17th Apr 2023
Diversity is significant to us here at Four Brick Court. We wanted to shed light on how Ramadan impacts our practitioners during the holy month.
“Not even water?” “No, not even water!”
The standard conversation at court prior to a hearing. One would have thought that with approximately 1.7 billion Muslims on this planet, the parameters of the daily fasts of Ramadan are now familiar.
Abstaining from food, drink and intimacy during daylight hours may be considered the easiest aspect of fasting. It’s the abstaining from gossip, slander and other ill thoughts that prove tougher. Avoiding arguments and being on your best behaviour can be challenging.
Barristers talk a lot. We talk to our clients, colleagues and the Court. Talking is what we are required to do. Try talking all day and being unable to take a sip of water. During a hearing I once developed a dry cough (of course dry). I knew a sip of water would resolve my predicament but that would compromise my fast. Others started to notice… the Judge also noticed. Was I distracting everyone? I had a bright idea. Well, I thought it was bright. I held my breath for as long as I could. I was laughing to myself internally. I held on until I started to feel lightheaded. Release. The cough had gone. I wouldn’t recommend this method. It worked but it might have been simpler to ask for a short adjournment to try and compose myself.
Concentrating burns calories (apparently). Trying to keep up at court whilst fasting can be challenging. The first few days of fasting are the toughest. Soon the body adjusts and begins to perform whilst being starved of nutrition and caffeine during daylight hours. The body soon realises that there is no food or water coming until it’s dark. Now the body adjusts and you begin to feel a change in energy and motivation. The fasts become far more manageable and the body extracts resources from body fats.
The morning meal at approximately 4.30am is the last we shall eat and drink until sunset. The whole process takes me about an hour. This includes having my breakfast, taking my antihistamines (hay fever sufferer) and completing the predawn prayers. There’s always an extravagant plan for opening fasts. However, after a few bites you quickly realise that your capacity to eat has reduced.
Uniquely there are lengthy optional night prayers in Ramadan. These are often read in congregations when sections of the Quran are read to the attendees. These prayers can take up to two hours. Most attendees remain for as long as they can afford…perhaps to remain away from other responsibilities? Balancing the desire to attend the late prayers and preparing for the hearing in the morning is a daily struggle. Sometimes I manage to attend and some days I pray at home.. most days I pray at home.
Friday prayers are important for Muslims and it feels more important during Ramadan. Why do I feel bad for asking for a slightly longer lunch break (without the food) to accommodate Friday prayers? 15 minutes makes all the difference and hopefully it will not trouble my colleagues or the Learned Judge. Extra time is not always necessary as most Mosques offer multiple sittings.
Sleeping hours are impacted by Ramadan. The late nights and early starts take a toll. Court times and general office hours remain the same. Trying to catch a short nap during the day becomes a necessary art. Muslim countries adjust working hours during Ramadan – start early and finish early.
Ramadan is a spiritual journey. It’s not something you realise when you’re young. It requires you to consider your actions and reactions. It requires you to dig deep when you’re struggling. It takes discipline and reminds us of those who are less fortunate than us. There are tough days. Travelling to courts can be exhausting even when able to eat and drink. Walking, running for the bus or train, negotiating tourists and escalators, climbing stairs where lifts do not operate can get very tiring. I write this whilst on the Jubilee Line. Unusually, I managed to get a seat.
Fasting is a team sport. All who are physically able are fasting with me. Millions of us. I draw strength from the team. My non-fasting colleagues have always been very supportive. Moral support is essential.
There are many online resources where you can learn about the Holy month of Ramadan. The above are just my thoughts and reflections whilst negotiating through the month with a brief in mind.
We now know that modern science confirms the health benefits to fasting. Put the knife and fork down and give it a go (if you are able).
– Ummar Ahmad, Barrister at Four Brick Court
I have never really needed to adjust professional commitments drastically during Ramadhan. However, the first few days are a little bit of an adjustment (especially the caffeine withdrawal symptoms!) so where possible I try and take a few days off at the beginning of Ramadhan (2-3 days). I have never really had to expressly state that I am making taking days off for Ramadhan, as it is something that I have always just tried to manage myself. Personally, I usually tend to keep my religious matters private, so over the years I have just fasted without really having to speak about it during work or make any adjustments. Of course, if the time of opening the fast coincides with a hearing, then I would inform the judge beforehand through the clerk, that I may need to break briefly to open my fast. I have fasted during school, university and other employment so I know it can be challenging, however apart from having a slightly disrupted routine I find that after a few days that I can manage all professional commitments.
– Practitioner observing Ramadan