Ramadan is 30 days of fasting from dawn to dusk and is practised by Muslims all over the world. Mary Cody visited the Islamic Cultural Centre in Kilkenny as darkness fell to partake in the breaking of the fast and the practice of prayer.
Following a traditional Catholic upbringing and education which raised more questions than ever gave answers I have long since cast aside the shackles of organised religion but still remain respectful of those who find solace and guidance from it.
So when Imam Ebrahim Mdure invited me along to the Islamic Centre I was curious to experience and gain insight into what drives people (including some children) to go without food and water from 3am until almost 10pm the next evening for a 30-day period.
There are approximately 500 Muslims living in Kilkenny who come from a variety of different countries including Bangladesh, India, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria, Gambia. South Africa, Great Britain and Ireland.
Iman Ebrahim Mdure explains why Ramadan is still observed strictly by followers of Islam.
“When you have faith it drives you to go the extra mile and fast for the entire month and in doing so you know that you will be rewarded in heaven and you also understand what hunger and deprivation is about. At the end of Ramadan your fast is not accepted unless you give charity to the poor.
“You get an insight into suffering and this makes you more disciplined and you learn how to be obedient to the commandant of God and in doing so you will be rewarded in the next life, ” he said.
When I arrive at the centre I quickly and quietly remove my shoes in complying with Islamic tradition and am met by the Imam who explains that men and women are segregated for the breaking of the fast and the prayers.
I am then shown a hijab (the headpiece worn by Muslim women) and am asked if I would like to wear it. It is my belief that when one chooses to immerse themselves in a culture that is not their own then they should respect the norms of that culture so I arrange the hijab and enter the main room of prayer where the men have gathered and the Iman announces my presence.
I then make my way upstairs to where the women and children are and am warmly welcomed into their group. Awa Mdure (the wife of Ebrahim) describes Ramadan as ‘extremely challenging’.
“Often when you go without food and water for that long you get very tired and hungry, especially when Ramadan falls in Summer but that is the norm as it is a big chance.
“It is a big change but the Prophet Muhammad did it and he recommended that we do it,” she said.
It is time to start eating and I sit beside nine-year-old Ya Awa Secka who is observing the fast for Ramadan.
“It is hard if you think about it but easy if you don’t,” she said.
Sara Rahman (8) said she started fasting but then stopped as her mother thought she was too young.
“I love coming here to the centre every night. It is really nice,” she adds and we nibble on dates (which are eaten first) and samosas and pakuras.
The Adhan (the call to worship) rings out and I follow the women and children out into the hall where we stand and pray facing in the direction of Mecca.
It is my first time engaging in this practice and thankfully I am led by the children who are quick to show me the correct way to move and pray.
Then the group re assembles for the main meal. The food, which is donated each evening is both wholesome and flavoursome and there is plenty to go around.
At this point I venture downstairs to join the men (as invited by the Iman). This is not the customary norm although I am meet with politeness I realise that I am far more comfortable with the other women.
I return upstairs where I am met by some of the children who are enjoying the novelty of having a photographer and journalist in their presence.
“Children learn about the ethos of Islam and learn to understand and read the Koran,” explains the Iman.
The Islamic Cultural Centre on the Freshford Road is used as a mosque and a place of prayer by the Muslim community but the group plans to build their own mosque in the next five years.
There is no disputing that going without food and especially water for from dawn to dusk is difficult but one also sees the strong sense of community and solidarity that the Muslims who gather here share.
Every Friday members meet at the centre between 1 and 2pm to pray and even though prayer and faith are the obvious cornerstones the friendship and support that exists in the community is clearly evident. Shortly after 11pm prayer resumes and I quietly slip away grateful and thankful for being shown such hospitality and respect and already looking forward to returning for Eid, the celebration of the end of Ramadan.