By Shabana Diouri
As a young Muslim woman born and bred in the West, Shabana Diouri soon came to realize that her ideals of the perfect Islamic lifestyle could sometimes be challenged by the demands of British life.
My experience of the basic foundations of Islam was quite different from the way experiences were portrayed in the Islamic books I had read. This was particularly the case for fasting during the month of Ramadan.
More often than not, rather than enjoying the Ramadan experience of iftars (meals to break the fast after sunset) with the whole family gathered around the kitchen table, iftars were instead opened with friends, fellow students, or work colleagues outside the home.
I would give anything to have had that ideal scenario of the traditional family focused Ramadan with three dates in each of our hands, asking each other whether the fast was now open. But in reality it was just simply not possible or practical to achieve this, especially during weekdays.
Life gets busy. We have to revise for exams. We must meet work deadlines. We need to be in so many different places at specific times in hectic life schedules. Gathering our siblings, and in many cases our parents too, everyday for a month at a specified time for iftar tends to get more and more difficult especially when iftar happens early in the winter months.
Therefore, being British Muslim can eventually compel us to go in search of a life-faith balance that can make us feel like we are progressing on both this life and hereafter bases.
Instead of feeling short-changed, I found it best to make the most of these special times. I utilized various ways to make the most of the barakah (blessings) that could be earned in these blessed four weeks.
One of the most effective ways to balance Ramadan with a British lifestyle was being well prepared and super organized
Plan in Advance
Firstly, I found it useful to plan in advance exactly where and with who I would be breaking the fast. I did this every day, a quick text or phone call in the morning would suffice. I would come into work early so that I could then leave early.
Sometimes there would be a mad dash home to open it with family members, or I would arrange to go to a childhood friend’s house, or have a restaurant meal with fellow colleagues if I was studying or working. I just felt it was very important to have company at iftar, even if it wasn’t always with family.
Carry Maghrib Essentials
Secondly, I always carried a packet of dates and a bottle of water with me just in case maghrib (sunset) time came whilst I was in transit to where I would be having my meal, or if I was running late – at least I would open my fast on time.
I would also carry a pocket size Qur’an and mini prayer mat to keep up with my prayers and Qur’an connection as Ramadan is the month of Qur’an, but now we can also download apps to our phones for adhan (call to prayer) reminders and the Qur’an with translation or tafseer (exegesis).
I would use my travelling time on the tube or bus to fit in this dhikr (remembrance of Allah), especially when the journey would normally take an hour.
Narrated Salman ibn `Amir that The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “When one of you is fasting, he should break his fast with dates; but if he cannot get any, then (he should break his fast) with water, for water is purifying.” (Abu Dawud)
Give Quietly and Loudly
Thirdly, I would not pass up the opportunity to give da`wah, both quietly and loudly. It is quietly, in the sense that, regardless of my fasting it was business as usual. I didn’t ask for any special treatment or make a big fuss that I was fasting. I just got on with it and did not allow my standards to slip.
This seemed to be the best da`wah of all; colleagues were fascinated and asked more questions about how I was managing to stay on the ball and be self disciplined despite the demands of fasting all day, especially without water!
And also loudly in the sense that at work, with fellow Muslims, we organised an iftar event for non-Muslim colleagues and invited a well respected guest speaker to explain more about what Ramadan is and what it meant to Muslims. Once, we even invited colleagues to fast for the day and it was a great way to go on to share delicious food at the opening of the fast.
Organize Well, Including Sleep Time
Finally, one of the most effective ways to balance Ramadan with a British lifestyle was being well prepared and super organized. This meant planning the day around prayer times, especially Fajr and Maghrib, and setting multiple alarms accordingly.
Also adjusting sleep patterns to ensure I didn’t burn out and maybe take up a post-Dhuhr power nap as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to do.
Vitally, I spent some time after `Isha’ Prayer to plan what I would be having for sahur (the meal before a fast begins) and placing items out on the kitchen worktop so that I could easily get into gear when I woke up in the early hours, and then doing the same for iftar.
It helped hugely to keep meals simple and healthy. Considering how much the stomach shrinks, there is no need for elaborate dishes or large portions especially when food is not the focus of Ramadan.
True Meaning of Ramadan
In many ways, not having the traditional ideals of Ramadan I imprinted on my lifestyle actually aided me in discovering and unlocking the true meaning and potential of Ramadan.
Whilst many people were rushing around like crazy organizing a daily banquet for iftar, I was quietly able to make du’a at that often ignored time just before Maghrib when the du`aa’ of the fasting person is more likely to be answered.
Because I was blessed with the freedom to make Ramadan the way I wanted it to be – I was free from pressures to follow a status quo; I was able to find the spiritual high that I was in pursuit of.
Overall, I also found that surviving Ramadan in the West had more to do with the company I kept during my thirty day journey and furthermore had far more to do with the ‘feeding’ of the soul rather than the feeding of the stomach.
Narrated `Abdullah ibn Umar: Marwan ibn Salim al-Muqaffa’ said: I saw Ibn `Umar holding his bread with his hand and cutting what exceeded the handful of it. He (Ibn `Umar) told that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said when he broke his fast: “thirst has gone, the arteries are moist, and the reward is sure, if Allah wills”. (Abu Dawud)
Shabana Diouri is an aspiring writer and poet with a strong affinity toward the issues of women in Islam and spiritual needs of the heart. Currently she spends her time in Edinburgh as a freelance writer and engages in outreach work with the University of Edinburgh to encourage a deeper understanding of Islam and Muslim culture.