Musings from the Manse

 

Rev Helen Higgin-Botham

Dear Friends,

August is usually a quiet month – not many meetings – schools out for the summer, folks away on holiday. So when I received an email from Mohammed Ali Amla, asking me to circulate an upcoming event called ‘Experiencing Ramadan’, I was both intrigued and inspired.

Ali had recently organised a series of workshops entitled, ‘Unveiling Islam’, which were very well received. Sadly I’d been unable to attend any of these – but realised this was perhaps something I could participate in.

 

Here is how Ali put it….

“This will be an opportunity to join 1.6bn Muslims in fasting for the day, with the opportunity to visit the Madani Institute to learn more about Ramadan, observe prayer and experience opening the fast with Muslims. A meal will be served after the fast opens.

Ramadan is a month of charity and those wanting to fast will be asked to help raise money for the LEP lifesaver appeal. The LEP Lifesaver Appeal aims to raise £500,000 for a CT scanner for the Royal Preston Hospital’s A&E department, which is now the Major Trauma Centre for Lancashire and Cumbria, and the scanner will ensure people with multiple and life-threatening injuries get urgent medical help even faster.”

 

After reading this, I contacted Ali and registered myself and Colin to take part. Did Colin have a say in this? – not really – I persuaded him that it would be in his best interests for us to support each other during the fast!

Once we’d registered, I received more information and advice for fasting – again, here is what Ali had to say….

 

Ramadan is the 9th lunar Islamic month, the sighting of the new crescent moon marks its beginning and Muslims will fast from early dawn to sunset for 29 or 30 days.  Between early dawn and sunset Muslims will refrain from food, drink (including water and much needed coffee), smoking and marital relations. The next crescent moon will mark the end of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid ul Fitr, a day of celebration on which Muslims are prohibited to fast. 

Suhoor – It is a Prophetic tradition to wake up before early dawn to have a meal; this will be around 2.30am and consist of organic bread, hummus and olives with a couple of pints of water as well as a few dates.

Iftari – this is your opportunity to begin eating and drinking again, it is a prophetic tradition to open the fast with dates and water. On the 20th August iftar will be at 8.33pm. The time prior to the iftar is normally spent in reflection, prayer, meditation, supplication (dua – speaking to God directly in English or Arabic), reciting the Quran, Dhikar (remembrance of God, through liturgical chanting which can be silent or loud) or sending Salawat (blessings) upon the Prophet Muhammad.”

 

Fasting is obviously not something everyone can do – there are those who are exempt, including, those with a medical condition, children, the elderly, and pregnant/ nursing mothers, – but both Colin and I, being fit and healthy, were ok. Still, it was with some trepidation that we approached Friday evening (19th August).

 

We’d decided that the best plan would be to stay up after a very late meal, then have our last food and water around 2.30-3.00 am, before going to bed and hopefully sleeping for most of Saturday morning. This worked for me, but sadly Colin’s body clock still gets him up early! As I’d already prepared my worship for Sunday I had only one or two bits and pieces to take care of through Saturday – which is as well, because I found myself becoming increasingly tired and my concentration was none existent!

 

As the hours crept by, I reflected on the whole process and reasoning behind this discipline in the Muslim faith. I asked myself why I had decided to fast, and came to the conclusion that, as this was something I’d never done it before, I was intrigued to see if I could cope and challenged to complete it without cheating! In the spirit of Ramadan the chance to raise money for a very worthwhile cause seemed to take the emphasis away from ‘me’, to what I could do for someone else.

 

Finally it was time to head off to the Madani Institute, and when we arrived we were greeted which a wonderful welcome. It was good meet up with others who had come taken part and to hear how they had faired during the fast.

We had two presentations on ‘What it means to be a Muslim’ and ‘The Quran’ which were informative and very interesting, and though Christian and Muslim beliefs do differ, we had an opportunity to see just how much we had in common. I felt that there was a lot to learn from the Muslim faith, not least the Islamic discipline of prayer and of fasting.

 

The enticing smell of the food, which we would enjoy after breaking the fast, was almost too much to bear as we sat and listened, but through observing their prayers and practices (the men downstairs, and the women and children upstairs), our interest was kept focussed solely on our relationship with God and our reason for sharing together.

 

When Iftar came, I was handed a cup of water and a date – I normally dislike dates, but this was the best I’ve ever tasted! – and the water had never felt so good to drink. There was more sliced up fruit handed around before the final call came to gather around the tables where a wonderful assortment of food awaited us.

As we shared with the community I was all too aware that for them, Ramadan continues – but there was a lot of excited chatter about the forthcoming celebration of Eid – something else which I know very little about!

I can’t say that I wasn’t pleased when Sunday brought a return to ‘normal life’ and I could enjoy  a large mug of tea when I awoke – but I have to say that I’ve now become more aware of how fortunate I am to be able to eat whatever and whenever I choose. Fasting does help to focus that mind on the things that are important in life, though I’m not sure if it becomes any easier. I found that I did spend time in just thanking God for the abundance in my life – and for the wonderful hospitality of the community at the Madani Institute.

 

Ali plans to send out the invitation to once again join him in experiencing Ramadan next year. Even if you can’t take part in the fast, perhaps you will be inspired to take part in whatever capacity you can?

For now, Colin and I will be concentrating on the other reason for doing this – the ‘Lifesaver Appeal’ – maybe I can update you on just how much money we raised in my next letter!

 

Yours in Christ,

Helen

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