‘We’re fasting for our faith’

Katara Chen (right) at Experiencing Ramadan 2014 with Tasnim Desai
Katara Chen (right) at Experiencing Ramadan 2014 with Tasnim Desai
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Thousands of Muslims will mark the end of Ramadan next week. Katara Chen went along to an ‘Experiencing Ramadan’ event to find out more.

THE day started early for Sofia Begum-Ali.

Katara Chen (right) at Experiencing Ramadan with  Sofia Begum-Ali

Katara Chen (right) at Experiencing Ramadan with Sofia Begum-Ali

The 45-year-old’s alarm went off at 2am.

She got up to make rice for her husband who finished a night shift, prepare fruits and yoghurt for one of her four children who is old enough to fast, and had some cereal and tea.

From then, the family started fasting until sunset, at around 9.30pm that night.

During the day, there was reading of the Quran, praying with and without beads, teaching children lessons about Ramadan, and more.

Experiencing Ramadan in Preston, July 2014

Experiencing Ramadan in Preston, July 2014

Sofia prayed five times as usual, but for longer than normal. With the long hours of daylight in July, it left Sofia less than four hours sleep at night.

“Personally I just find myself getting tired,” she says. “I don’t get affected by food and drink. My three-year-old girl has a nap so I have a nap with her.”

Ramadan is the ninth lunar Islamic month when Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, intercourse and other activities from dawn to sunset.

The elderly, the ill, children, pregnant women, and travellers are exempt.

In Preston, an estimated 15,000 residents are Muslims.

On Monday, a week before the end of this year’s Ramadan, 15 non-Muslims and five Muslims joined Sisters4Sisters – a support group for women based in Frenchwood – to experience Ramadan for a day, to allow people to get a better understanding of why Muslims fast, and to enjoy a big feast after sunset.

The event at the Unity Community Centre in Shepherd Street also raised money for the Katy Holmes Trust, which funds research into paediatric brain tumours.

Many of the 11 non-Muslims who fasted found themselves not hungry but thirsty – or as 25-year-old youth work trainee, Ann-Marie put it, she had never cherished water more than that day. By 9.30pm, the only thing she had had was some rice and water at around 2.45am.

Among the guests was 43-year-old Andy Halsall from Bury, who says he learned “a bit more of myself to see if I had the willpower to do it”.

He managed to complete the fasting on that day, but also saw how hard it is for others “to do it for a whole month”.

However, Muslims are not the only people who fast. Lecturer for staff development at the University of Central Lancashire and Christian, Peter Lumsden, who also participated in the event, said: “Fasting is part of the Christian tradition, but we don’t really take it very seriously.

“For me, it was not having to think about food. At the end of the day it wasn’t broken up. It was much more continuous. And I think sometimes it makes your mind a little bit clearer.

“When I was praying, I think that becomes easier if you are fasting.”

Tasnim Desai from Sisters4Sisters, one of the organisers of the event, said she sometimes heard people saying: ‘I wonder why they do that, they are torturing themselves.’

She said: “They don’t understand that you do things for your religion, because of 
your faith.”

Tasnim only missed a few Ramadans at the end of her pregnancy of two of her children. During Ramadan, she says she tries to cut herself off from worldly activities such as socialising, going to cinema, and even watching TV.

Her eight-year-old daughter, Zayna Desai, who just finished school last week, said that she “only missed five fastings” during this Ramadan. She has also been making rainbow loom pencils and bracelets for victims of conflict in Gaza.

It’s clear that children don’t have to fast, but some get excited about joining in. Sofia, chairman of chair of Sisters4Sisters, explains: “They were counting down the seconds, waiting for the final moment, and then they have all the special food that they don’t have on a regular basis.

“It’s like a little party every night for them.”