The fast and the (definitely not) furious - what Ramadan can mean to those who fast

Civil-Service-Muslim-Network-logo-960Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims in the UK and across the world, and a time of self-reflection and self-discipline, has begun.


Throughout June, the Civil Service Muslim Network (CSMN) is encouraging its members to share what Ramadan means to them.


This year, Ramadan also coincides with Volunteers’ Week, Carers Week and Refugee Week – an apt reminder to give our time to others less fortunate.


"Ramadan highlights a unique opportunity," says Nabeela Rasul, Chair of the CSMN. “In particular, Ramadan can bring people together, especially colleagues in the workplace, of different faiths and none, as shown by Zainab Agha’s account of recent experiences in the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG).”


Zainab Agha shares her reflections on the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. (This is an edited version of a post that first appeared in the Diversity blog on the DCLG intranet.)

Ramadan is an important time for the Muslim community. At its core, the month is about giving more and consuming less; patience over instant gratification, reflecting rather than reacting, and thinking of others over ourselves.

To mark the coming of Ramadan, a few colleagues and I brought some calorific goodies into work and sent out a little message to our unit about what the month meant to us. The response was great – a lot of very thoughtful questions, which showed how people value what diversity brings (or at the very least, an appreciation of a snack!).

Most people associate Ramadan with not eating or drinking between sunrise and sunset. In the UK, this works like a charm when Ramadan comes around in winter, slightly less so when it falls over the longest days of the year.

In the good old days, before sugar became the new poison and bread could be consumed guilt-free, the idea of fasting seemed novel. When I explained the concept to people, I was usually greeted with surprise, tinged with (I like to think) a little awe and respect. Now, the idea of detoxing is so irritatingly fashionable, the reactions are different.

Recently, I was talking about Ramadan to a health-conscious mum on the school-run. I explained that the daily fast was flanked by two big meals, a breakfast called suhoor, and an enormous dinner called iftaar. The content of these meals is culture-specific but, traditionally, milk, dates and copious amounts of water will feature. “So,” she said, “you mean you can eat carbs, fat, gluten and caffeine?” “Yes, yes and yes”, I replied, laughing, “it’s the only time I feel I deserve to eat everything.” “Interesting”, she continued, clearly disappointed by my lack of self control.“I will be doing a juice detox in June for a week. No carbs or fat for me!” My turn to be surprised.


Fasting in this month is not only about not physical abstinence. Equally important is controlling behaviour. As my teachers liked to remind me during my teenage years in Pakistan, you are absolutely not allowed to get the grumps. Ill-advisedly, I shared this with my then 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter last Ramadan. “So you mean you’re not allowed to get angry?” they asked innocently, and proceeded to test this over the next 29 days. “Mum, we’ve been using your phone to take 200 pictures of a dining chair leg, but you can’t get angry. Remember? It’s not allowed,” etc.

That was my hardest Ramadan!

Not all Muslims fast, and it is certainly not recommended for the very young, the very old, the sick or expectant mothers. My husband doesn’t fast, and for this is required to give charity equivalent to three square meals a day. In fact, he pays much more. You see, as I am fasting, and he isn’t, he becomes the go-to parent in the evening by default. Homework duties; nightmare duties; Lego-stuck-in-nose-emergencies, etc., all fall to him. It’s brilliant! By the end of the month I am spiritually and physically refreshed, while he looks completely exhausted.

Time to reflect

There are several other (less calculating) reasons why I love this month:

  •        it forces me to stop running from work tasks to home ones and pause and reflect on life
  •        it prompts me to think about lives less fortunate than mine and imagine what it is like to be endlessly hungry and not know where my next meal may come from
  •        it makes me practice patience - an educational experience in the current culture of instant gratification

What makes fasting at work harder? Answer: embarrassing tummy rumbles at important meetings. There’s also the lack of caffeine to prop you up. Fasting during the summer months can seem very long. And I find that, although our bodies are remarkably adaptable when it comes to food and drink, they are less forgiving when it comes to lack of sleep. And there is definitely interrupted sleep, especially during the last ten nights of the month, which many Muslims may spend in additional prayer. At these times, managers who support flexible working, and colleagues who don’t schedule meetings late in the day, are highly valued.

