For many people in this country, the fast of Ramadan probably holds both mystery and fascination.
The month of abstinence, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, is quite foreign to the majority of us in western society, despite the arrival in Britain of many thousands of followers of the Muslim faith.
Since my own lack of knowledge of this practice was also rather limited, I took it upon myself a year or two ago to ask questions of an Arab visitor to the UK, here to study the English language.
I was keen to know why my friend adhered to the fasting tradition. Was it because of his parents and ancestors?
“No,” he informed me. “I do it to show my love for and loyalty to God. he Qu’ran, our Holy Book, commands it, and I believe it makes God happy.”
How does it work out for him and his sister, sharing a flat in Eastbourne, very different surroundings from their family home?
“Here it is easier in the winter. We fast from daybreak to dusk, which is two hours less than in my country. We also pray five times a day, facing towards the Ka’ba in Mecca: at dawn, early, mid- and late afternoon, and in the evening. After dark, people go to the mosque, and share special food together.”
This young man obviously misses his own land, especially during this period, where the traditions of Islam, meaning ‘submission’, are so evident.
In addition to that, he told me that the shops are open from 7pm to 4am, which makes it possible to buy food and drink throughout the night.
Everyone is out and about, whereas a large part of the day-time is taken up with sleeping. People rarely rise before noon, but as soon as they do, they return to the ritual of prayer.
I also wanted to know what he felt was the personal benefit of following this centuries-old observance.
“It gives me opportunity to think more about our religion and to get away from the worries of everyday living.
“We can also demonstrate and develop our powers of self-control, and because we are not taking food, consider the less fortunate in the world.”
No doubt there was to be feasting and rejoicing when Ramadan concluded at the end of November that year.
One cannot but admire the steadfastness and devotion of my contact to Allah, his God.
Another perspective on fasting next week.