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Fasting in the land of the evening sun
When the sun rises tomorrow, Ramadan will have begun, signalling the start of 30 days of daytime fasting for more than one billion Muslims around the world.
Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar, falls in a different month according to the Western calendar each year. This year, it is in July, so for Muslims living in the far Northern Hemisphere – including the 200,000 living in Denmark – that means the month of restraint and of self-control in the name of faith and building a closer relationship with God becomes that much more challenging.
During Ramadan, Muslims will not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. They will pray five times a day, and refrain from sex during daylight hours. At the same time, they will maintain their regular lifestyles, working all day without eating or drinking.
For most, Ramadan – and fasting during Denmark’s long July days – comes down to a simple matter of faith taking precedence over other daily activities.
“I manage Ramadan like any other,” said Dame N’Doye, one of the strikers for FC Copenhagen. Originally from Senegal, N’Doye will be joining more than 90 percent of his countrymen in fasting.
“I eat from 10pm until 2am, and the rest of the time I don’t. It’s just a question of organising your day, and I’ve been doing it as long as I can remember, so it is not a problem for me.”
Others may not face as physically challenging a day as N’Doye, but nonetheless must adapt to the long fasts.
Mirza Baig, who migrated to Denmark from Pakistan and now owns a taxi in Copenhagen, will be cutting his workdays from 12 to about eight hours during Ramadan.
He lets prayer timings and the sun dictate his work schedule, working between suhoor, the meal consumed before sunrise, and iftar, the meal that ends the daily fast at sunset.
“I will change the times to be suitable for me,” Baig said. “The first day of Ramadan will be 18 hours. I’m going to be working six hours.”
Muslims employed in Denmark receive no special exemptions during Ramadan, and adhere to the same work schedules as non-fasting employees.
“If you’re fit enough to work, you’re fit enough to fast,” said Imran Shah, spokesperson of the Islamic Society in Denmark. “Have a proper meal in the morning and drink lots of water, and you won’t have a problem.”
While Baig frequents the mosque weekly for Friday prayers, he said he will also be attending daily congregational prayers during Ramadan.
“We do Tarawihs during Ramadan,” Baig said. “It’s a little bit more intense than regular prayers, and prayed only during Ramadan.”
During Tarawih prayers, recitations of the Koran, which is divided into 30 equal sections called juz’, are incorporated into prayers during Ramadan. Over the course of the month the entire Koran is recited.
“Tarawih is voluntary, not obligatory,” said Shah, pointing out that with 18-hour fasts, some may choose to spend the six hours of non-fasting time with family.
At the end of the month, Muslims will celebrate Eid al-Fitr, attending special Eid prayers, donating money to the poor or to charity, spending the day with friends and family, and enjoying the favourite foods they may have deprived themselves of during the month.
Shah spoke of the merits of Ramadan, choosing to focus on the heightened sense of community among Muslims rather than the spirituality: “You see community and culture coming together for one simple purpose and that is the worship of God.”