The Ramadhan Diaries

Fasting in London and beyond

Archive for the tag “BBC”

Iftar East London style – Maedah Grill

Shakeel and the team with me, my niece, nephew and sister.

Shakeel and the team with me, my niece, nephew and sister.

 

My last post said I was bored, but being a creature that is easily distracted, my periods of boredom are short-lived.

This evening the plan was to film with the BBC team I have been working with all week. We were going to film an iftar – the breaking of the fast – and the venue was a favourite of mine – Maedah Grill in Whitechapel. It’s really beautifully decorated Turkish restaurant just opposite the Islamic Cultural Centre in Whitechapel. As the taxi driver dropped me off, he asked me what it was like. He also asked if I had been to the restaurant on the opposite side of the road – Tayyubs. I have and the food is great but today it was a Maedah Grill day. The vibe inside is great and it has the room to accommodate everyone comfortably. Even when it is at full capacity, diners can sit without feeling as if they are knocking elbows with the next table.

I arrived twenty minutes before the fast was due to break but people were already seated around tables. In front of them were dates, grapes and watermelons laid out on plates. Each table was set with this selection of fast breaking food. People sat together waiting for the moment when the fast would be open. It was such a beautiful thing to see. The togetherness and the discipline. We didn’t know each other but we were all bonded in that moment – in obedience to Allah, in unity as Muslims and in our desire to appreciate the plight of those who have far less than we do so we can be better in giving to help others. Waiters from all sorts of backgrounds but mainly Turkish were attentively hovering around tables, making sure everyone had what they needed to break their fast. They themselves were all fasting. The chefs behind the hot grills had been cooking and preparing since midday. They were fasting too. I have no idea how they do it – but they do. I am in awe.

 

The Maedah Grill team hard at work but still smiling

The Maedah Grill team hard at work but still smiling

As my family arrived to break their fast with me, they were so wonderfully greeted by the owner of Maedah Grill, British born Indian Muslim, Shakeel. His manner and hospitality was just superb and each group of people arriving were greeted and made welcome in the same way. For those that might find themselves standing in a queue waiting for a table, a large platter of dates and fruit lay in the restaurants reception area. No attention to detail is left out in respect of the fasters.

We wondered how we would know when the fast would be broken, other than clock watching. But being right across the East London Cultural centre, the adhan – call to prayer – is audible and a waiter stands at the door waiting to hear it then goes around the tables letting people know. It was a lovely touch, having someone come to tell you in a way that is almost congratulatory that we had succeeded on another fasting day. I am not sure if I can even put into words the way Muslims who fast feel about Ramadan and the what the actual act of fasting means to us. It is just so much more than the actual abstinence of food and water. It means something other worldly. And when we are together fasting the meaning and feelings are magnified. It is hard to explain and maybe to those who are watching us from the outside won’t truly understand why being hungry and thirsty is something we love going through to this degree of 30 days in the height of summer but we do.

After having our dates and starters, with drinks brought to our tables by energetic and attentive waiters, we left the table to hop across the road to the mosque to pray the Maghreb or sunset prayer. Most of the restaurant had done the same. So the orders are put on hold until we are all back at the tables. It gives enough time for the first hit of food and drink taken into our tummies to move around and digest a bit, before coming back for more. The time to pray is also a time to reflect and worship. The practical and the spiritual working together in harmony.

A waiter talked to us about his daily routine. After finishing at the restaurant he would be making it to a local London mosque for the late night Taraweh prayers and then he would eat breakfast and get ready for the next day’s fast. Three days a week he studies for his degree in business management and the rest of the week he works in Maedah Grill . I asked him if it was hard whilst he was fasting. He looked at me surprised.

‘No, I love it.’

‘But it’s hard in this weather and it’s so long?’ I continued

‘No I really look forward to Ramadan – when I pray it gives me power. We are so lucky to have this month.’ On that I felt ashamed that I had even asked that question. It is true, I do love it too but I get distracted from the higher gains promised through Ramadan when I’m dwelling on myself.

The food was absolutely amazing. The restaurant had 300 people tonight. The atmosphere was buzzing. My sisters and niece and nephew could not make up their minds over the alcohol-free cocktails but when the mojito and mango snow arrived they were thrilled. The sweets arrived after the mains and the tiramisu was just out of this world. Highly recommended. We thought that was us and then they wheeled in the hot cookie dough and ice cream desert. Yet again on another level.

Shakeel had a vision for this restaurant – a place for the community, for customers to come and enjoy a comfortable meal and share an experience. Muslims and those of other faiths or no faith dine here within the heart of Whitechapel with freshly cooked Turkish cuisine. My sister, a vegetarian was over-joyed with her heartening stew of tomatoes and potatoes. It really was delicious.

