We sat down with Kadija Omer, Resourcing Consultant at The Management Recruitment Group, to talk about Ramadan and what it means to her. Kadija was born into a Muslim family and grew up in Amsterdam, Netherlands but now lives in London.
Can you explain to us what Ramadan is and what it means to you personally?
Ramadan is a month of unity among Muslims and is not just about fasting/abstaining for a month. It’s also about acts of kindness, living mindfully, and being thankful for what we have. Many Muslims begin observing around puberty, around the age of 15/16. It’s not just about fasting from food, it’s also about abstaining from all sinful behaviour.
There’s exceptions, mainly children, pregnant women, elderly people and those who are ill or travelling don’t have to fast. It’s also important to make sure you’re in good mental and physical state, and not advised if you’re not able.
It’s for 29 or 30 days, from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next. That’s when Ramadan ends, and traditionally we celebrate for at least a day. In Islamic countries, they observe 3 days of celebration, and schools/places of work are closed for those 3 days – similar to Christmas in the UK.
If you have Muslim colleagues, friends or neighbours, the simplest way to wish them a Happy Ramadan is by saying, Ramadan Kareem. which means “blessed Ramadan” when translated to English.
How do you prepare for Ramadan?
I start writing my goals down, thinking about what I want to get out of the month. If I have any unresolved issues with friends or family, or there’s people I am not on good terms with, I try to settle those issues.
Some people start cutting down on coffee to prepare, otherwise it’ll be a shock to the system when they begin fasting!
What does a typical day during Ramadan look like for you?
I start the day about 30 minutes before sunrise– I have a nutritious breakfast and take my vitamins, and I drink lots of water, ready for the day ahead. (Suhoor)
There’s a sunrise morning prayer, which takes about 2 minutes. There’s also set times throughout the day where we go to pray – 5 times overall. After the 4th prayer of the day and after sunset, we break the fast. (Iftar).
Some people go to the Mosque to pray for the evening, some go and pray for up to 2 hours.
How do you manage your daily routine during Ramadan, such as work or school?
When I’m working, I go to the Wellness/Prayer room in our offices to do short prayers throughout the day. It’s a moment of mindfulness to check in with God.
Those who are able to work flexibly, might choose to start work later and finish work later, allowing them to rest a few more hours after breaking the fast so early. However, I enjoy getting up early – keeping active is essential for me to keep my energy levels high.
What is the significance of fasting during Ramadan and how do you feel about it?
It’s not a competition – everyone observes it differently. Not everyone is able to do it every single day, so there’s no judgement.
Fasting is just one part of it – we observe it in other ways, using our time mindfully and purposefully. I try to think of ways to be more productive, I also try to give up vices like swearing, eat more healthfully when I break my fast, and spend more time in quiet reflection. I also donate money to charity.
In day-to-day life we’re so distracted by the world around us, it gives me a chance to reset and focus. By the end of Ramadan, I come out of it with new resolutions.
How do you balance the spiritual aspect of Ramadan with the social and cultural aspects?
When fasting, I like to make food for other people as an act of kindness – I will often make sweet treats for neighbours and friends, either as a gift or to enjoy together when we break the fast. The spiritual and social aspects go hand in hand, it’s about giving something back and honouring the things I am thankful for.
It’s nice to break the fast with friends and family, we make plans to go round each other’s houses and bring lots of nice food. I love to cook for my friends. I grew up with parents who were very sociable – growing up, they always had friends and family round for Iftar during Ramadan.
What are some of the challenges you face during Ramadan and how do you overcome them?
The hardest part for me is not being around my family, my housemates don’t observe Ramadan. They’re super supportive, but it’s not as enjoyable doing it on your own!
It’s also challenging to be healthy and not overeat sometimes – when you’ve been looking forward to eating all day, it’s so easy to go overboard and grab the most readily available food, which isn’t always healthy – I try to avoid takeaways for example.
How do you break your fast each day, and what are some traditional foods that you enjoy during Ramadan?
Traditionally we break the fast with mejool dates. It’s a little natural sugar boost and gives you energy.
My mum would always chop up lots of fruit in a bowl as an appetiser. She wouldn’t let us leave the table until we drunk plenty of water! Then we have a main dish – it could be anything, a nice hearty dinner.
We drink lots of tea and water. I try to drink at least 1.5l water to hydrate myself from a day of fasting.
How do you stay motivated and focused throughout the month of Ramadan?
Sometimes you begin to flag, halfway through the month. I am quite fortunate that I find it quite easy to stay motivated. Mondays generally are harder though.
I think it’s about mindset – but it’s definitely easier when I’ve got people around me observing Ramadan too, it keeps us all motivated doing it together.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to learn more about Ramadan or is thinking about observing it for the first time?
If you see people around you who are observing Ramadan, please ask questions! We love to talk about Ramadan. So definitely get advice from people that have done it before.
Make sure you eat substantial, filling meals before sunrise and sunset. It’s not always easy to set your alarm to get up in the dark, but I would recommend having a decent breakfast to set you up for the day. And have a small snack before you go to bed, too. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water during these times, so you don’t feel dehydrated throughout the day.
Don’t beat yourself up if you struggle. There’s some days when it’ll be hard, and that’s okay. Conversely, if you notice someone who’s Muslim but not fasting – don’t judge them! They likely have a valid reason not to be fasting, and it’s not your business to judge. Fasting is just one element of Ramadan and we all observe it in different ways.