On the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, devoted Muslims around the world purge themselves of their sins during a holy month of fasting. This is the period of Ramadan and it comprises of 29 to 30 days of daytime abstention from the daily nourishments and vicarious pleasures of life. It’s a huge self-sacrifice but in return, followers of the faith hope to become conscious of God and attain the spiritual values and attitudes that can be carried for the rest of the year.
Ramadan is heralded by the sighting of the month’s new moon and closes in the same fashion. It is capped with a celebration known as Eid-Ul-Fitr. Selfless, humbling and edifying, it is no surprise that Ramadan stands as one of the five great pillars of the Islamic faith.
In this one hour film, Presenter Mehreen Baig examines the motivations and challenges facing the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims during their greatest month of the year. She eavesdrops in on the breaking of the fast at the end of the day – ‘iftar’ – in East London’s mosque while Presenters Zay Harding and Adela Ucar observe this important mealtime get-together in Lucknow, India and Istanbul, Turkey. Iftar is a time for sharing food; a communal act that nourishes the soul as much as the stomach. Iftars are celebrated differently across the globe. Presenter Bobby Chin shares a Mansaf’ platter in Jordan, while Southern India communes over a delicious biriyani dish.
Meanwhile, Mehreen traverses London in search of seasonal recipes that will provide sustenance during this most challenging month. In Ladbroke Grove, she joins Moroccan restauranteur Meryem Mortell in making North Africa’s classic Harira soup, before inviting us into her home for ‘Suhoor’ – the last meal before the day breaks – at 1.45 am! Here, she joins her family in concocting an Asian repast called Aloo Ki Bhujia which is served with omelettes and paranthas. An exhausted Mehreen goes to bed at 3am but rises early the next morning to meet fundraiser, Rashid Ali. Rashid is training for a marathon, charity bike ride to Mecca. During Ramadan, he cycles some 30 miles day without food and water – such is his strong faith and resolve.
Charity is an indispensable part of Ramadan and also stands as a pillar of Islam – in its correct nomenclature ‘Zakat’…. As is prayer, ‘Salat’, and both of these virtues are properly explained by Professor Muhammed.
Abdel-Haleem of SOAS University, and Dr. Sara Silvestri (author of “Europe’s Muslim Women”). These Islamic scholars provide wisdom and historical insight throughout our Ramadan odyssey. They also discuss the discrepancies of the lunar calendar – and how Ramadan falls on different times throughout the world every year – as well as the role the Prophet Muhammad played in establishing fasting as a way of expressing sympathy for the poor and hungry.
The end of Ramadan is marked with a blessed celebration of Allah’s bountiful mercy and this auspicious event is announced as EID MUBARAK – aka, ‘Blessed Eid!’. Eid signals a 3-day period of festivities and family reunions and, well, it’s the time to cave in to life’s culinary pleasures: great food and yummy sweets to boot! An enthused Mehreen joins Lina Saad, author of cookbook, “Ramadan Express”, and bakes some delicious pistachio cookies called Ma’amoul.
The moon being sighted, Mehreen takes to the streets of Southall in West London that night and joins the Asian community in a raucous celebration of Eid. And a week later, she finds herself at London’s very own Eid Festival in Trafalgar Square, hosted by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. It’s a colourful, multi-cultural food and music fest; one which provides a fitting finale to a most extraordinary month.
with thanks to
Lina Saad, author of Ramadan Express
Baig Family; Shireen, Akber, Mehreen, Ambreen, Amra , Amna Khaliq
Dr Sara Silvestri, Senior Lecturer in International Politics at City, University of London
Sylvia Salvendy, Nutritional Therapist
Muhammad Abdel-Haleem, Professor of Islamic Studies at SOAS, University of London
Rashid Ali, cycling from London to Mecca for charity