The hospitality was one of the best I have ever encountered and tonight I was reminded of the beauty of my Muslim community. I saw it and experienced it at it’s finest. It has given me the right perspective as I say goodbye to the first week of Ramadan 2014. We are approaching day 7 already. A week has gone and soon the rest will fly by too. So it’s time to really embrace it and to make the most of every moment.

 More more info on Maedah Grill click here

Warm welcome in the Reception area in Maedah Grill

Warm welcome in the Reception area in Maedah Grill

 

Hannah watching the BBC team film me speaking to Maedah Grill boss, Shakeel

Hannah watching the BBC team film me speaking to Maedah Grill boss, Shakeel

 

Me doing my piece to camera about Ramadan and Iftar with the BBC team

Me doing my piece to camera about Ramadan and Iftar with the BBC team

 

The BBC team with Shakeel from Maedah grill plus my little helpers!

The BBC team with Shakeel from Maedah grill plus my little helpers!

 

Maedah Grill - definitely worth a visit.

Maedah Grill – definitely worth a visit.

 

Default fasters

Thing is when you are fasting and other’s around you are not, they end up fasting by proxy. That’s because in general people are considerate to those around them and on an individual basis have respect for one another. Take the fourth day of Ramadan for instance. I was filming with two crew from the BBC – neither are Muslim. Our filming day was quite long and just a little challenging because we were filming in a hospital. Filming in hospitals is always difficult because the parameters of what you can get and what you can’t are quite narrow – practically nothing or no-one can get into shot unless they have signed two pieces of consent. Even the shoes of patients. So yes a challenging day but nonetheless good for the perspectives we got. After trawling through the camera shy staff, we found some doctors who were fasting to tell us about what working in A&E and fasting is like. They smiled and said it was fine and that actually it makes the day go quicker. I can relate to that. Although I dread the thought of a busy A&E shift, when I am in the middle of one I have to admit that it does make the day go quicker and I can forget myself in amongst it. Sometimes the anticipation is worse than than the fasting day itself. It’s the fear element within it – no-one wants to fail at their work and no-one wants to crumble under the fast. It’s all about fighting the urge to give in on both accounts. It’s mind over matter.

What was interesting to get was the consideration other members of staff gave to their colleagues who were fasting. One nurse said that her team were trying to avoid eating and drinking in front of their fasting nursing colleague. A group of male doctors said that they felt as if they were pseudo-fasting with their Muslim colleague because whilst they were around him they didn’t eat or drink and then they would find themselves too busy to eat when away from him.

In fact the two BBC crew who were with me all day ended up not stopping for lunch or coffee because time was against us. There were things they needed and we had to keep shooting. It was a busy day and quite intense. For me, I was prepared mentally and physically. I had begun to acclimatise to the fasting day and had anticipated it before the day had even begun. The BBC crew hadn’t envisaged that they would not be stopping for food – we were so rushed with the filming that I think they had managed breakfast and a hobbit style- small second breakfast before the shoot began but that was it for them until 7pm that evening. They looked like they were flagging. Filming is an intense experience.

I was fine as my adrenalin of presenting was keeping me going. It was only when I climbed into the taxi home after the end of the shoot and instantly fell into the blissful sleep of the exhausted that I realised that fasting and presenting can be a challenge. I was that exhausted I couldn’t even write this blog piece yesterday. I also naughtily ordered take away protein and salad of lamb cutlets and a mediterranean salad. Then I fell asleep.

 

Football and Fasting

The Match We Have All Been Waiting For

The Match We Have All Been Waiting For

The Algerian national team’s coach, Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic is angry with the constant questions regarding which players within his team will be fasting. I am curious as to why everyone is fixated with that. I am also surprised to hear that he has received criticisms against him personally. I was reading the post by David Ornstein on the BBC online Sport pages.

“Ramadan is here and I read in some Algerian newspapers criticisms about me, about my image, about my honour. They are trying to raise hatred against Vahid, against my family, and this is really disgusting.”

Of course it was one of the things we all anticipated if Algeria, the only Arab/North African country go forward at this years World Cup in Brazil. I was watching the last match with an Algerian friend where they drew with Russia, breaking through into the last-16.  “They will be playing in Ramadan – that’s huge.’ I was thinking about the symbolism of a predominantly Muslim country playing at the World Cup during Ramadan and less the practicalities of it. My friend pointed out that we will be having Iftar watching the match.

Fasting is very much a private matter and it is also one of those acts of worship that no one else has to even know about. If you are fasting you are not displaying an outward action – it’s internal and more personal. A struggle against your own desires, habits and enforcing will power.

It is interesting that everyone is keen to know if the players will be fasting. Is it because it is deemed such an enormous feat to undertake? Particularly if you are playing sport at world level in the heat the Brazilian climate promises? It does make you wonder about human abilities. But Algeria is a relatively conservative country and some if not all of the team are observing Muslims. One thing I noticed about Algerians through friends and networks is that despite other aspects of Islam that may not be adhered to as strictly, even the five times a day prayer – fasting is observed throughout Ramadan in a steadfast manner.

