• Ramadan is a time of appreciation and a time of self-reflection. (AAP)
“It tests me. It teaches me. It reminds me. It challenges me.”
By
Sarah Norton

7 Jun 2016 - 11:41 AM  UPDATED 16 May 2018 - 9:11 AM

Ramadan is a holy month in the Muslim calendar. It's a time for prayer, reflection and renewal of faith. It is also a time for Muslims to fast, from when the sun comes up to when the sun goes down.

Actor and writer Osamah Sami, and SBS Food's deputy editor Farah Celjo - two Australian Muslims - have revealed everything you want to know about Ramadan down under.

Q: How hard is it, having to work while fasting?

Osamah: It can be a bloody doozy, this fasting thing. Because not only are we required to refrain from food and water from sunrise till sunset, but need to adhere to a certain level of piety. For a performer, I can tell you the latter is galaxy-folds more difficult than not eating. 

Farah: To be honest, it isn't hard working whilst fasting, but it can be so relative to where you work. I worked several years in hospitality, and there were times you were surrounded by food, which was a little more difficult, because you’d simply have a momentary lapse. But once I’m in the swing of the fasting period then it becomes mind over matter.

Q: What do you do in the non-daylight hours when you can eat?

Farah: Pretty much just be, snack, and keep on hydrating. I prefer to spend time with my family and reflecting on the day as well as prepping for the next few days if we can. This is also the time I choose to exercise and see others as during the day it can be very difficult to do this. Even though you can eat, you definitely don’t gorge as you want to keep yourself in-check.

Osamah: I try not to "feast". After all, Ramadan teaches us self-discipline and to make us think about our privileged lives. We can have eggs any way we like. Whilst I enjoy scrambled eggs, many poor children scramble for eggs. Ramadan gives us a reality-slash-gratitude check. 

I try to read the Koran at least once during the month, so each night I read one chapter (there are 30). Since I'm also a writer, I leave all the creative aspects to the night. You're not you when you're hungry and I often write pages of lard when I'm on a hunger strike. 

Osamah Sami

Q: Are people understanding of your extra commitments during the month?

Osamah: No they aren't, and frankly, I don't expect people to be. We live in a free, secular society and I choose these extra commitments from my own will; though I enjoy having the dialogue about Ramadan's meaning and significance with the punters on public transport.  

Farah: You can surprise people a lot - people aren’t always aware that you don’t have water or even chewing gum and I never worry if someone accidentally offers me a snack. I personally haven’t had anyone not understand my Ramadan commitment once I explain it to them, but usually it’s not front of mind for them so I don’t ever feel offended if someone forgets about it or asks me about it. The key for me is to listen to my body and be smart about my choices and talk to others about it – there’s certainly more to it than simply not eating and drinking for 30 days.

Q: Do you socialise at night, if so do you get much sleep during Ramadan?

Osamah: I know many Muslims who stay up late so they can sleep more and fast "less". I used to do that, but nowadays I feel being unproductive is not Ramadan's message, so I suck it up.

As families, we stay up late to dine and mingle and enjoy one another's precious company. But if I have a 5am call and I have to be on set, I just have to do it. Whenever I complain about being too hungry and exhausted, my young daughter reminds me: "It's only a month, Dad, just suck it up princess."

Whenever I complain about being too hungry and exhausted, my young daughter reminds me: "It's only a month, Dad, just suck it up princess."

Farah: I do socialise mostly over food with family and friends. Even though you can eat and drink, I am still mindful and take care because it isn’t about indulgence. Also you do get tired after a filling meal – no surprises there. You just plan your evenings accordingly.

Q: Are there any other challenges posed by fasting and functioning during the day?

Osamah: I've been fasting for two decades, since I was a young boy during the war [Osamah's family fled war-torn Iran during the Iran-Iraq war when he was 13] and as a teenager in the scorching Shepparton heat whilst picking tomatoes; my body has been conditioned to tolerate the physical aspects of it. As I grew older and began appreciating the company of women, however, the spiritual aspect of it kept getting tougher. 

Farah: I am a very active person, so my challenge would really be exercise. I have been known to exercise during fasting time - so no water/food and that really is my choice. It’s about being aware, looking out for your body and listening to it.

Q: Why is Ramadan so important to you?

Osamah:  It tests me. It teaches me. It reminds me. It challenges me. It's also God's fair dinkum way of offering us a proper weight loss solution.  

Farah: I see it as a time of appreciation, self-control and understanding. It is also something that has become a part of my family’s life and so we really embrace it and it brings my family together during this time, especially when we iftar together. It’s a challenging reminder of what we have and by the end of 30 days I surprise myself, those around me and also my body, which tends to shed a few kilos along the way.

Osamah: I would like to wish all my fellow Muslims a happy Ramadan and a safe and healthy fasting period, for the Koran reminds us: "God does not burden any soul save to its capacity" – Albaqara, 286.

Listen to Osamah discuss mosques, mourning and chasing girls with SBS's True Stories podcast

Break the fast
Mafroukeh
This rich Lebanese dessert is traditionally made using clotted cream, while some cooks use whipped ricotta sweetened with sugar and flavoured with orange blossom water. Needless to say, versions abound, but the condensed milk cream in this recipe works super-well. This dessert isn’t particularly hard to make (don’t be put off by the long roasting time for the semolina) but it is important that the syrup and semolina be completely cool when combined, or the semolina layer will set rock hard.
Red lentil soup with milk (sütlü mercimek çorbasi)
There are loads of different Turkish red lentil recipes, and this is just one of them. If you are driving through the night and you stop at a roadhouse, you will see many people eating this soup before the main course. Sometimes they eat it for breakfast as a cure for hangovers.