Ramadan in Ireland 2013

It’s the nicest, bluest skied, cloudlessiest, sunniest Ireland in 40,000 years and the sun is set to shine all week. Heatwave haven and crash-bang landing into the heart of this anomalous Irish summer lands Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. This year I’m thinking of taking part in the fast. One more day before blast-off.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and during the month Muslims are expected to abstain from food, drink (not the Irish version – this version includes abstaining from even water) and sex during daylight hours.

Daylight hours in July in Ireland this year last from 3 in the morning until 10 the following night – nineteen hours fasting every day for thirty days. Slightly more challenging than the Irish Catholic fasting that I grew up with of no meat on Fridays, giving up chocolate for Lent or even the 24 hour Concern fast when even hot soups are snuck in to the equation. Lough Derg penitentiary is probably the toughest version of fasting on Ireland and as far as I remember water was allowed and it lasted maybe 24 or 48 hours. I was on Lough Derg with my best friend who celebrated her 16th birthday walking barefooted around the rocks eating dried toast and black tea.

The length of the daily fast of Ramadan isn’t usually so long but, because the Islamic calendar is lunar, Ramadan slips backwards through the seasons by about eleven days a year. Next year it will begin at the end of June. In countries closer to the equator the daylight hours don’t vary so much through the seasons but in Ireland the difference is dramatic.

The start date of the month of Ramadan is decided by the sight of the new moon. I had read earlier this week that it would begin in Ireland on the 9th but was told by the Imam in Waterford today that it wouldn’t be decided until night had fallen as it was only then that the moon’s newness could be identified. The decision on the start date was to be made by the European Council for Fatwa and Research.

It was decided in the last few hours that it would begin on Wednesday the 10th and not tomorrow as I’d earlier expected – notices have been posted on the websites of the Islamic Foundation of Ireland and the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland in Clonskeagh. I don’t know how universal or national the agreement of the start-date is – last year I visited a mosque in Blanchardstown on the first day of Ramadan and discovered that different mosques in Ireland had chosen different start dates so it can be a contentious matter.

So based on the IFI and ICCI dates I’ve one more full day of eating normally – whenever and whatever I want – if I am to take part in the fast. My biggest concern is that I would be going it alone – most Muslims meet in groups or as a family for a nightly feast when the sun sets. I’m not much of a cook myself so I’ll likely make do with a few fried pre-cooked spuds with onions and cheese.

Women who have their period are exempt from the fast. And there are lots of other exemptions too – the sick, pregnant women, young children. I might have to exempt myself for special occasions or other religious gatherings but in the meantime, if I manage even one day, I’d be delighted. The Imam also told me that it gets easier after the first three days. We will see.

The attraction of the fast?

Muslims in Ireland number around 50,000 and, with increasing incidents of Islamophobia fuelled by the dominant meta-narrative of Islam as enemy, they are often misunderstood by the Irish majority. What do we understand of Islamic fasting in Ireland? Or of Islam? Or of Muslims? Mostly close to zero.

Muslim colleagues work their way through the long hot days of a July real-Irish-summer of Ramadan whilst their non-Muslim colleagues munch and lick their way through snacks of cool drinks and ice-creams or salad sandwiches and tea or lattes or cappucinos. It might be nice to understand a smidgin of what it’s like.

Ramadan is said to teach the part-taker about self-restraint and equality. It gives the wealthy, instant-gratification-lives of western consumers an inkling of going without and of what it feels like to go hungry. Optionally. Optional hunger. A luxury of learning.

And so, one full more day and counting. I’ll probably change my mind but just for a day, just for one day, it might be nice (or at the least interesting) to try.

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