And yet it is still a matter between the individual and Allah (God) as eluded to by the coach in the BBC online piece.”This is a private matter and when you ask this you lack respect and ethics,” said their coach.

Although Ramadan is mandatory for Muslims and one of the five pillars of Islam, those that are sick, and elderly are exempt and those who are pregnant, travelling or going to war are permitted to avoid it until a later time. Athletes sometimes delay their fast according to these exemptions. Not being judgemental is key and sadly Muslims can be an extremely judgemental bunch.

The coach said that it is not the first time he has had Muslim players in his team and that he leaves them free to make up their own minds. He sees it as a private spiritual matter and I have to agree.

‘It has to do with private freedom of expression.’

“Those who continue criticising our team and my actions, I think it’s shameful. But I will continue [as coach], I will continue working with this team. I’m sorry that you continue criticising what I do.
“Stop asking me about Ramadan, otherwise I will get up and leave.”

We know though that the Algerian captain, Madjid Bougherra will be fasting during Ramadan and that does not surprise me. I met him in Glasgow in 2010 and interviewed him for a film I was making about the Algerian football team. He was striking in his humility, even bringing his two little daughters for us to meet.

I was also amazed to read that the Algerian squad have been accompanied by one of Fifa’s leading experts on fasting footballers! I never knew there was such a thing! But obviously then footballers fast whilst playing matches. And they survive. It is all to do with the preparation and being careful. Something I think expensive footballers and their managers will be most aware of.

1,2,3 Viva L’Algerie and Ramadan Kareem to the team.

 

Ramadhan Kareem 2014

So it’s here. Like most things that require a bit of work and may prove a bit of a challenge, I have been mentally prepping for this first day of Ramadhan since about May!  I have been worried about how fasting for 19 hours will work out, especially with the normal routine of work but reading back over my last two years of blog posts, has been quite helpful. Writing this blog again is really something I anticipate eagerly and look forward to every year. Thinking about the first few posts I have planned this year I know I have something different to offer.

This Ramadhan has already proven a bit different before it even began. I have never been to an Islamic Relief event but was invited to the Pre-Ramadhan Dinner the other night. It took place in the the Church House, near Westminster Abbey. A rather lovely setting and the food was delicious. Speakers included Minister for Justice and Civil Liberties Simon Hughes MP, Amir Khan and Jon Snow. The night was dedicated to launching the latest fund-raising announcement – DFID is to match pound for pound money raised by Islamic Relief. I’ll write more about this event in a piece later when armed with a post Iftar cup of tea.

Also I want to bring in some thoughts about the Algerian football team playing against Germany on Monday 30 July at the World Cup. I am a Les Verts fan – the Desert Foxes are back. I will actually be watching the match tomorrow evening around Iftar time with an Algerian friend and no doubt we will be heading to little Algiers in Blackstock Road, Finsbury Park, London to see the fans. Algerian football fans are a unique bunch and one can’t help but love them.

And then I have been given the rather unique and wonderful opportunity to make a film for the BBC about Ramadhan which will be screened on the 20th July. It has involved meeting and interviewing the London based imam, Ajmal Masroor. It was inspiringly hearing what Ramadhan means both to him personally and to the Muslim community. I also had the chance to sort the science of fasting out in my head with a really insightful meeting with the fasting expert Dr Michael Mosely. It was fantastic. After what I learnt from Michael and also the reassurance I gained from him about what was going on physiologically inside me I felt so much more ready for the challenge ahead in fulfilling my religious obligation of fasting through Ramadhan.  He told how the fat burning stage kicks in about 8 hours into the fast, which for me today at about 6pm I know I am well within. He talked through the dips and cravings we can experience and why. He also explained that over-coming habits is an important part of the process. Michael told me that I should be careful about what I eat in the evenings so that I avoid what normally happens to me every year – I put on weight. it’s because I anticipate the day ahead and eat the food I think will help. He advised lot’s or protein and fresh veg. Sounds rather sensible. Will I stick to it though?

Michael also talked about really taking time to savour the food and not to just gorge. It all makes perfect sense. It is a time of restraint and control and could provide lessons to learn that will remain after the last day of the 30 days.

I am also going to use this time to yet again sort my life out – both the spiritual, physical and the disorganised pile of stuff I keep under the desk.

So today is being spent taking it easy. No caffeine withdrawal headache thank goodness – the reduction in intake over the last few weeks has obviously paid off. I am however struck by how much food is thrust at us on the television. Most of the adverts are screaming at us to buy food, eat and drink all sorts of stuff.

Although I actually feel fine and full of the eagerness of spiritual awakening that fasting can bring, I am switching over from Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me.  I am human after all and have not eaten since 2.49am!!

 

BBC Horizon’s Michael Mosely looks at the health benefits of fasting

BBC Horizon programme on restricted and fasting diets and their health benefits –

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