Thousands of Muslims across Sheffield begin fasting today – giving up food and drink during daylight hours for 30 consecutive days as the holy month of Ramadan begins.
An estimated eight per cent of the city’s population is Muslim, and many of those will observe the fast, considered to be one of the Islamic faith’s most important disciplines.
During the month of Ramadan, which began at sunrise today and continues until sunset on August 7, Muslims cannot eat, drink, smoke or have sexual intercourse in daylight hours.
The fast – a pillar of the Islamic faith – is mandatory for all adults of the faith who are not ill or pregnant.
Lying, cheating, swearing, stealing and backbiting must all also be abstained from, with regular prayers and readings of the Koran taking place daily in mosques across the city.
Sheffield’s Lib Dem councillor Shaffaq Mohammed has fasted at Ramadan since he was 12 years old. This year his son Adil, also 12, will be fasting for the first time – an important rite of passage in a young Muslim’s life.
“It was Adil’s decision that he wanted to take part this year,” said Coun Mohammed. “My wife and I, along with our 18-year-old son, will be fasting, so we agreed he can try, though we’re going to keep a close eye on him. Many of the children in his class are taking part this year for the first time so he’s keen to try it, but we’ve already said that, if he starts flagging, we may recommend he have a week off and then come back to it.”
During Ramadan, Coun Mohammed and his family visit their local mosque in Broomhill at midnight every night for evening prayers.
They eat their final meal of the day – breakfast – at around 3am, then grab a few hours’ sleep before heading to work as normal. During Ramadan, my workload stays the same, though I might switch the odd 8am meeting to 10am if possible,” he said.
“The only time fasting gets difficult is in the winter when we have late council meetings after dark, and all I can think about is getting home to eat something!”
Diva Allott, a former Christian, converted to Islam when she was 17. Now aged 19 she lives in Sheffield with her Muslim husband and works for Sheffield New Muslim Project, helping to ease the conversion for other new converts to the faith.
This will be Diva’s third Ramadan and she admits she found certain demands – such as waking early and foregoing water – difficult at first.
She said: “It’s a peaceful time, a time to feel grateful for what we have, when there are so many people elsewhere worse off than us.
“We may be fasting through the day but at least, at night, when we come to eat there is food on our table and that’s what we’re grateful for.”
Diva and her husband begin eating about 10pm during Ramadan and graze through the night, in between prayers, until around 2.30am – meaning there is little time left to sleep.
“We grab sleep when we can, but we do get tired,” she said. “It’s all part of the process though and as the month goes on you get used to it.”
Diva said, for the most part, Ramadan doesn’t impact her day-to-day activities.
“The only thing that’s a bit limiting is I can’t eat dinner with my family when I visit them,” she said.
“They’re Christian, so eat much earlier than my husband and I, but they’re understanding.”
Sheffield also has a dedicated radio station, Radio Ramadan, that runs in the city during the holy month. It is manned by a team of more than 100 local volunteers, headed by Mohammed Shabbir.
The 24-hour station launched in Attercliffe in 2000 and broadcasts for just one month every year, playing Islamic songs and themed discussion shows.
“The station is manned by presenters – all volunteers – between 8am and 4am,” explained Mr Shabbir. “Ramadan is such a special month – it is about willpower and our beliefs give us strength.”
In addition to keeping the station manned and running, Mr Shabbir dedicates himself to a programme of fasting and praying, which allows him just four hours’ sleep a night.
“The food we eat during Ramadan is enough for a person to live on,” said Mr Shabbir, who has been fasting at Ramadan for the last 50 years, since he was six. “The lessons of patience we learn through fasting lead us for the rest of our lives.”
Coun Mohammed also explained Ramadan is a social time in Sheffield, with many members of the city’s Muslim community choosing to come together to break their fast.
“When the sun goes down, we break our fast – meaning it is our time to eat,” he said.
“A couple of years ago many of us came together in the Peace Gardens one night during Ramadan, bringing everything from home-cooked food to takeaway pizza with us, and as the sun set we gave thanks and ate together. We invited the homeless people of Sheffield, from places such as The Archer project, to come and eat with us.
“It is quite common now for families and neighbours to eat together and share food during Ramadan – and we don’t believe this must be limited to Muslims.”
A number of events will be held in Sheffield throughout Ramadan.
Muslim Welfare House of Sheffield will host talks on July 23, on the common failures and mispractices of Ramadan, a healthy Ramadan diet and why Muslims should break their fast by eating dates. There is also the ‘holy night’ celebrations – held on the 27th night of the fast.
Coun Mohammed explained: “In addition to fasting, it is common at Ramadan for Muslims to read the entire Koran.
“A section is recited every night of the month and culuminates with the final reading on the ‘holy night’ – when mosques throughout Sheffield will fill with people finishing their recitations.”
After 30 days of fasting Muslims celebrate Eid, the traditional festival that marks the end of Ramadan, when Muslims gather with family and friends to eat and give thanks and exchange presents with loved ones.
Diva explained: “I feel cleansed and fresh by Eid, it’s wonderful.”
Mr Shabbir added: “Every Muslim feels good at Eid, our journey during Ramadan brings us inner peace and tranquility and, at Eid, we celebrate this and give thanks.”