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What happens in Susan Carland and Waleed Aly's house at Ramadan.

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It’s Ramadan, and right now most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims will be marking it in some form.

Last night even the PM, Malcolm Turnbull, hosted an Iftar dinner at Kirribilli House to mark the holy month. He’s the first PM to do so.

Among the guests were Waleed Aly and Susan Carland. And we had all the questions. What is Ramadan, exactly? What’s the point of it? Can you really not eat ANYTHING? And how can we make sure we don’t accidentally offend any Muslim friends or colleagues or even strangers during this time?

I asked the hijabulous academic Susan Carland everything.

Listen to the podcast here:

What’s the theory behind the fasting?

During Ramadan, many Muslims fast during daylight hours.  The idea, Susan says, is that the fasting and the praying is meant to teach you discipline and focus, especially now that we live in a time where everything is about instant gratification.

“If I’m hungry, I have something to eat, if I have a headache, I have a tablet. There is no sense of delayed gratification. There’s no real inner sense of discipline, certainly not for me, I’m terribly undisciplined. So Ramadan is about teaching us discipline over the most basic desires, food, drink and sex. So if you can master that, controlling those most basic of human  desires for 30 days, between daylight hours, then how much easier would it be for us to master the basic desires of the negative aspects of our personality.”

It’s like ‘high altitude training for the soul’.

You know how athletes go train in high-altitude so went they come back down to normal altitude, everything seems easier? Ever strapped ankle weights on to work out, and then when you take them off you feel like you can FLY? That’s Ramadan.

Susan says the hunger and thirst is not the point of fasting, it’s actually the vehicle, the means of transportation to be a better person, to elevate yourself and your soul.

“If I can be a nice person when I’m fasting, I have no excuse not to be nice when I’m not fasting. ”

#Ramadan bling is on

A photo posted by Susan Carland (@susancarland) on

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Wait… you can’t eat anything? Not even WATER?

No. No water. No chewing gum. No barley sugars, this isn’t the 40 hour famine. No smoking. No sex. No food. Not from sun up until sundown.

What if you’re pregnant or sick?

If you are pregnant, if you’re breastfeeding, if you have any illness that would make it dangerous for you to fast (including mental illness, or if you have a history of eating disorders) you’re exempt from fasting. Muslims who can’t fast will donate to feed the poor instead.

It should only be done by healthy adults who are capable of doing it without any detriment to their health.

What about kids? Do they fast too?

No. Susan says her son, nine year old Zayd, is getting into it this year, and attempted a fast of two hours. But children generally start when they reach the age of puberty, so long as they are healthy.  For children, Ramadan feels like Christmas, because at the end of it all, there’s a massive feast, called Eid, with presents, food, and family.

Just HOW hungry do you get?

Hungry enough to want to eat a box of chalk.  Susan said during one particular Ramadan, she was giving a lecture at uni, looked down at a box of chalk, and her mouth started watering. Sometimes it’s the kind of hunger that makes you see food…everywhere.

Especially when listening to Monique's mouth-watering questions.

Currently, because of Winter's shorter days, they break fast at 5pm. Which means Waleed Aly is going on The Project with something in his belly. Which is good, because a man can't deliver world-breaking monologues on an empty stomach. Susan says the worst are the long days of Summer when daylight-savings mean sometimes you can't eat or drink for over 14 hours...and it's hot.

But remember it's not about the fasting.

Oh, yeah. Sorry.

How bad is the caffeine withdrawal?

Susan mainlines coffee before the sun comes up, knocking back five strong coffees before 6am. If she doesn't, she says her withdrawals are so bad she'll feel like throwing up. But she says it's the smokers who have it tough. They can't get lit for a month.

What can non-Muslims do to help out a Muslim mate during this time?

Keep in mind, if you're having a work lunch, they might not want to attend because they will just see roast chicken on everyone's head. Also, just be aware they might get a bit sleepy during the day. High altitude training for the soul can make you tired. Apart from that, it's business as usual, and you don't have to do anything different.

(Except, maybe don't offer to make them a trifle to gorge on at their end of Ramadan party, mkay? That's what I did. And Susan, well, she had to gently remind me that trifles contain both alcohol and gelatin. So, yeah. #nailedit).

Our full chat is here. She is utterly delightful. And we play the Ramadan song, which has become a chart topper for the Mamamia podcast network.

 For more episodes of Mamamia Out Loud, subscribe to the show in iTunes, download episodes via the Mamamia Podcast App, or find us in your podcast app of choice.