Despite my best intentions and efforts, I have managed to leave Ramadan preparations late this year. Usually I plan batched cooking and freezing in advance, have the house in order and have the bulk grocery shopping done. The purpose is that there is less to do in Ramadan and more time to devote to worship and also rest as the fast in London can get very long (approx 17-18 hours).
This year I have been less organised. With four children, my mum-and dad-in-law staying, Arabic studies and having just gone back to work for four days a week, I struggle to get everything done sometimes. So rather than my full-on preparations, I have gone for a light touch approach this year.
Instead of beginning in the kitchen, I hope to begin with worship and introspection insh’Allah. A few months ago my lovely friend Umm Imran suggested the theme of Ramadan for Aaila magazine with the encouragement that the Sahabah (companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him) used to prepare for Ramadan six months in advance, praying for forgiveness and asking Allah (SWT) to let them reach Ramadan at the peak of their iman. This prompted me to think about what I should be doing to prepare. I decided to increase the amount of Quran I read in the mornings. Often people go from reading little or nothing to trying to finish the whole Quran in a month. I knew I would struggle with this so stepped up my reading earlier.
The other thing I am doing is increasing my sunnah, or non-obligatory worship. This will help me to get used to the longer evening prayers during Ramadan and help set me on the path to nawafil (optional) worship insh’Allah.
The next thing I need to so is look at my own habits and routines. I have been trying to manage my eating, particularly my sugar intake in recent months. The last time I fasted, I was in pain for a week from sugar withdrawal, with my body aching all over and feeling exhausted. This year I am slowly cutting back my sugar and caffeine intake, so that the first few days are not spent dragging myself around and focussed on my discomfort (I’m itching for a coffee now, but NOPE, not getting one).
The other thing I have been doing over the last few weeks since I went back to work is trying to catch a short nap after work. Most people are averse to sleeping in the day despite a short nap being a sunnah (tradition) of our beloved (Prophet). With the morning meal being at about 3am (with us getting up earlier to prepare it), many of us getting up early for work again and then the evening prayer starting at about 10.30pm onwards, getting enough sleep is going to be challenging. So I am hoping a nap after work keeps me functioning during the day, awake during the evening prayer and able to get out of bed for the morning meal insh’Allah.
With respect to food and the kitchen, the only thing I have done so far is order my dates. I ended up buying Zaytoun brand Palestinian fair trade dates (from here) which were not cheap, but nicely packaged so I will be sharing with family and friends. This week I plan to source some more dates to last us for most of Ramadan without breaking the bank insh’Allah (suggestions welcome!). There is an abundance of beautiful, juicy dates sold locally to me fairly cheaply, but virtually all are from brands owned by Israeli companies owned by West Bank settlers. This doesn't seem to stop most Muslims buying them, something that winds me up and gets me lecturing people (so be warned friends!).
I have been using up what is in the fridge and cutting down on ice-cream much to my children’s disgust as the space in my freezer is quite limited. Instead I will be buying ready-made samosa’s from a friend of my husbands who is a caterer. I plan to spend next weekend making a big batch of spring rolls. But I have agreed with my husband that we will focus on healthy foods and make our two meals in the day count towards helping us through the day rather than having foods which are unhealthy. This means that there will be a giant punch-bowl of fruit salad to open the fast every day and hopefully a big jug of my mum-in-laws amazing home-made lemonade (I will post the recipe insh’Allah). This should be followed by baked food or our usual chapatti and curry. This means that there shouldn’t be too much pre-cooking to do.
The other thing I have done is grow spinach in my garden in time for Ramadan. My husband and in-laws love pakora’s and spinach is apparently the secret ingredient to get them nice and soft. Its coming up nicely now, so we should have plenty through Ramadan.
Mainly though, I am trying to get my mindset right. I am trying to move away from “oh my gosh the day is going to be so long, how am I going to manage” thinking to the “lets welcome the month of blessings and make the most of it” thinking insh’Allah. Ramadan is such a blessed month, those of us who get to see the next one will be so blessed. I pray that we all make the most of it, that we are forgiven our sins, that our dua’s are answered, our iman is recharged and super charged and that we earn mountains and oceans of rewards. Ameen.