As some of you may know, we are currently in the month of Ramadan. The 9th Month in the Islamic Lunar Calendar, Ramadan is a special month for Muslims throughout the world. It is a month that all physically able practicing Muslims are obliged to observe the daily fast. I know this, because I've been brought up observing the fast of Ramadan, and so know first hand what it's like to be fasting.
During the month of Ramadan, it is forbidden for Muslims to eat, drink, smoke, or make love with their spouses during daylight hours. It is also recommended that we observe our thoughts and attempt to avoid thinking bad things about anything or anyone, and try to only have good thoughts. It is indeed a challenging time.
Me and my family wake up each day, in the early hours of the morning (which in London started off as around 3am), to make sure we eat something before Sunrise begins. Then in the evening we try to break our fast together, as a family, gathering around the table around 8pm, waiting for the exact moment of Sunset, when the Maghrib, or Evening Prayer time begins.
Whilst ordinarily we might be busy with our individual lives, and may not share a meal for days at a time, during Ramadan, we try as best as we can to come together for dinner (or iftari), in the evening as well as to eat breakfast (also known as sehri) together. The shared experience of not eating all day unites us both as a family, and creates community in the Mosques where Muslims gather together to break their fast with other people also observing the fast that day. We try as consciously as we can to not eat alone, and share a meal together. Especially when we're waking up at the early hours of the dawn, you really appreciate how good it is to be with others also participating in Ramadan.
Often, on weekends, during Ramadan, we'll invite family over, which, at times, can be a pretty large gathering, especially if we have three or four families over for a single meal (think of between 4-6 people per family on average). In some ways that's part of the fun of Ramadan, gathering as large extended families that sometimes you won't see much of for the whole year.
Whenever I've lived away from home, I've always observed Ramadan, and fortunately wherever I've been there's always been a local Muslim community where I could find other people who would also observe fasting. I would wake up early and eat breakfast alone, mainly so that I can go straight back to sleep but then at night, when the time to break the fast approaches, I would go to the local Mosque, or Muslim community that was gathered, and share Iftari (the name given to the meal we break our fast with) with other people in the community.
In Muslim countries, I've heard that Ramadan becomes an entire month of celebration and festivities, because the majority of people are all in that shared common experience. Then at night, people come out onto the streets, share food with their neighbours, and make sure that everyone has food. I can't imagine what it must be like, but our dad shares stories of his youth in India, and how there would be someone who would come round with a drum, and literally wake everyone up, in the mornings, to make sure everyone ate something before the long day began. Perhaps one day I'll experience a Ramadan in India. I certainly have plenty of extended family still there.
But for now, I'll enjoy the fact that this year, I get to share Ramadan with my family, and enjoy seeing more of everyone, at least for this month. Next month, I'll probably go back to a more hectic pace of life again, but until then, I'll gladly trade the long workdays, for more quality time with my family.
Reflecting on occasions when my family gathers together, I'd love to hear from you dear readers, when do you gather as families? What occasions, or events merit your whole family coming together? Is it Birthday's? Anniversaries? Religious Holidays? Or perhaps national holidays? Do share with us when it is that you get together as a family too We look forward to reading your replies!