Jun. 11th, 2017

Iftar

Jun. 11th, 2017 12:40 am
hollymath: (Default)
It's Ramadan, when Muslims fast between dawn and sunset. The meal they have after sunset is called Iftar. Hundreds of people go to my local mosque (about a minute's walk away) every evening to share the meal, and this time the mosque invited the non-Muslim community to join them for Iftar. I went along with a couple of my WI chums.

This is part of Taste Ramadan, which had ten mosques across Manchester having an open Iftar this evening. Apparently at least this mosque had done this last year, and found it really successful. Tonight there were ten, and next year they're hoping to spread it out across the whole North West.

I'd never been to such a thing, knew embarrassingly little about Ramadan (I've read a book about Islam, Reza Aslan's No Got But God, and really enjoyed it but that's pretty much it as far as my understanding goes), and the mosque had gotten good reviews from other WI members who'd been along to Visit My Mosque in February, so I was excited to go along and learn something.

And I definitely did. We had a speaker, who seemed quite scholarly/academic which might not be to everyone's taste but it was mine! he talked about the etymology of words like "Ramadan" and "Sawm" (fasting), and generally offered context which I really appreciated.

Muslims' knowledge of both other religions, especially Judaism and Christianity, more than one language and a generally wider view of the geography and history than I'm used to, always make me feel a little sheepish. It must be exhausting, I thought tonight, to have to explain yourself in the only terms white people understand sometimes: to say "fasting already existed before Muslims were told to do it" and I'm like oh, yeah, so it did... I remembered how much I resented giving up candy during Lent and wondered how I'd have coped with giving up everything.

I did think that it must be exhausting having to explain yourself to people like me, on our own terms. So basic. So spoon-feedy and hand-holdy. Everybody was lovely and gracious about it, as always has been my experience with Muslim colleagues and shopkeepers and whatnot, but that makes me feel even worse that white people are so amazed that they're not all terrorists and they do normal things like eat crisps.

He answered a few questions, one of which was about women and the other...actually I think they both were about women? One about their role in Ramadan and one about "the veil." I think he handled them very well, at first saying women's role is the same as men's in Ramadan, except they do most of the cooking and men just sit down to eat and complain about the food, and he'd rather have it the other way around. About niqab he said in so many words that what a woman chooses to wear is her own business, and told us that what is worn is mandated more by culture than religion.

Sadly he also had to make a point of condemning terrorist attacks like the recent one in Manchester, in a way that I will never be held responsible for all the shootings that white Americans do. But again he did it very skillfully, making the point that during Ramadan Muslims are meant to restrain themselves not just from eating and drinking (and sex), but also to try not to tell lies, get in arguments, etc. Much less blow up an arena.

One of the friends I was with had fasted today -- except for a cup of coffee she had to save her from a caffeine-withdrawal headache that she knew would have left her too ill to come along tonight otherwise -- and the other didn't. I didn't, but I also understood that this was in keeping with what Muslims are asked to do during Ramadan, because it would have affected my mental health so severely to not eat. But I didn't eat much (I did let myself drink as much water as I needed, because dehydration induces awful headaches and I've already had those nearly every day this week) so I was really excited for Iftar by the time it arrived.

The food was really nice, all made on site in the apparently vast kitchens, by volunteers. A few hundred people were there, and apparently feeding this many is an everyday occurrence during Ramadan. People kept coming around to see if anyone was running out of food (it never ran out, but it did need to get moved from place to place!) and to answer questions: we asked one when they started cooking these meals and he said around two o'clock in the afternoon. Imagine putting all that work into preparing the meal, having to smell the delicious curry and everything cooking, and not being able to eat it for hours!

This afternoon I was starting to marvel at how anybody managed not to eat until it was dark out (at the height of summer, anyway; I probably do this during winter without even noticing it tbh) and by half an hour before the time I was leaving for the mosque I was beginning to wonder how anybody stayed awake that long. My insomnia has been terrible this week; I hope I get more than four or five hours of sleep a night, soon. Better go try to do that then.

(Here's a picture that has me and my friends in it, though you can't really tell. This is only a fraction of the number of people there, but you get the idea.)

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