Observing Ramadan in Cumbria

Hi! I’m Zainab, a Muslim woman originally from South Africa. I married a Cumbrian man and have been living in South Lakes for twelve years. I love living here, have made the most amazing friendships and am so grateful for all the opportunities that living here has given me. However as a Brown woman I have also been subjected to racism and as a Muslim I have also experienced Islamophobia here too. As Ramadan approaches I thought I would clear up some confusions and answer a few questions that many people who are curious or unfamiliar with Ramadan have about Ramadan and the concept of fasting.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the month the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (PBUH)

We use this month to help us try and break any habits that we may have formed over the year that are potentially harmful to our body or mind. Some of us use it as an excuse to detox and eat healthy (usually a big fail!) and most of all, become closer to your creator.

Fasting is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, along with Charity, Faith, Prayer and performing Hajj.  Ramadan for many of us is a time of reflection. We use this month to really strip down and focus on what is important like family and also to appreciate what we have in our lives. When you have spent an entire day feeling immense hunger, which a lot of people are forced to do daily due to their circumstances and are able to eat something at the end of the day, you really are grateful for that plate of food in front of you. This is another reason for fasting, it encourages you to be charitable and hopefully continue to be.

Many people are often confused about when Ramadan actually is. Islam follows a Lunar Calendar. There are 12 months in an Islamic year as in the Gregorian calendar, however the Islamic calendar only has 354/355 days. As the months are tied to the phases of the moon, a new month only begins when a new moon is visible by the naked eye. An Islamic year consistently falls about 11 days short of a Western calendar, hence Ramadan and the rest of the Islamic months are constantly changing.  Here in the UK Ramadan falls in the spring which makes for a very long fasting day. This year, in Cumbria we will start our day at around 3.50 am which is called suhoor and break our fast at around 20.12pm called iftar and this will get earlier for suhoor and later for iftar as the month progresses more into the summer.

Times for sunrise and sunset vary

What does Fasting mean?

Fasting is very simple, do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. This is different all over the world as the times for sunrise and sunset vary. To be honest, it is different even in the UK as the times vary here as well. Up North, we could end up breaking our fast a good few minutes later than someone living in London!

Yes, fasting means no eating or drinking, NOT EVEN WATER. This is one thing a lot of people will always ask.  When you have observed Ramadan all your life, this is very normal and somehow your body becomes accustomed to this. The abstinence does kick in very automatically, this does not mean, in any way that it is easy. We are only human and feeling hunger and thirst when not eating for long periods of time is VERY NORMAL but it reminds us of those who aren’t able to eat at the end of the day and to be grateful and share what we have.

How else is Ramadan observed?

There are over a billion Muslims in the world, and we all have very different ways of observing Ramadan, the traditions, food, the way we pray etc., although the fundamentals of fasting are the same.  This is my interpretation of fasting as a South African Muslim

Growing up in South Africa, Ramadan was a very special time, you could feel the change in the air, there was a buzz of excitement, a feeling of community. One of my fondest memories was waiting outside with the neighbors to listen out for the Azaan (call of prayer) which would signal it was time to break your fast. We would shout with excitement and rush into the house to sit at the table with the family and enjoy lovely food which we helped my mum prepare.

After a whole month of fasting, we have a huge celebration called Eid ul Fitr. Very similar to the Christmas celebration. Eid is about getting together with your family, wearing your best clothes, enjoying delicious food and having an all round celebration.

What about Ramadan in Cumbria?

Ramadan is a feeling of community, BUT I must admit, it has changed a lot for me, now that I live in Cumbria. In 2001 there were approximately 747 Muslim people that were registered as living in Cumbria, that I am sure will be different after this year’s census, however I can imagine it might only be slightly different. Cumbria is a beautiful county, so picturesque and idyllic but predominantly white. I am in no means saying that negatively, it is a majority race group here, but Cumbria is undoubtedly not as welcoming as we may think it is. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love living here, but we definitely have a massive issue with people wanting to, or being able to settle here from different race groups. This is changing, I am a prime example of this, but it certainly has not been easy to move up here.  I would describe myself as a liberal Muslim woman. Some people might have an issue with that description, that is on them, but as liberal as I am, Cumbria can be a lonely place when there are not a lot of people that have the same culture, religion and upbringing as you.

Ramadan here is lonely, there is no atmosphere, our closest place of worship is probably Lancaster (there may be one closer but I don’t know about it!) so getting halal meat used to be very difficult. Thanks to the internet and access to a few more shops, for me it has gotten easier.  Restaurants do not cater for Muslims (why would they, as they may think there is no demand for this) but I can tell you and them…there is! As more Black and Brown people are getting involved in the outdoors and are enjoying hiking, walking, swimming and everything that comes with the outdoor beauty of Cumbria, the need is definitely there and will grow whether through an increased settled population or through visitors.

Working with Anti Racist Cumbria is a huge step for me, and by being part of it I hope to encourage the change and mindsets towards Black and Brown people and help people better understand my faith too. I for one, after 12 years of living here, consider myself a local though not everyone else does.  I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. Never is a million years would I have thought, the little girl from the Southern Hemisphere, from a small village in Kwa Zulu Natal would end up living in another small village in the most northern part of England!! Maybe one of the reasons I am here is to show people that us Brown girls can set up shop anywhere and make it home, but also help in that educational journey many Cumbrians are finding themselves on especially now.  I sincerely hope we can make Cumbria this amazing place, the anti-racist county it deserves to be.

Sunrise over Derwent