And so it began. Someone saw the crescent moon on the rise, and sundown on 17 June marked the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
For the last 2 and a half years I’ve been working with a group of Muslim entrepreneurs. They’re pretty cool guys, about my age (well maybe a few years younger), with kids and homes and mortgages. Last August we launched our business, Alchemiya, to the world. Alchemiya is a video-on-demand service that presents the world’s best films and documentaries about Islam and Muslim life. We’ve got award winning films, independent documentaries and a couple of exclusive Alchemiya productions.
I’m not Muslim. I’m not religious. I have my own, personal spirituality, but I don’t believe in God in the monotheistic concept of an all-powerful deity to whom we must bow down and worship. But my colleagues do, and I respect them for that.
There is tremendous misconception in the world about Muslim people, and about Islam, their faith. I was aware of the month of Ramadan but didn’t really understand the full depth of what it means to Muslim people. Two years ago, when Alchemiya was just starting out, we met on and off during Ramadan. Last year during Ramadan, we worked quite closely together as we were nearing the launch of the business, and I could see how difficult it was for them. Especially on the really hot days. Nothing crosses their lips – no food, no drink, no water, nothing – from before the Fajr (morning) prayer before sunrise until sunset. Nothing. This year, the period of fasting will be around 19 hours a day in the UK.
I will be experiencing Ramadan very closely with my colleagues, and in fact, I’m fasting with them. I won’t be regulated by the strict timetable of prayers, but I will abstain from any food or drink from breakfast when I rise (usually around 5.00 am) until the evening meal with my family, so about 14 hours each day. We are now on the 6th day and it’s going well. I’ve lost a pound already. Each morning I have my usual breakfast and also drink an extra glass of water to ensure I stay hydrated. So far, one glass is enough to sustain me until the evening, although the weather hasn’t been that hot yet.
This weekend just gone, I was telling my mum (who’s 86) about this, and she told me something about my dad, who died 3 years ago – before I got involved with Alchemiya. My dad had spent his life at sea, as a captain, then as a pilot, and finally as a ship broker. As someone who worked on ships with crew members from around the world, my dad got to know about all kinds of people. One year, he was chatting with some friends who were officers on board one of the cruise ships that did the run up the West Coast of North America, and they were telling him that it was coming towards the end of Ramadan and they wanted to have something special for their Muslim crew to celebrate Eid. My dad had another friend who was a sheep farmer, and he told the officers on the cruise ship that he could probably arrange to have some live rams delivered to the ship. The Muslim crew aboard this particular ship were thrilled by this news. Word spread to other cruise ships, and for a period of almost 20 years, my dad and his sheep farmer friend would deliver live rams to the cruise ships that were in port just before Eid. I never knew that. It’s kind of a cool connection.
Over the month of Ramadan I will be posting my observations. They won’t be every day, but I’m going to watch my colleagues carefully, with a view to gaining a deeper understanding of what Ramadan means to them. I hope you find it interesting.