Cookery programmes on television suddenly become addictive as soon as Ramadan starts. And an impromptu visit to the supermarket becomes urgent at the end of the day, as iftar approaches. While watching mouth-watering food being cooked arouses a mixed feeling of pain and pleasure, the trip to buy all sorts of snacks you never knew you really wanted to try can deal a blow to your stomach and wallet.
I know this from experience. I’ve often done bags of unnecessary shopping, including a bizarre mix of luxury ice creams, prawn wantons and garlic breads with cheese. The result: stomach ache and garlic breath next morning, or food poisoning caused by shellfish.
I mention these terrible habits with shame and remorse, because Ramadan should not be about drooling at the television or moping around the shops. We know it’s a month in which physical restraint gives us the opportunity to focus on the spiritual and the divine. Liberated from the shackles of the carnal, we can fly like the angels. And with everyone focused on the same goal – charity, congregation and hospitality– the community bonds becomes stronger.
We talk of Ramadan in idealistic terms. The occasion is indeed incredible. What seems impossible becomes possible. The daily grind that we go through is unimaginably transformed into feelings of euphoria and compassion.
These are the high aspirations of Ramadan. That is how it is sold to us. And it delivers beyond expectations. Every year, without fail.
But there’s often a gap in the way we talk about our Ramadan utopia that we can’t always live up to. And that’s OK. Acknowledging this gap and how as imperfect human beings we sometimes expose the foibles of the human condition is also okay.
We lose our temper. We get bad breath and headaches. You get grumpy at work. You watch more cookery programmes. You go to the supermarket before iftar time and shop until you drop. You need at least five of your favourite foods. And that’s just for starters. But after a few mouthfuls of the first item, you feel bloated.
Instead of losing weight, you gain it. Sometimes, people even get hospitalised for overeating.
There’s a lot of pressure to achieve the perfect Ramadan – the perfect devotion, the perfect iftar, the perfect suhoor, the perfect taraweeh. Yet, the reality of Ramadan doesn’t quite square up – we can be grumpy at work, consumption goes up, as does wastage, people overeat, they get tired, spend all the time cooking (well, women do anyway), they are on social media all the time and shop more.
We should be open about the fact that there is a gap between aspirations and reality. We should embrace the challenges, tensions, problems and humour in the sometimes huge chasm between them. It’s only when we recognise human follies that we are able to push ourselves beyond the limits.
It’s time to take a step back, laugh at ourselves a little bit, take the pressure off and enjoy the journey of putting the ordinary to one side. In other words, we should try to be just a little bit extraordinary for 30 days.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk