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My first day as a Muslim

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Salamu alaikum and Ramadan mubarak!

Where do I begin? Well I guess 2:30 in the morning when the alarm went off. Having not slept until past midnight, you will understand why it took a good half hour before I managed to have both my eyes open at the same time.
Boy I couldn’t have been less hungry at silly o’clock, but like a trooper I made up my porridge with fruit, hard boiled egg on wholemeal bread and water with lemon. I ate it all with minimal angry tired mutterings too.

suhoor

suhoor: What I forced fed myself at 3am

Then there was my first ever wudu (certain way of cleaning before prayer). Hands three times, face, ears, hair, arms, nose, feet (the correct order is already lost on me), well it certainly perked me up.
The actual prayer itself? Well to be fair I didn’t really know what I was doing. I followed my husbands movements, listened to his Arabic words. I could tell the meaning was a bit lost on me when I noticed I was thinking that the carpet didn’t smell how I imagined it would, instead of God. But right now I am just going through the motions, I really must get the English translation, there is no hope with me connecting to words I don’t understand.
I crawled back into bed at 4am and realised it was bloody hard to get back to sleep with a full tummy and freshly splashed face. As you can imagine when my son woke me up nice and early I was doing my usual morning errands in a zombie state.

I finally got to wear one of my new hijabs out in the world, and had zero issue walking outside my door with it on.

Attemping to wrap my hijab

It was perfectly colour coordinated with my t-shirt, denim jacket and jeans (all suitably wide and long), and I even managed a strong wrap so I was able to walk around hardly noticing the new thing on my head. People’s reactions were nonexistent. I got the same amount of polite smiles, doors being held open and small talk, as ever (when I’m walking around with my toddler that is, without him people don’t bother with an acknowledgement). My town isn’t far from London, so although we are not incredibly diverse, hijabs are not a total rarity either.
The weather played nice, giving the same grey skies as England has known most of summer. I felt comfortable in my clothes and relaxed. I do wonder what the reactions will be of people who know me, but not the experiment (such as neighbours).
I made sure I was home for the other prayer times, one of which was without my husband as he was at work. To compensate I had a youtube video open and copied from there. I have to say these later prayers were as far from meditation as you can get. My son has rarely seen his father pray, so seeing me perform those movements were a bit of a novelty. He was climbing on my back, running between my legs, going under my skirt, etc, and when he wasn’t bothering me, he was bothering the dog, so I had to keep a close eye on the pair.
Prayer- five times a day, every day. How many Muslims reading this actually do that? It seems so much. Maybe once I get used to it, understand the words, then finding it a welcome relaxation will come. Right now however, out of all the things I am trying to do: Hijab, fast, reading Quran etc, it is the prayers that I’m struggling with.

So let’s talk about the fast. I feel like I must have eaten in some dreamlike state throughout the day because come evening I felt absolutely fine! Once or twice in the day I felt hunger pangs, but mostly I just wanted to eat, instead of felt the need to eat. By the end however I felt as if I had eaten breakfast just an hour before.
I broke my fast with a glass of pure orange juice and a date and fig. I prayed before having my main meal: lamb tabbouleh. I ate a portion size equal to any day and felt absolutely stuffed. What will I be praying for in my fajr (dawn) prayer? That the whole of Ramadan will be as easy as today!
Ok, so honesty time: I wasn’t perfect. In the morning when I opened a yogurt drink for my son I licked the lid automatically. I immediately realised what I done and was able to wipe my tongue before swallowing. Another thing, when my son dropped his lollypop on the floor I done the typical mothers thing of giving it a quick suck to clean it before handing it back to him. Old habits die hard. There were some times when the little devil on my shoulder whispered: “just take a bite, no one will know”, and yes of course I could technically lie all I want here, but I can’t lie to myself. At the very least I’m determined to have a sense of an achievement at the end of the month.

Tomorrow will be my first day at work as a Muslim. I realised today I actually forgot to give a heads up to my general manager, who also happens to be the one who works Saturday mornings. I think if I do recieve a negative reaction it will be from keeping her in the dark instead of the actual concept though. I work around food and it will be an incredibly busy shift, so I have a feeling my prayers for all days to be as easy as this one will go answered. Oh god, I can smell the hotdogs now!

Now I must sleep. It was likely this total exhaustion that kept the hunger at bay today- I lose appetite when tired- but I think I’d rather be hungry to be honest.
We still haven’t been able to figure out the accurate Fijr time for my town! Anyway…
Ma’a salama

It’s the final countdown

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salah

How do I feel knowing that I only have one full day left living the “atheist life” (whatever that is)? Frustrated, excited, stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, thoughtful, both unprepared and ready… I’m certainly not going to wake up on Friday and know exactly what I’m supposed to do, but then the whole month is the learning experience, the days leading up to it are just some basic prep work.
I feel like I’m a student again. My notepad is out and I write down the Arabic words that flow so easily from my husband’s lips but sound as strained as a gurgling fish from mine. I’ve never been one for languages, I seem to have a limit on how many words I can learn, every new one he teaches me seems to push out the old. At this rate I won’t be able to haggle with taxi drivers the next time I’m in Egypt!
Then there is the wudu (specific way of washing before praying) and the prayers themselves. It is not exactly coming naturally to me at the moment. The thought of then putting the words to the action seems like some complex mathematical problem that far outweighs my ability.
Added to that are the stresses that effect both my husband and I. I’m used to Islamic scholars disagreeing, but when it comes to prayer times (specifically Fijr which is the dawn prayer that announces that start of the fast) I stupidly assumed they would all be on the same wavelength. Not so. After checking a number of sources (three phone apps, London central mosque, local Islamic community centre and a general site giving times for all areas) I have concluded it is somewhere between 2:40am and 4:20am, splendid.

