The month of Ramadan, which traditionally begins with a new moon sighting marking the start of the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, commenced this year on June 28. During Ramadan, Muslims all over the world, including West Cork, fast from sunrise to sunset, an annual observance regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam —the foundation of Muslim life The word ‘Ramadan’ is derived from an Arabic word for intense heat, scorched ground and shortness of food and drink. It is considered to be the most holy and blessed month and a time for Muslims to practice self-restraint, cleanse the body and soul from impurities and re-focus one’s self on the worship of God.
Mary O’Brien learns more about Ramadan from Yousef Janabali from Bangladesh, a Muslim living with his family in Clonakilty since 2000. As well as running his own business, a shop in Spiller’s Lane selling Asian spices and products, Yousef, a trained chef, supports his family by working as a night porter in a local hotel.
ABOVE: Yousef Janabali at his Spice Shop in Spiller’s Lane, Clonakilty
Yousef is a devout Muslim praying at least five times a day. Getting up before 3am every morning for the ritual prayer is part of his daily routine. “I’m used to it and go back to sleep straightaway afterwards,” he says.
During Ramadan, Yousef also eats something at this time before the sun rises. “It’s not a very big meal,” he explains. “Just whatever I can manage at that time of the morning.” During Ramadan, Yousef does not consume anything again, not even water, until sunset, usually 20 hours later. “You are tired the first few days. But after that your body adjusts and it’s ok,” he says. “It is good for your body to be cleansed.”
Muslims eat Halal foods. Halal, which means ‘lawful’, are foods that are allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines. Muslims believe Halal is one of the most humane methods of animal slaughter, whereby the jugular vein is swiftly cut limiting the amount of pain endured by the animal. The blood is allowed to drain, as Muslims are prohibited from consuming animal blood. “Shannon Vale in Clonakilty now supply Halal chicken,” says Yousef.
Fasting during Ramadan is fard (obligatory) for adult Muslims, except those whom are ill, travelling, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic or going through menstrual bleeding. “They can fast at another time in the year instead,” says Yousef. Ramadan typically includes the increased offering of salat (prayers) and recitation of the Quran (Koran). Muslims are also required to be clean when handling and reading the Quran. “We wash our face, head, arms and legs with water before prayer,” says Yousef.
“Muslims follow the Five Pillars of Islam,” he explains. Shahadah declares there is no god except God, and Muhammad is God’s Messenger. Salat is the ritual prayer five times a day. Zakat is giving 2.5 per cent of your savings to the poor and needy. “Every Muslim does this at the end of the year,” explains Yousef. “If your family is not in need, then you give to your neighbours or someone else.” Sawm is the fasting and self-control practiced during the blessed month of Ramadan. Hajj is the required pilgrimage to Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad, at least once in a lifetime. “This is only if you are able to do the pilgrimage,” says Yousef, who has visited the holy city.
Yousef and his wife Salma have four children, two of whom attend the gaelscoil in Clonakilty. “They are very advanced and know the whole Quran. But they know all about Christianity as well,” says Yousef. Officially Muslim children start practicing their religion at the age of 11. Unofficially, if they have the interest they practice with their family from the age of eight. “My responsibility is to help my children understand their faith. But that responsibility ends when they turn 18,” says Yousef. “If they decide to change their faith then, that is their decision.”
Yousef finds people in West Cork to be very open and welcoming and he and his family enjoy living in Clonakilty. Every Friday, they meet other Muslim families from the area at Khutbah, congregation prayer in the prayer room on North Main Street in Bandon. Anyone, of any creed, is welcome to attend the sermon between 1 and 2pm every Friday.
Eid al-Fitr (festival of breaking of the fast) marks the end of Ramadan — this year on July 28. The three-day celebration takes place all over the world. On the day of Eid, Muslims gather early in the morning in outdoor locations or mosques to perform the Eid prayer.
Yousef and his family will mark the end of Ramadan with 600 other Muslims who gather every year in a rented space in Cork City. “We drink tea and coffee and chat while the children play together,” says Yousef. “It’s a time of great celebration.
A citizen of Ireland, Yousef is looking forward to growing old here. “When you’re young, you are busy and have many responsibilities,” he says “I look forward to enjoying life with Salem once our children are grown and settled.”