeh prayers, the entire Quran is recited (One-thirtieth (Juz) each night). Also; the Quran itself was first revealed during Ramadan, on a night called Laylatul Qadr – the Night of Decree (also translated as The Night of Power).
The sick, the elderly, children, travellers and nursing/pregnant are not required to fast. (and women do not fast at the time of their monthly cycle).
With the sighting of the new moon; the month of fasting ends with a celebration called Eid Al Fitr – special morning prayers, preferably outdoors, are attended by the whole community, followed by visiting, sharing food and exchanging gifts. Celebrations last 3 days.
In Islam there are 12 months, based on a lunar calendar. This is shorter than the seasonal year (gregorian / solar calendar) by approximately 9 or 10 days. Therefore Ramadan moves throughout the seasons, and one will experience the thirst of a long hot day, and realise the comfort our food brings during a chilly winter.
“O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you as it has been prescribed for those before you, so that you may attain *taqwa.” Quran 2:183
*Taqwa – piety, God-conciousness