Work benefits

But there are work benefits as well:

  •        I find I really value coming into work - the busier the better, as the day passes quicker. Weekends can be more difficult.
  •        At lunch, I go for a walk.  I think this does more for my productivity than a eating a sandwich, slumped over my laptop.
  •        I find I am ruthlessly pragmatic with myself about what I can do during the day, so I plan and set expectations more effectively. I also get remarkably good at prioritising.
  •        Most importantly, I become good at listening to others (especially at the end of the day, when my energy levels are low).

There are many other lessons on life and living that Ramadan teaches me. But, like any learning and development activity, the challenge is always making that learning stick throughout the year.


  1. Gavin Thomas

    Thank you Zainab for your insight on Ramadan. As someone who lived / worked in Istanbul for 3 years, I learned that the way in which I supported my staff or colleagues whom are observing Ramadan, contributed to them being able to continue to perform their day to day duties. I use to ensure that meetings were planned for the early part of the morning and had a strict rule in place that no drinks or snacks be brought along to the meeting. I also noticed that meetings held during Ramadan tended to be far more punctual in starting and ending? I would very much agree with you that we should all seek some time during our working day for reflection and where possible get away from our desk and take a walk in the sunshine.

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    • Jackie

      Thank you for such a thought provoking insight Zainab - I'm in agreement with the comment on your future as a successful Blogger!! Looking forward to reading more!!

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  2. Rupert

    Great article, Zainab.

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  3. Saadia

    Ineresting article Zainab. I am amazed the way you have brought facts about Ramzan to light so light heartedly.

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  4. Angela

    A really insightful article, which gives pause for thought, not only how we support those observing Ramadan but what those of us who don't can learn from you.

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  5. Michelle Balderston

    I absolutely loved your article Zainab - thank you so much for sharing. It gives a real insight into Ramadan and how this works in practice. I actually think that I could apply a lot of what you've said directly to my own life even though I'm not Muslim - it certainly gave me pause for thought and its encouraged me to slow down and reflect on others less fortunate. Its so easy these days to take for granted what we have.

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  6. Caroline Jones

    Really enlightening giving a true insight into Ramadan and what it means for the individual. Thank you Zainab for sharing this with us.

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  7. Mark Taylor

    Great article, very interesting and insightful. Thank you Zainab

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  8. Dee

    thankyou for sharing your experiences, Zainab. An interestng insite. I now want to go away to read more about the moving dates for Ramadan etc.

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  9. Carole

    Thank you Zainab, I really enjoyed your article and now have a better understanding of Ramadan.

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    • caroline

      Yes, I was unaware that the date moved - I will be investigating the reasons around Ramadan too, because your article was interesting and also made a lot of sense. thanks for sharing

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  10. Bogdan T

    Brilliant ! Great insight into Ramadan and how it impacts work and day to day. Ramadan Mubarak !

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  11. Helen

    Really interesting - thank you!

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  12. Siobhan Dagnall

    Really interesting read. Thanks for sharing Zainab.

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  13. Debby

    Although I knew about Ramadan and have spent time in the UAE during Ramadan, it is completely different hearing the effects from someone who actively takes part. This is a great article Zainab and has a fair amount of humour which I love. I have a great deal of admiration for anyone who can fast like this at any time but particularly when it is at this time of the year and the day light hours are long - well done and thank you for bringing clarity to something I didn't quite understand.

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  14. Naz

    Great article - thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

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  15. Yvonne

    Thanks very much for that insight into Ramadan. It helps me understand the reasons behind it and will hopefully help me support my colleagues who are observing it. Much respect to those who are disciplined enough to do so.........

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  16. Dave (MOD)

    Thank you for this really interesting article Zainab

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  17. Alan Evans

    Thank you Zainab, you have answered a question that my wife and I were discussing last night about whether everyone has to fast. Very interesting read, thanks again.

