Last night Elaine and I went along to Manjaros restaurant in Middlesbrough to join members of the local Muslim community, along with fellow non-Muslims in celebrating Iftar, the breaking of the Ramadan fast.
In my previous blog, I mentioned that out of respect I would observe the fast, which runs from dawn to sunset, and speak about my experiences to those gathered together on the night.
My first mistake was waking up at 5am to find the sun was already shining and it was therefore too late to drink copious amounts of water, and stuff my face with pretty much anything I could lay my hands on. Bit of a schoolboy error, as I would basically have to now go twenty-four hours without food. The Ramadan fast extends to drinking as well, although there are a few exceptions; one of which being travelling. As I had to drive the hundred mile round trip to Newcastle, I did allow myself a couple of gulps of water on the way home, to ensure that if my body suffered any adverse reaction, it wouldn’t be whilst I was doing 70mph down the A19.
Those two gulps aside, I essentially went a full day without food or drink. There were some difficult moments – about twenty-three and a half out of the twenty four hours really. Actually, after about two o’clock, I was fine. The lunch period was definitely the worst time, as my colleagues devoured their various meals and snacks. It was more the smell of the food than watching them eat... but I watched them nonetheless.
Once I got home, and the clock ticked past five... six... seven o’clock, I knew I was going to complete the fast – and in a way I was quite proud of myself. There’s no comparison with those who can do this for a month at a time – I don’t think I could do that (I love cake too much) – but given that my body is not conditioned to going without food, and I missed the opportunity of an early morning binge, I thought I’d done okay...
In a feeble attempt at comedy, I did message my friends Imran and Zak to ask if the sun going behind a cloud counted as “sunset”. Apparently not... and with my last chance for a sneaky square of chocolate gone, Elaine and I duly headed into Middlesbrough.
Inside the restaurant, we caught up with some old friends, and had a chance to natter with a number of people we hadn’t met before, as well as listening to a few members of the Muslim community talk about the meaning of Ramadan and the effects (and apparent benefits) of fasting. A couple of non-Muslims who had observed the fast then chatted about their experiences, and every speaker had something interesting to say... until it was my turn.
One day I’ll learn that if you’re going to stand up with a microphone, it’s best to have some idea about what you’re going to say.
Never mind, I just tried to highlight how much I had enjoyed meeting, talking to, and getting to know people like Imran and Zak, and what was particularly important to me was how they completely respected the fact that we are from different cultural backgrounds, and have different beliefs. Did I initially have misconceptions? Yes I probably did. Not necessarily from accepting the media stereotype, but simply from my own ignorance.
The one way to put that right was simply to spend time with Imran and Zak, be honest about my beliefs, and ask questions; and I soon realised that in amongst the obvious differences were plenty of similarities and shared opinions. The end result? I respect them as men, admire their strength and determination (which must be sorely tested and challenged at times by events elsewhere), and value their friendship.
I then mentioned the person on whom I had reflected during the day. My great great grandmother Jane, who gave birth to her son (my great grandfather) in a workhouse and worked her fingers to the bone making matchboxes simply to survive. How she found the strength to keep going in such poverty I cannot possibly imagine, but the simple fact remains that I am only here because she did...
In her lifetime, Jane may have been the lowest of the low in terms of social class. To me she is an inspiration.
The time came to break the fast. Don’t be fooled... they looked like chocolates, but they were dates. Superfood maybe... chocolate sadly not. The Muslim brothers and sisters were called to prayer, as I sat back and let the ice cold water trickle down my throat, after quickly realising that I’m not actually all that keen on dates.
There was plenty of opportunity to get to know the guests on our table; they were all excellent company. In fact the whole night was fantastic, so through this blog, can I (on behalf of both Elaine and I) thank everyone involved with IDC North East? I consider it a privilege to have been invited, and I’m glad I “took part” by fasting and talking (or at least attempting to talk) about my day.
Oh and just for the record, I was awake before sunrise this morning! Typical...