By Samia Rahman
Fasting may seem strange to non-Muslims but it is just one aspect of Ramadan, an important time of self-reflection.
is just a few days away and I will be joining many of the 1.6 million Muslims
in the UK preparing to refocus for four weeks.
Following the lunar calendar means that the hours of fasting will be longer than they have been for many years, which is definitely a challenging prospect. But the four weeks of self-discipline is actually one that I always look forward to.
The month invokes childhood memories of counting down the minutes until it is "time", then eating fried pakoras and doing my best to avoid helping to make the fruit salad. Iftar (breaking of fast) parties and early morning rises became a comforting routine often anticipated with some trepidation but always missed when it is all over.
For those who are not brought up in the Muslim tradition it may seem a strange undertaking for an entire month. I have always been fortunate that while fasting at university or at work, Ramadan was always a healthy topic of conversation among non-Muslim friends and colleagues intrigued, and at the same time respectful, of the practice.
Genuine curiosity has always been a great opportunity to provide others with an insight into what Ramadan means, that it is not just about refraining from eating or drinking during daylight hours. Ramadan is a time for self-reflection and resisting the less positive distractions in life such as lying, gossiping and displaying anger.
I find it works for me to tell colleagues that I am fasting. There follows the usual series of questions and incredulity, with someone always asking whether we really don't eat or drink anything for a whole month … really – an entire month? One Australian colleague told me that when her friend had asserted that Muslims could drink water during Ramadan she had replied: "No, no water or food is consumed, I should know – two people I work with are fasting."
It is pleasing to think that being transparent can demystify a faith that is so easily misunderstood. Of course there is the slight awkwardness of explaining to fellow workers that, yes, I do fast during Ramadan but there will be a few days when you'll see me eating. Confused? Well don't be – it's just that I have my period and so am excused from fasting during that time. Got that?
Not everyone finds it easy to tell people at work that they are fasting, particularly during insecure economic times such as these. A friend told me that last year his employer was irritated by the fact that he was fasting, perceiving it to betray a lack of commitment to his career as he would, it was assumed, be performing under par. It's true that the first couple of days can be rough but once you've adjusted to the new routine it's really not that bad. Really.
Samia Rahman is a freelance journalist living in London. She is the former deputy editor of emel magazine and has written for the Guardian, Prospect and New Statesman. She also worked on the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, Young, Angry and Muslim.