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  18. Ada Simpson

    Thank-you for sharing, I found it really interesting. The focus on reflection and giving sounds very rewarding.

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  19. Aliya

    masha'Allah very well written.

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  20. Zhiva McCourt

    Thanks Zainab. Your article gave me an insight into what I thought was a religious obligation. I now know that there is a lot more to Ramadan.

    Zhiva McCourt

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  21. Michelle

    I really enjoyed reading your article Zainab. It gave me a better understanding of why ramadan is observed.

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  22. Stewart

    Really good to read about the interaction and links between your faith and your work. It's too often that these subjects are separated as if they bear no relation to each other. Also as a Christian who fasts occasionally during Lent I'm in awe of your self control!

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  23. Chris

    This was an excellent read! Informative and entertaining.

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  24. Baksh

    Zainab, a remarkable account of your life at Ramadan!!!! your reflections are very realistic and in some ways an amusing insight into your adapting lifestyle.
    You should become a BLOGGER!!!! and good luck with the remainder of your Fast!!!

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  25. Ronnie

    Thank you for an insight into your life and Ramadan. I wish you and your family well for Ramadan and the rest of the year

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  26. Nazia Begum

    Excellent article

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  27. Helen Sharp

    What an interesting read Zainab, so often we get caught up in our own lives and don't take the time to notice what is impacting on others daily routines. I like that this period in your faith requires you to reflect on your own life and the challenges that others less fortunate than ourselves face. We would all do better to take stock and consider if what we are getting worked up about is really that important and wouldn't it be nicer if we simply tried to support those around us at work and in our daily lives. The quote about your children was so funny. I hope you do reach the end of the month feeling spiritually and physical refreshed.

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  28. Maria

    I found your article interesting and the parts about your children and husband amusing. It provided additional insight and a stepping stone to learn more about Ramadan. Thank you so much for sharing

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  29. MaryJane

    I never really knew much about Ramadan before, so this has been very insightful about what it actually involves. I would find fasting really difficult, but the thing I would find hardest is not being grumpy for a month!

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  30. Mark Chambers

    Humorous and insightful. Thanks for sharing that.

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  31. Tariq

    Thank you for this Zainab. You have encapsulated the feelings of everyone who is fasting. I definitely prefer being at work and find the weekends much tougher. I enjoyed the whole article.

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  32. Farrukh

    Well done Zainab, one of the best articles I have read on the purpose of fasting, Muslims fast not only because it is a direct command from God but also becasue it betters one as a person. It would also be interesting to find out the effects fasting has on the biochemisty of a body, what happens to all those life supportng processes when someone fasts.

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  33. Eileen Gledhill

    Very enlightening - thanks Zainab.

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  34. N

    Good article!

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  35. Wajiha

    Lovely article Zainab.

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  36. Catherine

    Fantastic article, really glad I was able to take the time to read it and will try and reflect over the coming days too. Thank you for sharing

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  37. Aleen

    Zainab, such a brilliant peice of writing and I could relate to each and everything you wrote. I couldnt help but muse that the surge in my prioritising better and setting goals for the day has not come from my positive performance review that I had recently but because I am wary of lower levels of energy and dont want to let it compromise my work. Good job writing that peice, you covered all the bits that needed to be covered.

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  38. Shuhab

    Well written and enjoy the Blessingsof Ramadan

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  39. Zainab

    Thank you so much everyone.I am completely overwhelmed by your comments and the knowing that you value and appreciate diversity.

    PS: My husband is quite chuffed at being a minor celebrity across civil service too!

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  40. EO

    This is a very well written articles from someone who clearly understands her faith and lives it partically.
    Like the stories relating to family live, you made it so real.
    Well done to you Zainab in your fast and all those fasting also.

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  41. a novice

    a lovely article; albeit i didnt appreciate your comment in which you *had* to point out that your husband gives so much more in charity than he has too. perhaps he can reflect on the notion that as i understand it in Islam giving of charity isnt something that one publicises - in fact i believe the stance is that the left hand shouldnt know what the right hand has offered in charity?

