x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

The trials of a fasting mummy in London

A toddler joining in at suhoor by crying is only the beginning of it

Picture the scene, feel the pangs in your stomach, wipe from your brow the drops of sweat from the never ending heat of a summer with no air conditioning, and sit at my dining table after 19 hours of fasting. The plates are out, the glass is filled with iced lemon juice, and the food has been laid on the table. This is Ramadan in London during an unexpected summer heatwave.

You recite a small prayer as thanks for making it through another fast during this challenging holy month. As you raise to your parched lips a plump date, filled with tantalising juices and rejuvenating sugars, you hear a cry from your toddler upstairs who should be sleeping. Correction, you hear a wail, a tremendous scream. A screech which will put your neighbours off their meal.

The date falls from your hand as you rise from the table. You mutter stoically to your husband "I'll be back". Neither of you is quite sure if this is true or not. And while he attempts to stall his eating to show empathy, you know that as soon as you're upstairs cajoling your angel back to sleep, his meal will have disappeared from the table. You don't begrudge him that at all.

These are the trials of the fasting mummy in London.

Ramadan is a time of serenity and spiritual immersion. To complain is frowned upon, because it is through the difficulties that we are purified. And so the despair, tears and excruciating headaches get stifled behind the beatific expression that mothers are always expected to wear, more so in Ramadan.

Except that it's hard. I've worked long days in an office during Ramadan. And now I work from home and look after the toddler. Shall I tell you which is easier? The office job is a walk in the park, no contest. No doubts about it, no competition. It's the difference between sweeping up leaves and sweeping up leaves in a tornado. You're surrounded, and it never ends. It's easy to lose focus when the goal you're seeking feels unreachable and demoralising.

It's not toddler tantrums that are the only problem, although at 2.30am when I wake for suhoor, she wakes up too, and joins in by bawling. Sometimes it's the sheer liveliness and delight of being two years old, wonderful, joyful, energetic two that takes its toll. Let's run through the sprinkler in the garden, let's do this jigsaw, I want to draw, cook, paint, and even hug. Mummy, can you help?

Actually, could I just sit down for a few minutes and close my eyes because this headache is very painful. And by the way, if you could refrain from snatching the Quran while I try to read some verses because you want to read it. And no, my prostration in prayer is not an invitation to you to go on a horsey-ride. And no darling, it's very sweet of you to share your food but you really shouldn't stuff it straight into my mouth.

If by now you're thinking this is moaning-mummy mode, and mothers should stop complaining, after all being a mum and being in Ramadan are double benefits, then I have news. No mum complains and wants out, rather we're just stating a fact: it's tough, much tougher than it looks. That's OK, because mums are tough too. And we know that in years to come, it is the Ramadan created by Mummy that will be lodged in their memories.

Mummy's Ramadan will be the idyll that they will forever attempt to recreate. We just won't tell them about the headaches and the tantrums.


Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk