On Twitter, I have been followed by @thebigiftar
Iftar, if you didn’t know, is the name of the meal taken by Muslims during Ramadan to break the fast. It usually happens at the mosque, and by tradition the first thing you eat is a date. The Big Iftar is a project to get British non-Muslims to join their local mosque for iftar, to build interfaith understanding. It’s a great idea and I think I should go, but…
Observing the Ramadan fast is really, really hard. Particularly in these northern latitudes, for the last few and next few years. I really admire anyone who can do it, and most of the Muslims I know try, but fail. The rule is no food or drink during daylight hours, between sunrise and sunset. I think it’s way too hard. By contrast, the Christian abstention from meat during Lent is way too easy. Auguste Escoffier, the famous chef, wrote a recipe for fish stock, which he said should include chicken stock. But for a truly Lenten fish stock, you should replace the chicken stock with a few tablespoons of pureed caviare. Fasting should involve some self-denial, and replacing chicken stock with caviare – oh the suffering!
Ramadan is hard enough if you live in Saudi Arabia. This year, in Mecca, you must fast for about thirteen and a half hours each day. In London, it’s sixteen and a half. If you live in Lerwick, it’s eighteen and a half. That means you have to have all your daily sustenance in about six and a half hours. Of course, as Muslims use a lunar calendar, in a few years’ time Ramadan will come in midwinter and the northerners will have a much easier time of it. But for now, I’d like to see some of the Saudi scholars who interpret these rules move to Lerwick for Ramadan this year and see how they get on.
I get fasting. I see the point of self-denial for spiritual development. It should be challenging. But the challenge should be realistic, so that people who try but fail don’t feel too bad. It’s always better to set achievable goals than impossible ones. I’m quite sure God would feel as kindly towards a Muslim who chose to observe Ramadan by, say, walking to work every day instead of taking the Tube, rather than fasting; or drinking only tap water for the whole month and donating the money that would have been spent on coffees and colas to a suitable charity.