Weds 11th August 2010
Today is the first day of Ramazan (or Ramadan) for Muslims everywhere. As in all over the world. So worldwide, today, millions of people have been fasting. Not just resisting your staple three meals a day, mind you, but resisting anything at all passing the lips during sunlit hours. Regardless of temperature, lifestyle, planned (or unplanned) activities, Muslims, if they’re worth their salt, should not be eating, drinking, kissing, sipping or swallowing.
My husband is Muslim. The very fact that I am not Muslim would lead you to assume that he is, most definitely, a Muslim of the very modern variety. He has his God and cherishes the relationship they have but he does not push it on anyone else. He also enjoys the occasional beer, smokes like a trooper, has no prayer mat or any idea which way faces Mecca at any given time. And yes, he is devoid of any suspect backpacks or lethal chemical weapons. He is a Muslim in a very subtle, innocent and generally not-bothering-anyone-else type way.
But this year, for the first time in our four year relationship, he is taking part in Ramazan. He’s done it plenty of times before. Despite his ultra modernity, he is actually from South Eastern Turkey, a part of the world clinging proudly to its religious and cultural roots. His Mum and Dad have recently been on the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage, he has approximately fifty seven nieces and nephews with a variety of Koran-inspired names, and every single member of his family undoubtedly knows which way faces Mecca because they bow down to it four times a day every day. I know because I have seen it. I have been in a room with his family so many times now that it feels like the most normal thing in the world when, mid-conversation, the majority of the women get up, flip out a random mat and start muttering sacred words. I mean, nobody bats an eyelid. The kids keep zipping about even though Mum’s doing her thing and then when it’s all over the conversation carries on right where it left off. At least that’s what I assume. I can’t understand a word.
Anyway, all that seems like a distant dream now because Mustafa (that’s his name – could it be any more Muslim?) and I haven’t seen his family in about a year and a half. We had been living in Turkey and had our beautiful baby boy there (his name’s Baran, meaning ‘Rain’ so appropriately devoid of religious connotations), but moved to the UK when the fear of God ran through us that the National Service might split us up. Mustafa has, funnily enough, never yet seen the merit in being part of a highly dangerous operation such as the Turkish armed forces but we always knew it would catch up with him. But what the heck, we went ahead and fell in love, got married, built a love nest and had a bambino anyway, gleefully hoping the laws on National Service might change. You know, just for us. Alas, for some reason this did not occur and we found ourselves in the middle of a highly complicated, highly expensive and highly intrusive visa application process. Oh joy.
Well it wasn’t all bad because the visa application was, thank the Lord (or Allah, if you prefer), successful. And, just because we never do anything the easy way, we decided to move not to the North East of England where I am originally from and have a multitude of wonderful friends and family, but to the Highlands of Scotland. How do you shock a Muslim? Stick him on a snowy Scottish beach in the middle of the worst winter the UK has seen in thirty years. Gets them every time.
Yes the winter was dreadful. Yes Mustafa learned new English swear words very quickly. Yes we have struggled financially, emotionally and physically to adapt to this remote and downright cold environment. But we are together. And that is what we wanted, after all. Our little boy – who is growing up at an astonishing rate – has his mummy and daddy right where he wants them. In the palm of his hand.
So that’s it in a nutshell. Holiday romance, love, marriage, love nest, baby, meeting the in-laws, army panic, visa panic, winter from Hell, homelessness, financial mess, finally pulling it all together and now, Ramazan.
I think it was a good few months ago that Mustafa and I were chatting late one night about philosophy (our vice, I’m afraid. We do tend to go a bit hippy shit sometimes). He was telling me about Ramazan and all of the reasons why Muslims fast at this time and how he hoped to complete the full thirty one days this year. What with the wine (ironic, eh?), the chat and the general bloody loveliness of the man, I somehow uttered the words, “do you want me to do it with you this year?”. A pulse of terror blipped through my body before he dipped his head, looked up at me tenderly and said, “That would be good.”
All terror melted away when he said that because I could see by the look on his face and by the way his body had practically melted with relief, that I had offered to do something incredibly special for him. In that moment I knew he would never have actually asked me to do it. He wanted me to want it. And right then I did. I really did. Because I wanted him to know that although I would probably never join him in his religion, I did respect his beliefs and wanted to show honest support and interest in what made him tick.
Since then, needless to say, I’ve had a few doubts. Can I really go without food and drink from sunrise to sunset every day for a month? There are a few ways I could get out of it. You cannot or should not participate in fasting if you are a.) pregnant (no chance, his late-night work shifts mean I have hardly seen Mustafa over the past two weeks to exchange a glance never mind anything else), b.) ill (does eczema count?), c.) a child (erm, haven’t been asked for ID in a shop since I was, well, seventeen) d.) on your period. Yes! Success! I am on my period! Thank you Mother Nature for arranging my monthly agony and irrational emotions slap bang at the start of Ramazan. Who says you’re not a girl’s best friend?
But, as luck would have it, Mother Nature is not that clever because it doesn’t stop me from participating at all. Mustafa explained that once the painters have gone, (my phrase, not his) I am allowed to have a thorough scrub in the shower and start the very next day. Yey. Can you feel the joy in the air?
So although this is the first day of Ramazan, and although I have not actually done anything out of the ordinary yet, I have started keeping a record. Not sure why. I just thought, rather like any first-time experience, it might be nice to look back on. You know, look back on the hunger pains, the dry mouth, the dizzy spells and the black-outs. Something to show the grandchildren.
I guess it started last night. Mustafa and I shared a meal that I had spent three hours cooking. After he got home from work at midnight we sat round the table and savoured the aromatic taste of aubergines cooked with tomatoes, garlic and cinnamon. He, I assume because I haven’t actually seen him yet today, has spent the day fasting. I, on the other hand, have savoured the aromatic tastes of fruit toast, egg sarnie, salt and vinegar crisps, Quorn nuggets, salad and ice cream. Again, thank you Mother Nature.
Maybe tomorrow, or maybe the next day will be my time. Whatever happens I promise you this. I will record it. I will write it, weep it, laugh it, or maybe even eat it if it gets that bad. All I can say is, watch this space.