Rife Awards Winner: Hassan Sherif ‘Ramadan, Man’

Credit: Tom Ashworth

Credit: Tom Ashworth

Hassan Sherif is the winner of the Rife Awards with his essay, ‘Ramadan, Man’.

The inaugural Rife Awards aimed to find Bristol’s best feature writers aged 13-19. Launched by Rife Magazine, an online platform made for young people by young people, its ethos is about finding and nurturing new and emerging talent. This year’s winner, Hassan Sherif’s winning entry ‘Ramadan, Man’ was described by youth judge Leo Jay Shire as ‘Witty and informative, this feature answers many misinformed questions about Ramadan with patience and humour’. Hassan is a 16-year-old filmmaker and writer from Bristol with 19 syllables in his entire name. He said of the story, he wanted to make a ‘ a fact-filled, unnecessarily complicated, or preachy article’ about something he was passionate about.

This year’s judges were Rife content creator Leo Jay Shire and Bristol 24/7 editor, Martin Booth.

Here is the winning essay:

Ramadan, Man

‘Want a [insert delicious snack here]?’

‘Sorry, I’m fasting.’

‘Fasting? You don’t eat?’

‘We can eat at night.’

‘We?’

‘Yeah…Muslims. It’s Ramadan, man.’

‘How do you do it?’

‘It’s not that bad.’

‘I couldn’t do it.’

‘You’d be surprised.’

 ‘I think it’s silly.’

‘It’s quite fun actually.’

 ‘But you don’t get to eat.’ 

Many Western Muslims will have partaken in this perfectly innocent conversation at least once in their lifetime. One month a year, Muslims worldwide will attempt to explain just why they do Ramadan. This isn’t because nobody knows anything about the Holy Month – on the contrary. Certainly in Britain, many schools give pupils of the essential facts. It’s because to fully understand one’s seemingly crazy motivation to get involved, one needs to understand the true goals of the month.

So what do most people know already? Presumably that it’s a Muslim custom (if they’re super interested they’ll know it’s the ninth month of the Islamic calendar). They’ll know that during this month, Muslims around the world will fast from sunrise to sunset (or, we may eat ‘until the white thread becomes distinguishable to you from the dark thread at dawn. Then you shall maintain the fast until the night.’) However, one baffling question remains:

 ‘Why on Earth would you do it??’

The origins of this question stem from a society obsessed with food. Nowadays, it does seem bizarre (and impossible) to voluntarily fast, what with the opportunity to buy and consume rarely more than 500 metres away at all times. Once Ramadan begins, those partaking in it will probably lose the will to do anything at all. This is because lots of us get through the day with the goal of rewarding ourselves with lunch or dinner. Take away the prospect of food, and work no longer seems so appealing.

One of the most significant reasons we do it is to commemorate the first revelation of the Qu’ran to the prophet Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him). Fasting is also one of the five pillars of Islam – five mandatory facets that all Muslims must complete (prayer, fast, pilgrimage, giving charity and declaration of faith).

 ‘But it’s not healthy.’

Fasting’s only obligatory for adult Muslims. It’s not for people suffering from illness (including the common cold), diabetics, people who are travelling, the elderly, anyone who hasn’t gone through puberty or women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating. Nowadays, Muslims, particularly young people, are excused from fasting when they have important exams or events that may be beneficial for their future.

 ‘You must lose sooo much weight.’

‘Unfortunately not.’

 ‘But you starve yourself, don’t you?’

No. We don’t eat food only for a safe period of time (usually 12-17 hours), then we’ll gladly welcome nutritional, high carb and energy meals in the company of family and friends, and have a ‘midnight meal’ (Sohour) before the sun rises. Energy is taken from the foods eaten the early morning before, and this lasts us the whole day. The only real risk healthy people face during Ramadan is afternoon grouchiness, but this is overcome within a few days.

Ramadan isn’t meant to be a shortcut to magical weight loss or an incredible beach bod. It’s about strengthening spirituality. As Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan (seriously, that’s his name) puts it, ‘In Ramadan, you should eat less and think more.” This is because Muslims try to use the month to gain perspective on their own condition. We try to dispose of any sinful or undesirable behaviour (eg insulting or lying to others, etc). Ramadan serves as a tool to refresh the soul and separate it from corrupt imperfections.

Furthermore, one of the most important results of fasting is being thankful for what you have. A break from eating food allows us to connect with those poorer than ourselves and empathise with their daily struggle.

‘That’s useless.’

‘Why?’

 ‘Well, after you’re done feeling sorry for poor people, you go and stuff your face.’

We don’t just ‘feel sorry for poor people’. While we reduce our intake of food, we increase our charitable actions, striving to donate more resources to those less fortunate.

 ‘So that you can get into Heaven quicker?’

Well, we do believe that giving charity is looked upon favourably by God, but Ramadan is actually used to update a long-lasting sense of commitment to helping poorer people. Ramadan may have left us for another year, but the thought of others still starving has not, and we continue to give generously in order to provide relief as well as promote unity, no matter one’s social or financial state. One month of Ramadan can inject a life-long willingness to donate, and if that willingness threatens to wither, another month of Ramadan comes around. Ramadan reminds us to celebrate what we have (resources, family, friends, faith, and, most importantly, the power to help).

‘So…how do you pass the time without food?’

Most free time is spent with family and friends. The few hours between the breaking of the fast and the midnight meal (Sohour) can be occupied in many different ways. Traditionally, late night activities involve street celebrations and dinner parties, but many spend the time differently. For instance, my father and I choose to spend the hours watching classic films and giving our often-conflicting verdicts. It’s also custom to not only give a bit of time to read small sections of the Qu’ran or to pray, but to also analyse and question our beliefs, in an effort to further understand our spirituality.

 ‘Oh, cool. So that’s a no to the [insert delicious snack here], then?’