Reflections on Ramadan
1 July 2016
This year Ramadan was starting to get tougher towards its end unlike last year. I wondered whether it was due to the weather being hotter. Even though it was getting difficult, I was still able to enjoy the spirit of Ramadan, the way it opens the heart to milder thoughts about others while at the same time heightening all senses. I am not sure this occurs for others who fast too but I have always found when fasting that everything around becomes more acute and vivid. The colours, the sounds, smells/aromas and feelings, practically everything is taken to another level. As I pondered these matters during a short idle time, an exchange with a friend about Ramadan tents got me thinking about some of the parts of Ramadan that I cared for less. Ever since I came to the Middle East, it has always surprised me how Ramadan seems to contradict its own principles. The most wastage of food I have seen is during Ramadan and most people around are in a rarely charitable mood, both from a financial and sentiment perspective and many so taken by the fact that they cannot smoke outside resort to anger to compensate for the lost vice. While this may be a bit understandable for an expatriate who is deprived of his daily habit while not fasting because non-Muslim, I always found it quite surprising coming from Muslims.
During Ramadan and since I came to the Middle East, I usually avoid Iftars and Suhoors whenever I can, i.e. whenever it is not pressed upon me as an obligation because the sight of so much food going to waste while millions are dying of hunger and even in the UAE so many workers have close to nothing to feed themselves with makes me feel ill and I end up not enjoying my time at all. I only attend such events if I can be around people I really care about as that makes the experience more balanced on the energy level.
I remember seeing all kinds of displays of food from almost every Muslim friend I know on facebook and it made me smile as I felt happy they could enjoy such plenty but it also made me sad to think that most of the time, and for most people, Ramadan has become a caricature of turning night into day and day into night, eating and drinking the maximum possible during the night to compensate for the daytime privation without a thought for those less fortunate and for whom the whole principle of Ramadan was created in the first place.
I cannot lie and say I do not enjoy good food myself as I am quite a foodie but when I fast, I feel it is almost impossible to even try having a full meal let alone stuffing oneself as most people do. Besides, for me, fasting is more about attaining compassion and understanding of the situation of the downtrodden than on the basis of Islam so it is a personal choice and not an obligation which could perhaps explain that I do not feel frustrated when doing it. Those who have read my blog regularly or even chanced upon my about know that I come from a varied cultural and religious background where three religions/philosophies of life were already present at childhood and another three captured my attention during young adulthood. Fasting is, as far as I am concerned, a personal choice to experience something unique that opens the mind and the heart and allows one to grow personally in so many ways.
For those who have kept inviting me to Suhoors/iftars and who were not happy I declined, I hope you understand that it is nothing against you. I am happy to attend such events where it is a one-on-one experience or a small group of friends who really care for each other but where it is a huge crowd as a matter of social status and the hypocrisy that goes with it, I really cannot be bothered if it does not have a clearly defined charitable scope that is effective. I have made exceptions in the past when I was really pressed to attend by a special person I cared for but am finding it increasingly difficult to adjust to the hypocrisy of such large-scale events.
Hypocrisy of course can be on more levels than just this extravagant display of waste and disdain for the downtrodden during a month that normally encourages sobriety and compassion. The events in Turkey for example come to mind and I find it hard to believe that any kind of Muslim could even think it acceptable, what more during such a holy month of compassion and caring, to take away others’ life in such a sad way. In normal times this is already not what Islam preaches – and I will not even indulge in answering all those who can easily pick distorted or out of context quotes from the Quran to try to justify I am wrong (all holy books contain similar if not worse quotes, I have read enough to know that) – and to think that this was done during the month of Ramadan makes it an even worse hypocrisy, that of distorted self-righteousness, i.e. inner hypocrisy or the worst of all. May they all rest in peace, murderers and murdered alike.
To end on a slightly more positive note, I would like to share with you what I consider an iftar of plenty during Ramadan and which was my iftar yesterday. Regardless of why you fast, may your fast be accepted and even if you don’t fast, may the spirit of Ramadan permeate your mind and heart in the same way as it should for those who fast. As this Ramadan slowly comes to an end, I hope that in the same way that you have indulged yourself during Ramadan you will indulge the poor and the needy this Eid and wish you all Ramadan kareem again.
Only Breath – Jalaluddin Rumi