Monday, September 25, 2006

It's Ramadan again

Ramadan feels similar to a kid going back to school. The homework is a pain, you might get a nasty teacher, but their is an exciting atmosphere where you get to tackle another challenge and see close friends again.
In Ramadan, the not eating is a pain, you might get a nasty headache , but their is a certain jovial family atmosphere. It rises to a sort of crescendo on the last days before you break the fast with relatives and sometimes friends.

On the other hand, there's the argument that faithful are told to fast so their minds are weaker and easier to manipulate. Cults are known to half-starve their followers in order to deprive them of a fully reasoning mind. A tired and undernourished brain is easier to manipulate than a well fed one. The fact that, at the hungriest and most desperate time of the day, the Islamic call to prayer (there is but one God and Muhammed is his prophet) blares over loud speakers as though a message of release. The most enjoyable part of the day, when the date squishes into your mouth and you take a huge drink, the message which is repeated over and over and over again, is right there.

That's not the official reasoning, however. One reason for fasting during Ramadan is to make people understand what its like to be very hungry so they can better sympathise with the poor. Almsgiving, (Zaqat) is the third of the five pillars of Islam.

It also makes people feel they have taken part in something. Like they have completed a harsh task, and having done so, are more a part of the religion.

I've spent the last four Ramadan seasons in Arab countries, the first in Jordan and Egypt, and the last three here in Morocco. Last year, my first as a Muslim, I didn't make a huge effort, which was certainly more than the two years previous. I sometimes had coffee to get rid of headaches in the morning, and when you cheat once, well, the whole game is up so you might as well have a yoghurt and a chocolate bar too.
This year I'm one for one so far. I figure if it starts to interfere with my work, I might cheat again. The plan is to work hard in the mornings, sleep in the afternoons, break the fast at sundown, let the bloated feeling settle, and get back to work.
Even a sip of water is considered cheating and thus ruins all the effort someone put throughout the day.

If you have an open mind, consider asking a Muslim friend if you could join them and break the fast one day during Ramadan. It's an enlightening experience and gives you a taste of what Muslims go through for a month every year.

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