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The last day of Ramadan

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Alhamduallah!

Well here we are, the last day of Ramadan. Boy am I so ready for it to end! Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate every minute of it and it definitely brought me an understand that I would never have achieved if I hadn’t participated, but yes, my mind and body feel spent. Maybe it was wrong of me having the vast amount of the experiment during Ramadan, I’m looking forward to the three days of Eid where I can be a Muslim without the holy months restraints. Perhaps a week before and a week after too would have been better? But then, muslim46weeks doesn’t have the same ring to it.
I don’t think this will be my last Ramadan, I don’t think next year I would be able to just sit back and eat and watch as my husband fasts.
But what a fantastic day to have as the last! The weather is perfect, and it is my mum’s birthday (happy birthday!) so people are coming round to sit in the garden and eating. Ok, I’ll have to sit there for nearly two hours before I can join in with the eating part, but still, it is nice that I will have a celebration feel around me like I would if I was in a Muslim country (albeit the celebration is for something else).
I’ve already raved and moaned about the fast in previous blogs, it really is a rollercoaster of emotions. I can’t say I felt closer to God, obviously, but I can see how it makes people reflect more. One month is certainly a good amount of time for it, it pushes people but not to the point of resentment… well there were some moments.
Tomorrow I go to mosque in the morning for feast prayers. My plan: Stand in the back and don’t make eye contact with anyone! If a woman tries to make conversation I don’t know whether to be honest with the experiment, but then making me a total outcast as a disbeliever, perhaps some might not even want me there, or should I say I’m a new convert/exploring Islam? Maybe it will be a case of “me no speak the English” to be on the safe side.
I have to cut this short as male guests will soon be arriving and alas I am not appropriately covered. At some point tomorrow during the Eid celebrations I will of course come on and tell you in detail me experience in the mosque, my experience praying for the first time in a group. I wonder how it would differ to how I feel about prayers now? I could imagine preferring to pray in solitude, but we shall see.
Eid mubarak!

The last days of Ramadan

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My last blog entry caused the biggest reaction I’ve had, with the topic spilling over to a facebook group I am on. The more I look into the subject of Hadith, the more firmly I believe that the Hadith was never supposed to be part of Islam. If God truly sent the Quran, then when he said it was complete he meant it.
I find the subject fascinating and will likely delve far more into it when I have the time, but right now with the end of my exploration in sight I have too many other pressing matters to focus on.

Firstly, when I talked about going to Mosque that wasn’t just idle chitchat. It is customary to go to mosque the first morning of Eid, so that is what I shall do. Eid (three days of feasts after Ramadan) looks set to start on Sunday, that gives me just enough time to truly freak out about it. Ok, it is actually an Islamic centre as my town doesn’t have a mosque, but still, eek!
Secondly, there is the pressing matter of reading the Quran. I could finish it if I just speed through like I would with any other book, but I like to take note, reflect, question, perhaps frown and scratch my head.

Just three more days of fasting! You have no idea how good that sounds to me now. After having my wisdom teeth removed last Wednesday I had a few days off the fast whilst I took medication and returned to it on Tuesday. And now I’m already sick of it. It isn’t the hunger, that comes and go briefly throughout the day but doesn’t really burden me, it is the *wanting* to eat that is frustrating. An ice cold lemonade on a hot summers day, a cheeky lick of my sons ice lolly before I give it to him, testing the food as I cook it, meeting the girls for lunch, having popcorn when I go see a film, going out with my husband for a dinner date, stuffing my face with free strawberries when I go strawberry picking, oh god I miss it all. Due to one reason and the other I have had ten days off fasting this month, so I can imagine how much I would be tearing my hair out if I didn’t at least have those breaks. Saying that though, even when I didn’t have to fast I still felt too uncomfortable to eat in public whilst wearing a hijab.
And talking about hijab, I miss my hair! Sure I take it off when I’m at home, but due to having it on earlier in the day my hair has a massive bump in it from being in a bun, so I just keep it tied up. People always joke to me that at least I don’t have to worry about brushing my hair, no instead every time I want to go out, even if it is just to get the mail from my postbox, I have to find a scarf that doesn’t clash with my clothes and pin it all together. Ok I’m approving with my time, I can now easily just use hijab pins instead of holding it all together with safety pins, but it is still more time consuming than brushing hair (which I never bothered about doing just to go to my postbox anyway).

nonmuslim hijabi

Despite my complaints, I had fun trying out new hijab styles


If I were to ever convert to Islam I’m still of two minds whether I think a hijab is essential or not. The majority of Muslims would say yes, but I just can’t see the logic of it, nor does it seem particularly important in the Quran.
Saying that though, I do get a buzz when someone greets me in Arabic, and I definitely think it was the right thing to wear for this month to “fast track” me into the community feel.

