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Reasonable adjustments for Ramadan

by Sarvat Khan

26th October 2007

It's that time of year again. Arrogance is replaced by humbleness, taking with giving and "Who ate all the pies?" with "I've not had a single pie!"
Sarvat tucks into a tasty kebab
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, when Muslims worldwide perform fasting. This is hardcore total abstinence, not the 'give up your favourite thing for forty days' malarkey of Lent, for instance. (Hey, I was only jesting! I respect all religions.)

We believe this to be the most blessed of all months, as it's when the Qur'an (the Muslim holy book) was revealed. Refraining from food and drink is the easy part; the most difficult is the character building lessons that one must adhere to for a whole thirty days. Purity of thought and action is paramount. Charity and self-accountability are also stressed.
A typical 'fast-breaking' Ramadan meal of vegetable samosas and a kebab

Fasting

Fasting is only a requirement for healthy people, so I'm excused because I have multiple sclerosis. Needless to say, fellow Muslims gawp at me as I sit in the window of the local coffee shop, scoffing a doughnut. My friend, one of many Asians who visits this café, is incredulous. "You're just asking for trouble, eating that during Ramadan."

"Don't care," I respond. "God knows my reasons, and that's all I'm bothered about." Even if I weren't on medication - which exempts me from fasting - eating would still be justified as I need to keep my strength up.

Muslims observe the fast from sunrise to sunset. They rise before dawn, eat a meal known as Sehri, and then pray. This period of abstinence lasts until the sun goes down, when they mark the breaking of the fast with another well-deserved meal - Iftari.

All those preparing Iftari get on with the task in silence - well, they have gone hungry for fifteen hours - while I jabber away as per usual. But as soon as food is served to the fasting fraternity, the room is filled with laughter, conversation and activity.

Charity

It's not just about going without food and drink, though. There are other rules for Ramadan too. Gum chewing and any kind of tobacco use are forbidden, and it's prohibited to use toothpaste as it contains flavouring. Those who are less fortunate would not have such a pleasant taste in their mouths, and this holy month is all about experiencing the way in which the poor live.

If you take any medication, however, you are excused from fasting, as it would put your health at risk. Travellers are also exempt (you make up the fast at a later time), as are children, elderly people, and pregnant or menstruating women.

All those unable to fast, like myself, are required to feed a poor person for each missed fast. I contacted the local mosque and was told it would cost £2 a day (£60 for the whole month). This money is then sent to poor people both locally and internationally. In this way, the sentiments of sympathy and charity are shared across poor people, across all faiths.

Prayer



Muslims pray five times a day. During Ramadan, it's particularly crucial to be steadfast in this.

The washing ritual carried out before praying is known as Wuzu, and is quite specific in direction. Disabled or ill people are permitted to perform this on a chair and carry out the actions without water. My daughter calls it "pretend wuzu", which always makes me smile.

The act of praying involves standing upright on a prayer mat while reciting certain memorised verses. You then bend halfway and sit on the floor, continuing your recitation. Because my disability restricts me, I sit on a beanbag to pray; during relapses or periods of fatigue, when sitting up is a challenge, I say my prayers lying down.
Sarvat eats a samosa, during the fasting of Ramadan

Purity

Purity of both thought and action is paramount throughout Ramadan. The thirty days of fasting is intended to be an exacting act of deep personal worship where one strives to reach a raised level of closeness to god. Fasting cleanses the inner soul and frees it from harm. But as well as the fast, you have to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam.

You are required to refrain from lying, stealing, anger, envy, greed, lust, sarcastic retorts, backbiting and gossip. The idea is to live for a whole month as a model Muslim. Take a look at that list and you can see why not eating is the easy part!

From neighbours to shopkeepers alike, it's wonderful to experience the effort everyone makes during Ramadan, all of us straining to make a change and do that little extra that might otherwise have been overlooked. My neighbours are great at looking out for me all year round, but during Ramadan my doorbell rings a lot more. I may not get much of an afternoon kip, but it raises my spirit heaps.

They all know I can't fast, so they bring round plates of food or come in and give my legs a massage. In return I become my street's chief taste tester when meals are being prepared, as no one else can do it!

Eid: the end of Ramadan

Before you can say "I could really do with a kebab", the thirty days of fasting are over. Ramadan concludes with a celebration known as Eid - or to give it its full title, Eid ul-Fitr, which means 'the festival of breaking the fast'.

While the men go to the mosque for Eid Namaz (prayer), the morning has an eerie silence about it. But it's just the calm before the carousing.

Eid is a carnival-like celebration. As music and football horns blare out, everyone is in party mood having justifiably earned this day. The ladies provide an explosion of colour as a backdrop, while the men hire the most impressive cars they can get their mitts on. From Ferraris to Bentleys, Range Rovers to Lamborghinis, you would be excused for thinking you'd taken a wrong turn and ended up on Rodeo Drive.

This year, I am seriously considering competing with them on my mobility scooter - tinsel and fairy lights in tow. Don't you just love being different!

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