The two predominant travellers to Saudi Arabia are expats and pilgrims and I fall into the latter category. Although there has been a slight growth in leisure tourism, religious tourism is a thriving industry, bringing in Continue reading
I still vividly remember the first time I attended church in Ghana and, although it wasn’t entirely through choice, it is something I Continue reading
As we shiver our way through what remains of winter, I can’t be the only person who is already looking forward to the most interesting — arguably the only interesting — day in February: Shrove Tuesday. It falls on February 9th this year, and I’m already excited for pancakes.
But obviously there’s far more to Shrove Tuesday than pancakes. You may know that it’s the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and 47 days before Easter Sunday. But it’s impossible to say when it started — it’s not mentioned in the Bible, obviously. ‘Shrove’ comes from the verb ‘to shrive’, meaning ‘to absolve from sin’. Ælfric of Eynsham’s Ecclesiastical Institutes c. AD 1000 tells you exactly what this entails: “In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do.”
Of course, in Britain we know and love Shrove Tuesday chiefly as Pancake Day, but ours is not the only tradition of pancake-eating. There is a suggestion that the idea of eating pancakes at this time of year is pagan in origin. Pre-Christian Slavs celebrated the arrival of spring — during which Jarilo, the god of springtime, struggled with the demons of cold and darkness — by cooking and eating pancakes. Eating the hot, round pancakes meant you were consuming the power, light and heat of the sun, which was presently thawing the frozen wilderness.
In the UK, the tradition has rather different recent origins. Making pancakes with the last of the milk, eggs and sugar before the lean days of Lent was a sensible way to use them up before the period of abstinence began. Even the idea of the pancake race, practised with varying degrees of jollity and enthusiasm, arose supposedly from a housewife who was making pancakes when she heard the church bells ring. Realising she was going to be late for the service, she dashed out of the house still clutching the frying pan, tossing the pancake now and then to stop it burning. Perhaps the oddest pancake race is the Rehab Parliamentary Pancake Race, which is contested every year by teams from the Commons, Lords and the Fourth Estate. They compete for the title of Parliamentary Pancake Race Champions and to raise money for the Rehab social care charity. One wonders what other activities they could find — perhaps at Prime Minister’s Questions they could fill the Commons with water and do a sponsored synchronised swim…
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims worldwide observe this as the month of fasting. According to Islamic belief, this is done to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad. The month lasts 29-30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon.
Fasting is obligatory for all adult Muslims, except those who are ill, travelling, elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic or going through menstrual bleeding. Fasts last from dawn till sunset, and during this period, eating, drinking, smoking, and engaging in sexual behaviour is forbidden. Muslims are also instructed to refrain from sinful behaviour such as lying, insulting, fighting and cursing. Food and drink is served daily before dawn and after sunset, and it is believed that spiritual rewards are multiplied within Ramadan. In addition to fasting, Muslims give Zakat (a fixed percentage of a person’s savings required to be given to the poor), charity and in most countries, food and water is provided to the poor for iftar.
Those who hear about Ramadan usually think that there is a lack of eating during this month — in actual fact every Muslim family worldwide is very particular about having a healthy and filling sehri and iftar. In Pakistan, sehri and iftar are somewhat more nourishing than the average meals. Continue reading
Due to a complex set of arrangements, mainly resulting from appalling organisation on our part, we ended up with only one day in Varanasi, the North Indian city on the banks of the Ganges. Not even a day and a night — we arrived on the 5 AM train and left at about midnight. This meant that our visit was shadowed, literally, by our bags, as we heaved them around the city after us. There is also a significant amount of pressure if you only have one day in a place, especially if it is somewhere as significant as Varanasi, to do and see everything.
Varanasi is of immense importance to Hindus as it backs on to the Ganges River. The religious importance of the Ganges is agreed on by even the most sceptical of Hindus; its scared waters are said to cleanse people of their sins, its water is transported across the country to be used in rituals, and ashes are brought to be scattered here. Continue reading