Today is the first day of my first fasted Ramadan. I've been looking forward to Ramadan, preparing inwardly and outwardly. I'm fasting because I have come to appreciate Islam more since this time last year, when I was praying, but not fasting. Plane ticket prices gave me serious reason to delay my trip home until September, God-willing landing me back in my mother's home the day after Ramadan. I scoped out shops local to Finsbury Park, ensuring I know from where I can replenish my date supply. I've thought through a fasting routine that will be fairly compatible with my 9-5 work schedule. I have not asked my employer to change my working hours for the fast, although they may be willing to do so if I'm finding work difficult.
I will set my alarm every morning 10-15 minutes prior to prayer Al-Fajr, so that I can hydrate myself before the fasting begins with a couple glasses of water, and maybe a small final bite to eat. For tomorrow morning, I will set my alarm for 2:35am, giving me 11 minutes before the fast will begin. I will pray at 2:46am, and then return to sleep until I have to wake up for work. I am up and out of the door by 8:10am, consciously ignoring the jug of water on the table in my room, and I catch the 8:18am train. I ignore the sounds of spoons stirring the tea in surrounding mugs at work - on Friday of last week I brought home my mug and tea from work, to exlude the thought from my routine. I only think to myself that person down the hall has a yummy smelling lunch, and keep in mind that my chance will come after dark. I still take my 'lunch' break, but use the time to pray Al-Dhuhr, rest my eyes from the computer screen, work on memorizing one of the four Quranic passages that I intend to memorize this month, and go shopping for my evening meal.
Today I felt hungry and thirsty, but I was not hurting. I had enough strength and energy to accomplish my required tasks at work, and I even stayed late without much trouble. I felt motivated to fast, and to pursue the self-discipline that Ramadan is able to teach. I want to be calm and patient with others, and hope to not to become short-tempered because I am hungry and thirsty. Today went well enough with the office to myself, and I hope that tomorrow will go just as well, even though my manager will be back to share the office with me.
I'm bewildered at how Islam can turn a life upside down, moving far beyond the reminders of Allah that the 5 daily prayers function as. Here are a billion or so of the world's people, eating and drinking at night when they would normally sleep, in fulfillment of one of Islam's pillars of faith. I'm telling you that I'm drinking water like a fish during these short hours of darkness. It won't be until 9pm tomorrow evening that I'll be able to sip water or consume food. Like last night, I feel nervous now that I will fail somehow tomorrow. I need to draw strength from someone beyond myself.
My sadness this Ramadan is that I'm honouring the ritual in solitude. Ramadan is a characteristically social event, with families and friends typically gathering every evening to break the fast and pray and eat together. It turns out that my housemate who I don't speak to very much is Muslim and is fasting, but we are not close. She is much younger than me, and we don't connect very well. I soak in the visible presence of Muslims who I see in my transit to and from work. I see hijabs and beards and recognize that they are fasting too, for the same reason that I am, and I feel more motivated to go on.
I have a limited budget, and I do not expect that I'll be able to travel to Colchester and break the fast with friends from the Islamic Society there, as I had hoped. The local shopkeepers do not scorn me for walking into their jobs without a dress reaching my shoes and my hair covered. Instead they greet me warmly "Asalaamu aleikum!" as if I am just as welcome into Islam as they are. I wish that one day I could achieve such a hospitable and nonjudgmental character. The butcher who sells me the Halal meat for my Greek dishes smiled widely at me today, and asked me how Ramadan is going. I smiled too, and thanked God it is going well. He and his colleagues call me "Sister." His shop was packed full of men and women, buying up meat and ingredients for their large family meals. I took home a half kilo of minced beef to pump some protein into my moussaka. Since I'm eating it alone, it should last me all week long.
It is common knowledge in Islam that the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) broke his fast with dates, and something comparable to yogurt. At 9:01pm this evening I clumsily sliced open the air tight package of dates from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and scrambled my fingers inside to catch one. I ate them slowly, and I didn't eat as many as I thought I would. When I eat them on the normal afternoon after coming home from work, I usually can hardly stop myself. These dates were the most delicious I've ever tasted, and I had to push myself to eat 5. How peculiar, after an entire day of fasting. I then enjoyed some Greek yogurt with honey, and gulped that down a little easier, since it was cool and I was very thirsty.
It was more than an hour after those dates and yogurt that I decided to enjoy a corn on the cob, and another hour still before I ate a piece of moussaka. Now I'm waiting for my peppermint tea to cool, and eyeing the Koulourakia (Greek cookies) that I baked last Friday evening. I was going to wait until 2:35am to indulge, but who can scarf down cookies after being woken from a deep sleep in the dead of night, knowing they need to rest up for a long day of work? I detect a good excuse to enjoy these cookies with my tea.
So far, the two main challenges that I'm struggling with relate to my current living arrangement, and losing sleep. First, I'm living with a young couple, their mother in law, and their baby. The kitchen is just beside the baby's room, so it's impossible for me to feel comfortable climbing up and down two flights of creaking stairs and tinkering around the kitchen while everyone, including the baby, is sleeping. Second, I'm tired. To drink up enough water and eat slowly I have to stay up late - maybe I'll lay down in my bed at 1:30am, to wake up briefly for 20 minutes, and then get back to sleep.
I will end this entry the way that I will end my day, with one of the passages that I wish to memorize this month, Surat Al-Kursey. The key line of this surat (verse) proclaims that Allah's seat extends over the heavens and earth. Scholars note that the Arabic word for seat used in this passage denotes a seat much more modest than the majestic throne of Allah. The Muslim stands in awe of how just the humble seat of Allah already engulfs the heavens and the earth. How much more, then, can we make of Allah's throne?