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    • Zainab

      Thank you for the comment. To clarify, the reference "he ends up paying much more" wasnt in reference to him giving more charity rather that he ends up "paying more" in terms of parental input (reference to the next few lines)!

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    • Farrukh

      When Zainab said that her husband pays much more, I think she was referrring to all the extra work he has to do, help with chilren's himework, etc.

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  42. SAM

    Thoroughly enjoyable piece, very interesting. I had heard of but knew nothing about Ramadan.

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  43. Dianne

    Zainab, thank you for this fascinating insight, I am sure this benefits you both spiritually and physically. Just one point, the first comment from someone who had worked in Istanbul mentioned a strict ban on snacks and drinks at meetings presumably for both muslims and non-muslims. As someone who never eats meat, I can confirm I regularly sit down to eat with my carnivorous family and don't consider they are personally insulting my beliefs.

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  45. Mahsoom Hamdani

    I couldn't have said it better myself. An excellent article with so much i could relate to. Thank you for taking the efforts in sharing this wonderful experience. Ramadhan Mubarak!

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  46. Petra Harris- Craig

    Hi Zainab,
    Whilst I respect your choice of faith I do not appreciate explanations of religious practices being given to staff in their place of employment. Religion, like politics is an emotive subject and it has always been my understanding a topic which should be kept out of the workplace.
    Christians, Hindus, Bhuddists and people from various other faiths practice fasting throughout the year without the need for recognition from their colleagues. Fasting is a personal matter which should and can be done privately.

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    • Zainab

      Hi Petra. I appreciate your point of view. The blog was published in my department's diversity blog, a voluntary read for anyone wanting to know more about experiences people bring to our department and indeed our teams and covers articles from colleagues across different backgrounds. I find it fascinating and helpful to know more about the people I work with. Apologies if it caused you any offence!

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    • Richthofen

      I agree entirely with Petra Harris-Craig's comments.

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    • S

      The general direction within the civil service is one of more openness to diversity, and a rejection of the old fashioned idea that "personal" stuff should be left outside the workplace. We work better if we can be ourselves and bring the richness of ourselves to work, and be open about things. I personally welcome learning about other faiths etc, and while it is true other faiths do fast, I think the expectations on Muslims at Ramadan are more arduous than for example giving up sweets for lent - especially if it falls during the long summer days - and this means that we need to understand eachothers' needs - it will have implicaitons for fasting muslims in the workplace in terms of fatigue etc as Zainab explains.

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  47. Dawn Dixon

    An enjoyable, insightful and informative article. Thanks Zainab.

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  48. Sue

    Zainab, thank you for an inspiring insight into Ramadan, it was really interesting. Reflecting rather than reacting, and thinking of others over ourselves is truly behaviour to which everyone should aspire. Good luck reaching your goal, and hope your husband doesn't need to deal with too many "lego stuck in nose" incidents!

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  49. Lizz

    Brilliant article, very insightful & very enjoyable to read. I look forward to more. Thanks Zainab.

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  50. Martyn (MOD)

    As an Agnostic, I do find it fascinating to hear of different religious practises, especially when it written in such a clear, entertaining and non-judgemental manner.

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  51. Pauline

    I'll admit that I have limited knowledge of Ramadan, or the Muslim faith - but I have been fasting intermittently since 2014, and can certainly empathise with the grumpiness and the interrupted sleep that fasting brings! I can only manage 2 non-consecutive days fasting per week, so I am in awe of anyone that can continue a fast for a whole month. A very interesting article, and the only one that I have read so far that I have felt inspired to comment on!

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  52. Romana

    Excellent blog Zainab, and articulated perfectly what I've been discussing with my colleagues about the significance of this month (I've forwarded it to them). Thanks!

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  53. Sikander

    Jzx Zainab
    Takabbal Allah minna wa minkum

    Thanks Z
    May Allah accept our fasts.

    Sikander, wsa/regards
    Muslim Chaplain, HMYOI Feltham

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  54. Hazel

    I don't think I have ever read such an interesting article in Civil Service News. Thank you very much Zainab.