But it isn’t all frantic stress.

hijab

some of my hijab collection

My hijabs are arriving thick and fast. I’m spending far too much time in front of the mirror with youtube clips playing on my phone with a long list of ways to wrap them. I’ve still yet to master a nice and practical way for work though (must be able to take me rushing about and picking things up without falling into my face, over heating me and slipping). I’ve also become somewhat of a stalker, whenever I see a woman in a nicely wrapped hijab I unintentionally follow her around the shop trying to work out how she done it. I check out what women are wearing and whether or not it is suitable and if I can recreate the nice ones that are. Sorry to my hijabi friends reading this but I’ve probably gone down your facebook photos checking out all your different outfit-hijab combinations. It really is becoming somewhat of an addiction.
There is also the bond it is creating with my husband. He doesn’t have any expectations for after the month, but I can tell he is enjoying having someone to share Ramadan with. For once we are able to talk about religion without it forming into a debate. He talks, I listen- it is quite a new concept for us.

I’m not going to lie, my fast preparation was a complete disaster, I fell into the mindset that I might as well enjoy it whilst I can. I promise to you all though I will be honest, if I slip up I will write it here, no matter how ashamed and guilty I feel. I always intended to make this an honest documentation of what I am doing and not a piece of fiction. I’m hoping knowing that I have an audience, be it big or small, I won’t feel like I can get away with making a half hearted attempt.

Anyway back to my lessons, alas not hijab wrapping ones, wish me luck!

What to eat when you’re fasting

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ramadan

It sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it, but the truth is the foods you eat when you break your fast after dusk, and again your meal before dawn has a massive impact on your hunger levels, mood and health during the day.
There are certain things you can’t avoid: you will feel hunger. In fact, you SHOULD feel hunger. Many say a part of Ramadan is to help you remember those who go without. Also there will be times I feel sucked of energy. There will probably be times that I curse this whole experiment (probably whenever I get a whiff from restaurant doors as I walk around the town or prepare my sons meals). This month is supposed to be challenging, and as they say: “nothing in life worth having comes easy”.
But being careful with what you do eat will hopefully get you off to the best possible start.
After scanning the internet (health sites and Islamic ones), as well as talking to some “Ramadan seasoned” Muslims, a menu is starting to form in my mind.
The meal in the early hours of the morning (suhoor) should be taken by 3.17am according to current time tables. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I’ve just woken up I certainly don’t want to spend much time cooking (when do I ever?), nor do I have the stomach for it.
So firstly, water with a squeeze of fresh lemon. In this time I would like to drink at least a pint of water to help keep me hydrated for the day. To eat: porridge, boiled egg, wholemeal bread and fruit should be enough to make sure my body has the nourishment it needs.
Now this greatly differs from my husband’s idea of breakfast. Fuul (a type of bean with tahini), falafel (heavily fried), cheese and lots of white bread is his (and most of the Egyptian population) favourite. Fuul is certainly a required taste, and falafel has far too much grease, so I think I’ll just be leaving him to it. Let’s see who feels healthier at the end of the month.
And now dinner (iftar), the meal that I will probably be obsessing about throughout the day. After a day of fasting it will be hard not to raid the cupboards and fridge and eat myself into a food coma. Obviously this isn’t exactly the best way to do it, but hungry tummies aren’t the best decision makers.
Many people have told me it is important to break your fast slowly. Well I don’t really have time for that as I have to go to bed so that I have the energy to wake up and eat again, and then to be woken in the morning by my toddler. I’ll be able to eat from 9.08pm (side note: because the times go on sunrise and sunset they change by nearly an hour as the days go past). Traditionally a drink and dates are the first thing consumed and then perform a prayer before the rest of the meal.
The important and difficult thing to do here is not to engorge yourself. I have plenty of weight watchers recipe books that are filled with healthy foods and proper size portions. Soup is considered a great way to start the meal, so perhaps a mug of healthy vegetable soup would do the trick of preventing me overeating on the mains. Citrus fruit is the recommended way to finish the meal.

Any hope of being able to save money on the shopping for a month is totally out the window, but if I am able to stick to my ideas above then I will probably be healthier than I currently am.
Anyone with meal suggestions and tips are welcome to share.

Preparing for a fast

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Food glorious food

Whist stuffing ourselves at Mcdonalds yesterday, my husband Sam confessed a concern he has about what I am doing- the fast.
Without belief that I’m doing it for God, and with pretty much no previous experience, and the fact that I could easily be described as an overeater, well it all seems like a recipe for torture and not a spiritual journey.
I don’t want this month to be just about how hungry I am, the fast is just one part of the many I am exploring.
Sam suggested I start like Muslim children- extending the periods of abstaining from food as I go along until I get to a point where I can do a whole day.
Fantastic idea, but I know converts to Islam that manage their first Ramadan and live to tell the tale. So I will take that concept but start before Ramadan, so that on day one I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.
For my first day of preparation, I’m going to start easy. Finished breakfast by 9am and eat something small at 3pm. Dinner will be late tonight as it is a meal with friends so about 8pm.
This might not sound like a hard start, but when I say I’m an overeater I’m NOT exaggerating. I’m the type who starts a diet every day and by 10am I have raided all the cupboards.
With about nine days to go (Ramadan isn’t a set yearly date and it isn’t officially announced it is about to start until the day before) I hope at the very least I will have become used to not snacking throughout the day and just having set meals.
Boy will I miss my daily cake, crisps, chocolates, lollies, cheese, sweets, biscuits… hey I told you I was an overeater!

I welcome any advice when it comes to fasting and peoples own stories of their first fast.

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