On a brighter note we are planning Eid! It couldn’t have landed on a better day as Sunday is the one day both my husband and I don’t work. Mosque in the morning (did I mention “eek”?) and then a fun filled day with our son and perhaps a romantic dinner out in the evening, hmm maybe a film with popcorn too. Also traditionally (I don’t think there is any religious bases for it, just cultural) people buy new clothes to wear for the feast. Now I’m not one to need an excuse to shop, but if you are going to give me one, I’ll happily use it! For mosque however I’m going to pull out one of my abayas that I got from Egypt. I haven’t been out in one yet, I have found in the past people react far more to them than they do the hijab alone. My neighbours will probably think I’ll be in a burka next!

Well, this time next well it will all be over. I’m still not quite sure what “over” means just yet though.

Did I rush into this?

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I thought knowing the basics of Islam meant I could easily fit in to the role of Muslim, it would be easy, right? Boy was I wrong, I was so unprepared and now paying the price. I’m not getting as much out of this month that I know I could had I waited, turns out little more than a week isn’t enough time to prepare to completely change yourself for a month, who’d have thunk it?
I needed a game plan, some structure. I knew I wanted to fast, I knew the clothes and I knew I wanted to read the Quran, but there are so many other things I should have added to help with the learning. I should have looked into mosque timeables to see when there are classes, I should have got in contact with an Imam to say what I’m doing and if they can help me along the way, I should have found some Islamic sisters nearby who would meet- I should have used at least some of my journalism skills that I spent twenty grand acquiring!
And most importantly, I should have made sure those around me were ready.
I should have made sure my husband was.
He is fine with what I’m doing, there is no issue there, but I don’t think he understands what I needed from him, being the only Muslim in my day to day life. I didn’t just need to act as a Muslim, I needed people to treat me as one, otherwise it feels like a losing battle.
I needed a teacher, a pushy one. What would have been better than someone with me every day who was born into a Muslim family and raised in an Islamic country? Well that actually proved the problem. My husband’s religion is such a habit that so many things he does, such as thank god when he finishes a meal, he doesn’t even notice. And because he doesn’t notice that he is doing it, he doesn’t notice that I am not.
Come the end of the day when it is time to break fast, he mumbles away in Arabic the specific words needed, whilst I just immediately down my water and eat my dates. I’m not Muslim, so it is so easy to forget what I’m doing and just be, well, an atheist. I need reminding, guided, and taught.
I need someone to take the remote control out of my hand and stick the Quran in it! Surely the Biggest Loser should pale in significance when I’m searching for religious enlightenment?
I didn’t make sure before I done this that my husband knew what I needed from him. To be honest, at that time I didn’t know what I needed from him either. I assumed this was a solo act, but actually I should have gathered a team of support.

And time! I’m really glad doing this meant I was able to experience Ramadan, but doing it in Ramadan means my time is very restricted. All day I have my toddler to run after, then as soon as he goes to bed it is time to prepare the meal and eat it. By then it is nearing 10pm and we have to go to bed so that we can get up at 2:30am. Doesn’t really leave much room for reading and studying the Quran!
My social life has taken a nose dive too (shocking how many social activities revolve round food), so I’m not really getting a feel for what those who convert to Islam go through mixing their old life with their new.

I should have organised this better so at the end of the month I’m not looking back and just thinking, “well, I rocked the head scarf and lost a couple of lbs” (oh ok, the latter isn’t true, boy you should see the size of the iftar meals!).
There is still time though, time to organise and come up with a schedule. Tomorrow however I won’t be doing the one thing I feel as if I perfected: The fast.
Tomorrow morning I go to hospital to be put under general anaesthetic to have my wisdom teeth removed. Apparently you have to eat and drink before being discharged with a lot of pain killers to take. So much for not eating.
On the plus side however, all the waiting around the hospital I have to do tomorrow gives me plenty of alone time to do what should be seen as the most important thing this month, reading the Quran!

