NOREEN MANSHA, an Irish Muslim, explains why she’s looking forward to Ramadan
Ramadan is less than a week away. How are you preparing for it?
During Ramadan, Muslims don’t eat, drink or – if you’re a smoker – inhale anything during daylight hours for 30 days. So I suppose, I might prepare by skipping the odd meal. Personally, I also stop snacking during the day as Ramadan approaches to just mentally prepare.
Will the fact that Ramadan falls during summer this year make it any more difficult?
Absolutely. In Ireland, we will be fasting about 15 hours a day. I don’t think they fast nearly as long in Saudi Arabia. But you’re doing it voluntarily. You’re doing it because you want to do it. And to be honest, after about two days, it really isn’t that difficult.
I’m conscious that this may sound like an incredibly stupid question. . . You’re grand, fire away! . . .
But how are you supposed to know when the sun rises and sets exactly?
Basically, every country has an Islamic centre. They devise a timetable every year. It goes out by email and usually goes viral in about 10 seconds. The first fast might break at 9.30pm, the second at 9.28pm and so on.
Your first meal of the day is at about 3am. What do you eat?
Believe it or not, we have a full-on dinner. If you’re Pakistani, that means naan bread, rice, curry, a lot of fried foods. In Ballyhaunis, we would invite our neighbours and our cousins over. Every night is a feast. Every night is like Christmas dinner. People get washed, they have dinner, they go to the mosque for prayers and then go back to bed for a few hours. After that, we’d just spend the day as normal.
What about lunchtime? Do you sit watching your non-Muslim friends eat, or do you go for a walk outside?
Well I’m an accountant, so I don’t always get a lunch break anyway. But I’ve done both. Personally, I have no difficulty watching other people eat when I’m fasting. In fact, I’ve even gone to restaurants with my friends after work and ordered dinner as they were finishing their desert. I don’t put my life on hold just because it’s Ramadan.
Of the five pillars of Islam, four are observed in public. Ramadan is observed in private. Are you ever tempted to cheat?
No. I’m not the strictest Muslim in the world. I don’t pray five times a day. I’ve never been to Mecca. While I do give money to charity regularly, I usually donate to local [ie non-Muslim] causes. But I do believe in one God. That is the fundamental teaching of Islam. I don’t have to fast if I don’t want to. I do it because I want to do it. And if I choose to do it, then I choose to do it wholeheartedly.
The nocturnal aspect to Ramadan sounds like a lot of fun. Are there any positives to be taken from the fasting part?
I like it because it does teach me discipline. It teaches me patience and self-control. I’ll actively try not to swear, for example, whereas during the rest of the year that’s something I’m guilty of doing an awful lot of. So it’s a total detox of your body and mind.
You went to a Catholic school. Do you see any similarities between Catholicism and Islam?
Yes, lots. My parents could have sent me to the community school in Ballyhaunis. Instead they choose to drive me 12 miles to the convent in Claremorris every morning. They had their own beliefs. But they respected others’ too, and they wanted me to learn discipline. There are lots of parallels between Lent and Ramadan. You give something up for 30 or 40 days. You give to charity and you go to church more often. The concepts are very similar.
Excluding this interview, what is the stupidest question a non-Muslim has ever asked you about Ramadan?
Probably the biggest thing I get is people suggesting I have a drink or water or a bowl of soup during Ramadan. When you do a fast for Concern, you’re allowed soup and water, so a lot of people tend to think it works the same way. But I don’t think that’s stupidity. A lot of Irish people just don’t know very much about Islam.
A lot of us are uninformed. Would you say some more are misinformed?
Yes. I was born and raised in Ireland. I’ve never lived anywhere else. I’m as Irish as they come. The word Islam means peace. Our religion tells us that if your worst enemy comes to your house, you offer him a drink of water. That’s what I was raised to believe. But that’s not how the media portrays us sometimes. What’s the point in praying five times a day if you’re not going to be a nice person? That defeats the purpose of being a Muslim.
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