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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.

The Fast

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fasting
Obviously you don’t need to be a Muslim for a month to learn about Islam, anyone can buy a Quran, download one, get the app, and read it at their pleasure. Fasting however is something I don’t think any book can really tell you about. It would just be pointless words on a page, which will have most people thinking Ramadan is crazy.
I didn’t get it. I have seen my husband fast for that last few years and I just couldn’t grasp the point. Oh sure it was explained to me- time to be closer to God, time to appreciate what you have, time to remember those who go without etc etc, but going without food and drink? Really?
Well yes, really! At the end of the month I probably still won’t understand much about Islam, but I can now say I do understand why people fast, why they look forward to it, why they are not all leaving the religion after the first day. This is something you really need to feel to truly *get* it.
I honestly didn’t think I could do it, I never in a million years thought I would enjoy it. But I am and I do. Every morning it feels like an impossible task, than every day at 9pm I get to feel such a sense of achievement, and I get to share it with my husband. Meals are appreciated, I can’t say when the last time was that I truly appreciated a meal before this month, they are a celebration. I love the discipline needed, the focus required. And on the spiritual sense, fasting means you will never forget that you are in a special month, that you are doing something. For the religious every time they feel weak, they feel the pangs of hunger, they have a reminder as to why they are doing it, who they are doing it for, and to be thankful.
Don’t get me wrong, not all Muslims enjoy Ramadan. Out loud they feel they most proclaim a love for the Islamic holiday, but quietly they whisper their true feelings. People can become moodier, lack of food and exhaustion, thanks to the very early wake up to eat, is not a great combination. Apparently breaths can be worse too, something I’ve not noticed (another thing for me to be thankful for!), and someone even said BO increases too, oh my. Too many women also complain how they have to spend half the day in the kitchen cooking, making food more a part of their daily lives than when they could eat. There are feelings of guilt when some think all they are doing is fasting and they don’t have time to also read Quran, perform longer prayers etc.
Having the wrong attitude about Ramadan also doesn’t help. Some spend the whole month counting down to Eid (three days of feasts after Ramadan), or they spend the whole day thinking about their evening meal, and eating more than a days worth of food in the one sitting. Some people spend the day sleeping, completing voiding the whole point of the fast.
I can’t eat or drink between 3am to 9pm, but I’m not going to sit around thinking “oh woe is me”. I’m not going to wish this month away either, in fact when my husband said earlier that we were half way, I felt a pang of sadness. When I had five days where I couldn’t fast, I felt as if I was missing out.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a walk in the park- in fact it was walking in the park on one of England’s hottest days of the years that proved one of the hardest days fasting- there are moments I am just staring at food, smelling it, fantasising about eating it. Then there are the small but more enticing temptations such as wishing I could taste food as I cook it, just to check it is ok. Feeding a child during the day has also had me nearly slipping up from old habits. Before this month I don’t thing my son even knew ice lollies came without a bite taking out of them first!

Now, I have a slight fasting problem- on Wednesday I’m due to be put under general anaesthetic to have my wisdom teeth removed. I haven’t had my consultation so don’t know if you are supposed to eat beforehand, however I’m pretty sure afterwards I’ll be wanting pain killers, which breaks the fast.

religion data

What am I?


Another issue my minor operation is causing is the form I have to fill out. It asks for my religion. I will still be wearing hijab (though taking it off for the actual operation), so ticking nonreligious or N/A seems a bit of an eyebrow raiser. But I don’t want to lie either. I’m guessing I should leave it blank, after all as far as I’m aware legally I’m not obliged to answer.
Hmm, I don’t really like being a blank.
I guess a devout Muslim would put of the op until after Ramadan, the problem is it turns out I have a massive fear of GA (never been put to sleep before) and if I put it off now I doubt I will ever do it. Oh well, I guess it is impracticalities such as this that make some people hate this month.

Right, now I really must sleep, I have to get up in two and a half hours to eat before my fasting day starts again. Alhamdulillah.

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.

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.

My last day as an atheist

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(Figuratively speaking that is).

What do you do the day before you change your life? Well, shop and eat, oh and run around like a headless chicken seems to be the answer.
Now a frantic Ramadan eve rush appears to be the norm if the sudden boom of hijabi’s (women who wear the headscarf) that were up the town are anything to go by. Not only did I have to make sure my meal plans were ready and food bought- which had to be gathered in four different locations across my town- but I also wanted to fully indulge in what I would be leaving.
Eating during the day was number one. I met up with a friend who I have regular “luncheons” with and fully enjoyed my bacon and sausage sandwich. Then it was off to have my last Wispa mcflurry, Mcdonalds would have moved on to the next limited edition by the time I can eat during the day again, and boy do I love Wispa. And then I took my son swimming. I felt no shame having my body revealed in a swimming costume in front of men, I wonder if I would have a different view on things once this month is up?
I know I shouldn’t be focusing on the things I am giving up, I also know that I need to remember not eating during the day isn’t the typical Islamic thing- it is Ramadan, I picked that month so I only have myself to blame, not the religion, I cannot use it against Islam.

I almost expect that I should wake up tomorrow and just *feel* different, that I shouldn’t be just sitting around, I should be doing “Muslim” stuff. Ha! Of course a Muslim has to get her children up, dressed and fed just like an atheist does. A Muslim has brush her teeth, get herself dressed, tidy up, just like an atheist. I’m not becoming a different species, so why do I feel like I’m holding my breath before something big happens?

So far I have had nothing but positive reactions (to my face). People are curious, they are asking questions and I am getting first hand experience of how naïve so many still are about Islam. Would I have been any different if I had never met my husband? No, I too would ask the same confused questions in their position. The first thing I get asked 9 times out of ten (amazingly it isn’t “WHY?!”) is: “So are you going to cover your face?”
I have only ever seen one person ever wear a niqab/burka in my town. I see half a dozen wearing hijab every time I go to the shopping centre, so why o why is it the “burka” that is seen to represent Islam here? A part of me is curious as to what it would be like wearing one, but then the thought of stripping myself from all outward identity makes me shudder. I have become friends with a couple of naqabis on the internet, where personality is known before clothes worn, I am making baby steps to becoming more open minded and tolerant to the garment.

This is more than just a fast- Islam has to be in my thoughts with all the actions that I do. I will have to ask myself “this the Islamic way?”. My studies have only just begun as tomorrow I open the Quran and read, and try to understand exactly what it is I am reading. I don’t have my personal Imam to go to, but I do have some Muslim friends who have earned my respect time and time again with their knowledge and perception. Hopefully they don’t mind me pestering them, and of course I will write down any questions I have here.

Will I miss pork? No.
Will I miss showing my hair? I doubt it.
Will I miss being able to do things on my own moral compass instead of one that I have been told I should have? Absolutely.
I guess that is the biggest problem. Muslims have the morality that the Quran gives them, it is a fit. I however feel as if I’m trying to fit a square into a circle. I can act like a Muslim, thinking like one however might just not come. What if I get nothing from this month? Will I just be an atheist in a colour coordinated head scarf?
I will dedicate all that I have control over to this, my biggest fear though isn’t that I find nothing, it’s if I really dislike what it is I do find. And what if my husband likes the “new”, albeit fake, me? What if we become closer than ever before, how will I then feel on the last day?
I promised I would not write a hypothesis as I didn’t want to steer this to a premeditated conclusion, instead however I am constantly thinking of all the different scenarios- the good, the bad, the boring.
I guess there is only one way to find out, and what will be, will be. “It is in God’s hand”, as my husband says, “Who knows” as I say.

Good bye Atheism- forgive me Dawkins!
Ma’a salama

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.

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