The community

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Last night I walked into my staff room where a new security guard was waiting for his shift to begin.
He looked at me, and then with a smile said: “Salam alaikum”.
It is an Arabic greeting meaning “peace be upon you”, and is used by all Muslim, regardless of whether they speak Arabic or not.
“Wa alaikum al-salam,” (and upon you be peace) I replied.
It felt warmer than what would have been a simple awkward “hi” had I not been in hijab. He greeted me in such way which showed me that he too was Muslim, a “brother”.
The sense of community in religion is undeniably strong and welcoming, I know nonreligious people who go to church every Sunday just so they can get that sense of belonging and connection to others.
When I wear my hijab out, no I don’t feel modest, but I do feel like part of something. I see another hijabi and want to smile in acknowledgement, we are part of something together. However, I don’t know whether she feels the same, so without knowing the correct protocol, I avoid eye contact and pretend I don’t see her (the same way you stare intently at your mobile when you see an old acquaintance and not quite sure if them being on your facebook really warrants a real life hello- best to just look distracted).
I have seen how religious people are with newly converts or those “on the edge” of it. Suddenly you get a million best friends, they will listen, they will be understanding, they will shower you with informative internet links, and happily talk the night away with you. Wear a hijab for the first time and expect a hundred of complimentary comments: “beautiful”, “mashallah”, “it suits you”- it doesn’t matter if actually it has made you look like you’ve aged twenty years and nowhere near as nice as your hair looked, they will make you feel as if you had just been professionally made over. They are like your best friends who will tell you your hideous new shoes are stunning. Religious communities will take you into their bear hug, and for some people it doesn’t actually matter what the religion is, it is the community that they were drawn to.

Is it a bad thing? I don’t think so, however it is such a powerful feeling that many use it as a converting tool. Christianity is probably leading the way here, and cults too use this “love bombing” as an effective way to get converts, however usually it is a genuine show of warmth and hope to an individual you pray would join the faith. My husband got to experience this with our devout Christian neighbours at our old address. When they invited him out to London on a nice sunny day, he had no idea he was going to a Christian celebration. Once there he said it felt like a “bring a disbeliever day” as there were many nonchristians just like him that had been brought by believing friends. There is no denying the neighbours and those he met that day were nice, really nice, probably some of the friendliest you will meet (especially in London). But there was an agenda, it was the same agenda they had when they invited him out again a few weeks later, and why they are so insistent on us going to some community camping trip this summer. It is definitely more effective than knocking on doors.

However converting people aside, when you are part of a faith, you suddenly have a massive thing in common with up to two billion people. This is more than just having the same favourite colour. Your core morals, ethics, beliefs are similar, they come from the same place. Yes people have different interpretations but the overall picture is set.
You don’t have that with atheism.
Atheism is a simple disbelief, and links people as much as a disbelief in Santa does. Some try to makes it as a community, they come up with groups like “Brights” and “Humanists”, there is even an atheist “A” symbol, but it really doesn’t make sense for a disbelief. In everyone’s life there will be thousands of different types of communities we will be part of, it is human nature to seek out those with similar beliefs and circumstances, hell I’m part of three separate online communities just because I’m married to an Egyptian, but religious ones are in a league of their own.
If this is sounding critical it didn’t mean to. I LIKE the feeling I get when I’m out wearing a hijab and people think I’m “one of them”. I think this feeling is stronger and even more important when you are living in a country where you are the minority. It is also probably stronger in Ramadan. You are not just sharing a religion, you are sharing a struggle, a challenge, a goal.
And because of this I cannot wait until I can fast again, and that is something I never thought I’d say. I miss it, obviously not the feeling of dehydration, or dragging myself out of bed at silly o’clock to eat, but doing something, experiencing something, sharing in something… important. When I read a diabetic Muslim friend of mine had tried to fast for a day with dangerous consequences, I thought she was crazy, why on earth would anyone risk themselves like that, but now I get it (although obviously I don’t recommend it). Not fasting these last few days has given me the same feeling I would have not putting decorations up at Christmas- sure you don’t need decorations up to celebrate Christmas, but it helps you feel part of the holiday.

If I truly want to immerse myself into a religion, I must immerse myself into its religious community. Islam puts emphasis on the ties between believers, fellow Muslims are your brothers and sisters, it demands that you look after each other, “The Believers are but a single brotherhood….” [Al-Hujuraat 49:10] . The next step in my experiment is clear- I have to go to a mosque.

The half arsed Muslim

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I realised something yesterday, I’m doing this all wrong. I’m still spending more time playing my virtual fish tank than reading the Quran, my prayers are all over the place, I haven’t really learnt any of the words, I’m not conducting myself appropriately- I’m not a Muslim, I’m a woman with a scarf on her head and strange diet!
This won’t do at all. Yes in outward appearance I “fit the role” but this is meant to be a spiritual journey, not just a new dress sense. Have I given anything to charity yet? No. Have I tried to avoid swearing? No. Have I cut down on TV, well actually yes, but that’s only because there is no time in the evening, however I haven’t cut down on facebook or, as mentioned above, my fish tank app.
I’m on my seventh day now as so disappointed with myself. It became all about the fast. All I was thinking about was not eating or drinking, and that making it to the end of the day was enough.
Well that’s about to change, I WILL be a Muslim for the month of Ramadan in all the ways I can be. I will step up my Quran reading and other Islamic studies, I will find a charity, I will watch my language and my rather x-rated sense of humour. And maybe I will master the courage to visit a mosque.
And yes, I will even put away my virtual fish, but don’t worry, they won’t die without being fed.