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  55. Ruth

    Excellent article, thank you for highlighting the additional practices Muslims undertake during Ramadan. I was under the impression that it 'just' involved fasting. Ramadan Mubarak and Eid Mubarak for July!

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    Ramadhan mubarak Zainab and to all my colleagues too. Wow! what an amazing article you have written, you have summed it up in a nutshell, Ramadhan is truly a month of patience and full of plenty of rewards!!!

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  57. Julian Harris

    Thank you Zainab Agha my cousin in faith, may God accept and bless your fast

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  58. Shaz Parveen (CSA)

    Brilliant article Zainab I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!! I have to admit I am finding it tough this year especially with the warm weather it has been very challenging! Being at work during fasting definitely helps the day go quicker and I do tend to get alot more done. My colleagues have been great in supporting me as I have been doing slightly shorter days than normal and that has really helped. Best wishes for the remainder of your fasts. Ramadan Mubarak.

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  59. JACKIE

    I enjoyed reading your article.You have given an informative and human insight into what is clearly a very important part of your life.A great article Zainab .

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  60. Shiwli

    Your article made enjoyable reading. For me the significant point you mentioned was 'practising patience'. In this ever changing, busy lifestyles we lead, we forget to slow down. Ramadhan for me is about reflection and patience. To summarise in my 2-year-olds words - "wait a minute!"

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  61. Katy

    Great article, really interesting! Thank you for sharing!

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  62. Heather

    Very interesting article that was very enjoyable to read. Not sure I understand the comments about keeping this away from the workplace?? Surely, anyone who isn't interested doesn't have to read it - it wasn't compulsory. However, I would also be interested in an insight into many other faiths and how they may impact on work/life balance as occasional reading. We live in a multi-faith society and it is always good to be aware of why others may have a different outlook on life. A little understanding goes a long way.

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  63. David

    I am a Christian and I fast two days a week - mainly for health reasons. When I first started, I felt hungry, and I also felt colder (I suppose food helps to warm the body) and more tired. After a few months, though, these things started to pass, and now I almost look forward to the fast days because on them I am less obsessed with food. What surprises me somewhat is that I feel hungry on normal days but not on fast days. Christianity does not require fasting, but Jesus fasted, and I feel that it is a way of showing your mind and body who's boss. It's a little difficult at first, but it quickly gets easier, and the health and spiritual benefits are considerable. By the way, by a fast I do not mean that I eat nothing on those days - I eat a 600 calorie meal in the evening, but there will hopefully have been 24 hours since the last meal.

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  64. Debra

    A wonderful reflection on Ramadan from so many perspectives - what is means religiously, spiritually, and for you and your family personally. Thank you Zainab! I feel I have a better understanding now, far beyond the 'fast during daylight, two large meals at night' basics I knew before. I also promise I would never try to compare it eg going carb-free!

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  65. Petra Harris- Craig

    Heather- Whilst reading it was not compulsory on this site; it is in the Management Bulletin which makes it compulsory and in my view not relevant when religion starts to play a part in the daily management of the office.

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  66. Melanie Potts

    Hi Zainab

    I just wanted to add my appreciation to the many positive comments... A really well-written, thoughtful and inspiring article!

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  67. GSR

    So, a rich muslim can remove themselves from the requirement to fast during Ramadan by giving money to charity? What will they have learnt in terms of spirituality and understanding the plight of those less fortunate? How can they be empathetic to those who do not know where there next meal is coming from? I really liked the final sentence of your article:-'the challenge is always making that learning stick throughout the year'. Thinking of others, practising patience and understanding, showing spiritual strength, mental fortitude and just generally being good human beings should not just be for the 9th month of the calendar..but for life. For all of us.

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  68. Gill

    Hi Zainab

    What an inspiring article, you are a credit to your family and friends. Very well written

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  69. Mohammad

    Brilliantly written Zainab, really liked the way you articulated the key elements of fasting so light heartedly!

    Thank you for sharing!

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  70. Ade

    Captivating title, humorous, insightful and educative. This article can make the learning stick throughout the year if read monthly. Great Job Zainab!

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