Cowboy On The Hijri Trail.
To each his sufferings: all are men,
Condemned alike to groan ;
The tender for another’s pain,
The unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah ! why should they know their fate ?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more ; where ignorance is bliss,
’Tis folly to be wise.
~ Thomas Gray
“Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” 1742
10 July 1434
On Gregorian time we should be discussing the Órbigo Bridge in Castile. Here, the legendary Spanish Knight Suero de Quiñones set up camp with 10 companions to stage a pas d’armes and challenge every knight who wished to cross the bridge to a joist. The epic Passo Honroso continued for over a month and (weary after 166 battles) Suero declared it a success, chronicled it in Libro del Passo honroso and so the event became part of Spanish legend. But it’s not 1434AD but 1434 AH and the first day of the ninth month in the Islamic Calendar. Ramadan (scorched) is the most significant month to Muslims, comes after Sha’ban (scattered) and precedes Shawwal (raised). I am sat at the dining table at the house of my dear friends Khalid and Nusrat. They follow Islam and I am an atheist and yet I can think of no more comfortable place to be. In spite of the differences of culture and belief they are as family to me. There is mutual respect, friendship and trust which is gratifying when so frequently such friendship would be hi-jacked through ignorance. The British weather has yielded and pays due respect to Islam; in Yorkshire parlance it is “cracking the flags” – scorching for Ramadan.
As usual I have vitals set before me and am invited to I eat. They will share my company but not the food or drink. There is no embarrassment about this and the conversation flows, as always, freely and naturally. We talk about what Ramadan means to them; its traditions and customs.
Ramadan is held sacred as the month when the Quran was first revealed; Laylat al-Qadr is believed to have occurred on an odd-numbered night during the last 10 days of Ramadan. It starts at the first sighting of a crescent following the new moon and will last 30 days or until the crescent of the following new moon is sighted. All healthy adults are obliged to observe the fast between sunrise and sunset. Fasting begins before dawn with a meal called Suhoor or Sehri and continues throughout daylight, finishing with the evening meal, Iftar. The act of fasting is very important to Muslims as an act of obedience to God showing their dedication to cleanse their souls by self-control, humility, patience and charitable giving. It is regarded as a way of appreciating those who have less. As one of the Five Pillars of Islam fasting and Ramadan is intrinsic to the Muslim faith.
The Five Pillars of Islam.
Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith
Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day
Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy
Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan
Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca
During the 29/30 days of Ramadan fasting includes giving up the following things during the hours of daylight:
Food or drink of any sort
Smoking, including passive smoking
I asked what my friends gained from observing Ramadan:
Becoming spiritually stronger
Appreciating Allah ‘s gifts to us
Sharing the sufferings of the poor and developing sympathy for them
Realising the value of charity and generosity
Prayer time and giving thanks for the Holy Quran.
Sharing fellowship with other Muslims and family.
Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid (or Eid ul-Fitr). A family time of celebration and giving gifts. Traditionally a time for forgiveness and making amends. There is a banquet meal; the first daytime meal Muslims will have had in a month.
Reflecting on my conversation at Khalid and Nusrat’s table, I produced a picture of my impression of the meaning of Ramadan. I see a lot in common with the spirit of Christmas. They are good friends and good people. They treat me as a brother and their children call me Uncle Cowboy which I count as great honor indeed. I see nothing to fear or mistrust from Islam. The spirit of Ramadan and friendship is bliss ~ ignorance is dangerous.
About a quarter of the world’s population is Muslim. Britain is proud of its multicultural diversity. Many cities are decorated will lights and recognize the Eid celebrations. As we travel, emigrate and broaden our horizons in this age of the internet; the world gets smaller and our understanding of other creeds and cultures greater.
HAPPY RAMADAN TO ALL!