Sadly I’m not alone in my poor Muslim attempt, so many actual Muslims are no better. They focus on their outward appearance and forget about the most important thing is what you feel in the heart, not what the world sees.
For example I have met some “delightful” well covered women. They hold their heads high and think what great little Muslims they are as they wouldn’t dream of going out with their hair uncovered, but on the inside they are hypocrites. One, a favourite of mine who I’ve clashed with a couple of times online, will preach about the importance of tolerance towards hijabis, but then say the most downright degrading things about uncovered women (apparently they are merely pieces of meat). She will happily insult and backbite, but she looks “right”, so in her mind she done no wrong. And she isn’t alone in such thinking.
Men who go and pray at the mosque and then go meet their friends for a shisha (smoke pipe)- hypocrites.
Men who demand women wear a hijab, whilst they are on the beach in just swimming shorts- hypocrites.
People who have never given to charity and cannot remember the last time they prayed, but will happily judge another for marrying outside the religion- hypocrites.
Those who act however they want during most of the year but fast and ask for forgiveness in Ramadan are no better than the Catholics who confess their sins only to do them all again, and again, and again.
Well it is time I really got serious about this on a deeper level, it is time I feel Islam instead of just look like I do. Maybe some Muslims will take heed.

Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink

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thirsty in ramadan

Mmmm water


Ok, so I got smug, I put my hands up to that. Fasting was surprisingly easy and I was happy to brag about it, I was asking for trouble wasn’t I? I’m not actually a believer of karma but if I were, I would say she came back for vengeance.
The first few days of Ramadan England was its typical wet and grey self, well yesterday summer finally arrived, and boy did it hit hard. It felt like the whole of the country took to the streets, when hot days are so precious us English have learnt to appreciate them to their fullest. But I didn’t want to be one of them, however as a mother, I had little choice.
Off I walked to the town park with my toddler to enjoy the large playground there. The place was unsurprisingly busy, a sea of hair and as much flesh as legally allowed to show. Boy did I stick out like a sore thumb! Out of the many I was the only one in long sleeves, let alone being the only one in a head scarf. I seemed more bothered about this than anyone else though, I’m not one who likes to stand out from the crowds, I’m also not one to enjoy feeling sweltering hot, this covering seems to be having a countereffect to its purpose.
After running after my child as he tried all the more dangerous equipment, I couldn’t take it any more (and not because the amount of heart attacks my toddler was giving me). I was hot, I was uncomfortable I was THIRSTY.
The walk back had many steep hills and by the time I got to my door you would have thought I’d walked the width of the Sahara. My face was bright red, my lips cracking, sweat was pouring from me. I immediately stripped out of all the unnecessary clothing and enjoyed the cool shade of my home. I would have happily sacrificed my later meal (iftar) for a pint of cold water. At this point it was only just reaching 3pm, the hottest part of the day was just beginning.
I knew I had reached an all time low when looking at a picture a friend posted of a scenic lake I was licking my lips thinking how refreshing that would taste! I was in trouble.
Watching my son enjoy fresh fruit and ice cold squish was salt in the wound. You can’t forget thirst, you can’t distract yourself from it. Running my hands under water helps, but watching it fall from the tap had me practically drooling, it looked better than a Christmas roast at that moment.
Some release came when at 6pm my work shift began, the building was beautifully air conditioned. By the time I could break my fast, a day of licking my lips in an attempt to hydrate them had left them sore. Still unsure the true time to break fast in my town, I kept on until 9:20pm to be on the safe side before running behind kiosk to down my Oasis in record breaking time (and no, the irony of my drinks name was not lost on me). Finally a felt sane, I had no interest of food, and would never eat again if I could just continuously relive the joy those first mouthfuls gave to me.
The heat is set to increase today and tomorrow, we look set to be in the hottest days of the year. I would love to be able to sit in a beer garden with a cold glass of lemonade, or take my son strawberry picking and eat far more there than I actually take home- but at the end of each day, when I finally break my fast, the pride I feel for sticking with it makes it worth the sacrifices.

Religious ramblings of an atheist

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Yesterday was the first day I didn’t post here since I started this blog, I knew if I did it would just be whiney ramblings. Yes, yesterday was not a good day- I now refer to it as “day three blues”.
Was it the fast? Not really, surprisingly. I coped with the lack of food and water as well as other days. When my tummy rumbled at 9am I assumed I was in for a tough ride, but it soon settled and I wasn’t left a crumbling mess hugging the fridge.
It was everything else.
Lack of sleep meant when my toddler was having a tantrum first thing in the morning I was short tempered and ended up bursting into tears (my husband then immediately sent me up to bed). When I woke however I didn’t feel much better. Things just managed to wind me up easily.
When my mum came back with the shopping, I had to stick a scarf on my head and put a cardigan on just to pop to her car to help with the bags. I live in a quiet cul-de-sac, the only people likely to see me are my neighbours. They have seen me and my hair for years, have I ever had any issues with the men here? No, not at all. None of them have so much as looked at me the wrong way. And now suddenly I need to cover myself up to protect myself from them?
This concept that a head scarf provides any more modesty or protection from men is still completely lost on me. Will it protect someone from rape? Of course not. Does it protect at least from sexual harassment? Not in my experience. In Egypt where most women are covered sexual harassment is shockingly high, even when I’m in an abaya (certain type of long wide dress) and hijab I’m practically guaranteed to get some sort of pestering. In England where most are uncovered, I can walk the street in a t-shirt and jeans and men couldn’t care less.
So many times I hear (mainly from men who don’t wear it) how fabulous it is, how Allah has blessed us women with it for protection, aren’t we lucky! Protect us from what? Men? Here is an idea, instead of making a claim that material on your head will stop anything, why don’t you (men) protect us by not causing us issues in the first place? This does sadly go more to middle eastern men who seem to think they have the right to look at women like a piece of meat and then blame the woman (obviously I’m generalising a bit here).
Now saying all that, I do understand totally the concept of wearing to show the world you are Muslim. I have a Darwin fish on my car, an outward symbol of what I personally believe, so if I was religious I’m sure I’d want something so that all knew my religious convictions.

Well that was rant one. Rant two:
The Quran. I know I have to tread carefully here, obviously people don’t like to hear criticisms of their holy book, but I have to be honest, this blog is a truthful documentation of the whole journey after all.
I’ve not read much yet, it did have quite a long prologue, what I have read however hardly feels me with spiritual joy. If you are a Christian reading it then yes, I can understand why people convert, after all it isn’t bad towards them. But an atheist, Hindu, Pagan etc? Can the book hate us any more? I get it I get it, harsh punishment, hells fire, wrath of God, we are fools, etc. If it was saying all that about Christians, I wonder how many would have converted. And even if it wasn’t bad towards atheists, I still couldn’t turn a blind eye to how I think it is unjust to other religious groups.
It reminds me of the quote: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out as I was not a communist” etc. When the bad isn’t directly related to you, so many people can skim it. Well it is directly related to me, and the millions of other disbelieves (be they atheists or polytheists).
I don’t believe my converted friends are cold and uncompassionate, but I don’t understand how they can read those words and be ok with it either.
I guess you have the responsibility excuse though. They don’t blame God for wanting to torture, they blame us for not seeing the light. Doesn’t that scream a bit of arrogance though? A Muslim believes as strongly as a Hindu, as strongly as a scientologist, as strongly as those who used to believe in Ra, Odin, Zeus, Mithra. I think that shows the right answer really isn’t obvious, as you all (atheists included) think you ARE following the right answer. None of us picked our religious paths to spite the other, we didn’t purposely turn a blind eye to what we secretly knew was the right way. You have no power on what you believe in, you just believe what you believe.
God would know that, so why would he then think infinite torture was fitting, using a fear tactic sounds more human than divine.
I don’t think one size fits all when it comes to religion. There has never been a time where there was just one universal belief, and I don’t believe there ever will be. I don’t think everyone will be happy as an atheist, in the same way I don’t think everyone could be happy as a Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and so on. It doesn’t make anyone a bad person, a bad person will be a bad person whatever their religion, and a good person will be a good person whatever their religion too.
God would know that.

Ok, I didn’t want this to end up as the moan I tried to avoid yesterday so I will end on a positive note- the fast. I honestly think this will have long term health benefits. I now know I can go without constantly snacking, I don’t need to be always be rummaging the cupboards.
Tonight however will bring an interesting experience: working the evening shift. This will mean I have to wait an extra hour before I can eat, that might well be an hour too much!

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