THE BLOG

Day One in the Big Ramadan House

10/07/2013 14:22 BST | Updated 09/09/2013 10:12 BST

The headline only works if you say it in Marcus Bentley's Big Brother narrator voice, so apologies to you if that's one cultural reference too far. So here we are; day one of thirty - it might be twenty nine of the lunar calendar is favourable - long, summer days of fasting. Last week I wrote about Channel 4's decision to air the call to prayer and since then it's good to see that the debate develop. Some Facebook updates on the channel's Facebook page have been worrying but nonetheless the fasting must go on.

Before the first day of Ramadan, thousands of Muslims prepare for the month. On a very practical level, food is cooked and frozen in advance to make iftaar (the opening of the fast) as pleasant as possible - because let's face it, no one wants to be cooking when they haven't eaten all day - and as highlighted by Rashid Khan in the first episode of A Very British Ramadan, Muslims all over the country go out and buy ghee and cooking oil by the barrel to ensure the samosas (make mine a potato and egg) and pakoras are as crisp as possible come sunset.

Physical preparation is also required. As I wrote on my blog on Monday, I tried to get ready to sacrifice a social life that revolves around going out and eating. It might sound a bit preachy (reading this back it most certainly does), but during Ramadan I massively miss catching up with friends, exploring new restaurants and heading out for a cheeky beverage post-work. Putting away my bike pained me, and walking past the pubs and cafes flowing out onto the streets this evening will be depressing.

Whilst I was trying to prepare I had a sense that deep down that this year feels different to previous years. It could well be the prevalence of Ramadan in mainstream media that's brought this on. However it feels physically different because right now my iPhone is full of these bright orange dots when I click the weather app. That doesn't happen at other times of year. Is this some sort of sick joke? I've just read that the British hot weather [is] to continue into the weekend, and Glorious British summer weather to continue into next week. That "different" feeling? Perhaps it's just a sense of oh crap, I wish I could just go outside and eat an ice cream.

"What, not even a water? That's mad in this heat!" is a sentence I'll continue to hear as my colleagues and friends head out to catch some rays and surely my answer of "Nope, nil by mouth" just seems downright nonsensical, especially when I could be standing on the street enjoying a cool beverage in the rare British sunshine.

Whilst I understand how strange it sounds and as I yearn for a Magnum (I'm referring to the ice cream, not a gun - make mine an almond, not classic please), I'm enjoying my attempt to sacrifice something that would be so rewarding right now. I'll get over the lack of cycling and eating out and in a world of Tesco Metros and smartphones, instant gratification is so easy to come by, one extra thing to give up - namely enjoying the sunshine through food and drink - is just another test to try and overcome.

I'm lucky because I'm physically able to fast (touch wood / Masha'Allah) but given the heat wave it really needs to come down to practicality and personal choice. Some relatives of mine said they wouldn't keep fast because in previous heat waves abroad they've fainted. Their attitude makes sense. Why put yourself in danger like that if you've had bad experiences? I personally haven't had experience of a heat wave and Ramadan so I'll try my best. There'll no doubt be some hard liners who argue that you have to keep all 30 to be the best Muslim but the circumstances in Britain right now warrant a more modern approach.

The ethos of Ramadan goes beyond the lack of food and drink. It extends to the mental confidence, self-sacrifice and generosity that can come across in ways other than forgoing food and drink. 11 hours in (at the time of writing) I'm trying to stay positive and the pangs of hunger are a very real reminder of sacrifice.

I hope I can keep it up for another 29 - or 28 - days but if I can't and I end up needing to eat and drink I'll find other ways to experience Ramadan through helping others and making other sacrifices. Given the heat, that seems like a sensible modern approach to me, and there's always hope that it'll be hot and sunny in August... but that might just be the hunger talking.