The Muslim holy month of Ramadan started this week. If you're Muslim, you know that already; it's quite a big deal – kind of like the Olympics, only it happens every year and involves focusing on worship, instead of pretending to know loads about competitive javelin throwing. If you're not a Muslim, but you do have a vague awareness of the world around you, you probably know about it too.
As a Muslim observing Ramadan myself, I'm used to reading a lot of articles about how spiritually beneficial Ramadan is, and seeing think-pieces from well-meaning non-Muslims about how great the month is, or – without fail, every single year – how Muslims manage to fast in countries where the sun never sets (as one of the ways you observe Ramadan is to abstain from food and water during daylight hours).
While it would be great to spend the next 30 days in Mecca reading religious texts and thinking about spirituality and eating freshly-made falafel as soon as the sun goes down, that's not the reality for many Muslims, who are more likely chained to their desks right now, waiting for access to some tedious Google Doc and trying not to think about pizza.
So for you, friends, here's a short summary of the everyday experiences you're going to face during the holy month.
"NOT EVEN WATER?"
Picture this: it's the first day of Ramadan. You're at your desk, wasting time you will later regret wasting. A copy of Metro is sat next to you, and one of the cover stories is: "How Muslims Manage to Fast in Countries Where the Sun Never Sets".
Your colleague Neil sidles up and ask what this whole "ramdayan" thing is about. Exasperated, you explain: the history, the spiritual cleansing and how you can't eat or drink (during daylight hours) for the month. "Not even water??" he will say, his eyes wide, his mouth agape, as if you've just told him a particularly spoiler-yGame of Thrones spoiler. "God, mate, won't you die if you do that?"
You explain to him that: no, you won't – that the fact millions of Muslims routinely survive Ramadan should be evidence enough, but that even if you're dehydrated you can break fast. "Mate, I don't know if I could do that – your God better give you a good reward!"
RAMADAN BROS ARE THE WORST PEOPLE ON EARTH
You're at the mosque after a long day with no caffeine. You're not feeling profoundly great, but it's the holy month – you're focusing on self improvement, and anyway, you'll be able to eat soon. To take your mind off things while you wait for prayers to begin, you start scrolling through the football scores on your phone.
"Brother, what are you doing?" says a bearded man in long white robes. "It's Ramadan – you should be focusing on Allah, not what's going on on your phone."
You look up to see it's Hassan. Last week, Hassan insisted you called him "Skemz" and said he could do you a Henry for a tenner as a "Ramadan special". Hassan usually sells weed and MD, but for this month he'll become a Ramadan Bro – the type of guy who'll read one passage from the Qu'ran and then spend all night telling you about it, as if he's suddenly an oracle of all things Islam.
For this month – and this month only – he'll go on at you about growing your beard longer and abandoning Western clothing. "Inshallah you will learn to let go of the vices of the world," he'll say, before packing it all in on Eid, logging back into Instagram and posting selfies where he's holding a wad of €60 notes, captioned with 2 Chainz lyrics.
THERE'LL ALWAYS BE THAT ONE GUY
This one depends on where you live and work. If your job is to organise safe space round-tables at left-wing arts universities, you're probably not going to interact with this guy much on an average working day. Sadly, however, lots of people will. Let's call this guy Stu.
Stu is voting Leave in the EU Referendum for fear that a Turkish person might end up living next door to him, stinking out his house with "all that foreign muck" they like to cook. "I don't see why you Muslims have to fast for 30 days," he says, walking past your desk with a mouthful of spicy burrito on display. "Mate, it's not like you live in the Roman times."
Stu's recently shared an article by Katie Hopkins that called Muslims "bombers and Uber drivers", and is concerned about the fact you get time off work during Ramadan. "I don't have anything against Muslims," says Stu, completely unprompted. "It's just that you get Ramadan and Christmas off. I just don't think it's very fair if I'm being completely honest!"
'Ramadan is a month where your patience is tested,' you tell yourself, grains of Stu's burrito rice falling on to your keyboard. You calmly tell him that Ramadan isn't really like Christmas; that not drinking or eating for a month is much less fun than eating loads and getting presents. Stu nods, then looks up, surprised.
"Not even water? Bloody hell, mate – that's mental!"
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THE ONE UNCLE WITH REALLY BAD FASTING BREATH
Ramadan is the time of year that you're exposed to all your obscure family – the ones who normally live in the periphery zones of your memory and, every time you see them, remind you that they knew you when you were small, before telling you how well their kids are doing in medical school.
There will also be at least one occasion where one of your uncles decides he'd like to have a very long conversation with you about the politics of the day – which would be fine if his fasting breath wasn't so foul that it could feasibly be used as a weed killer. So like every good, patient Muslim during the holy month, you'll stand there, silently nod and try to breath through your mouth as much as possible.
YOUR COUSIN ABDUL WILL REALLY STEP UP HIS FACEBOOK ACTIVITY
Here's the thing about being both a Muslim and the keeper of an internet connection: once a year, your Facebook will suddenly become chock-full of Islamic-inspired inspirational quotes and posters from the Qur'an, and posts declaring how wonderful and blessed Ramadan is. It's likely that the majority of those reminders will come from someone like my cousin Abdul, who regularly takes it upon himself to remind me – via WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter – that it is indeed Ramadan and that I should avoid all sinful acts, like talking to women or going to the pub.
"I know you have been going through tough times, but we must spend this month fighting temptation from Shaytaan [the devil]," he posts to Facebook, thoughtfully tagging me as yet another reminder. "Indeed, we must not just abstain from food and water, but also the sins of television, music, computer games and masturbation."
EATING AT THE END OF THE DAY REALLY ISN'T AS GREAT AS YOU THINK IT'S GOING TO BE
If Ramadan is anything, it is an exercise in the false promise of delayed gratification. You will spend nearly 15 hours of the day trying not to think about food, and then as the time nears to eat, you will fantasise about any type of food you see. Yet, when the time does come to eat, and you've piled your plate with pretty much every food you have in the fridge, you realise that eating is basically the same as being sucker-punched by a champion boxer.
To put it simply: eating during Ramadan is really, really painful – and it doesn't help that your well-meaning auntie, who keeps telling you she spent all day cooking, relentlessly insists you eat oily samosas. I guess maybe it's not that different to Christmas after all.
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