Thursday, September 02, 2010

Ramadan fast

Muslims around the world are currently observing the month of Ramadan, during which adults keep a fast without food or drink during the day.  A web primer explains the purpose:
Fasting helps one to experience how a hungry person feels and what it is like to have an empty stomach. It teaches one to share the sufferings of the less fortunate. Muslims believe that fasting leads one to appreciate the bounties of Allah, which are usually taken for granted – until they are missed!

Throughout the day Muslims are encouraged to go out of their way to help the needy, both financially and emotionally. Some believe that a reward earned during this month is multiplied 70 times and more. For this reason, Ramadan is also known as the month of charity and generosity.

To a Muslim, fasting not only means abstaining from food, but also refraining from all vice and evils committed consciously or unconsciously. It is believed that if one volunteers to refrain from lawful foods and sex, they will be in a better position to avoid unlawful things and acts during the rest of the year.
During a year of my youth spent living in Bandung, Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic country, I never made it through a whole day of fasting without at least a snack or a little water.  In part, social roles for hosts and guests forced me to eat something to be polite, even with the host was keeping fast.  I was struck by the fasting practice of neighbors such as the becak (pedicab) driver and day laborers who hung out on the street corner by our house.  Any one of them, who at the time in the 1980s earned about $30 per month, could explain without any discernible irony that they kept the fast so that they might know what it is like to be poor and hungry. In the same vein, consider this month the fast being kept by people in Pakistan who are suffering from floods.

Last night, I took my two children to the community Iftar -- or evening meal after the fast -- hosted by the Islamic Center of Davis, CA.  Hundreds of people turned out for the call to prayer, a delicious meal, and a moving and lively sermon by Sheikh Alaa' El Bakry about "The Rights of Neighbors."  In one passage, he contemplated our modern lives, in which we think our neighbors are the like-minded people with whom we text and twitter.  Imagine our surprise, in a time of crisis, such as a house fire, when we find ourselves going next door for help from the person who is more literally our neighbor, but with whom we haven't ever tried to bridge differences and talk.

Muslims, Christians, Jews, and secular folk crowded in until the auditorium's long tables were filled and many ate standing along the walls.  There were warm greetings for ministers, rabbis, officials from the police and FBI, and local politicians.  One state legislator, who is Japanese American, reflected on the futility of ignoring the current climate of fear of Muslims, knowing and remembering that any community may have its turn in the crossfire.

Even many of the non-Muslims kept fast for the day, which gives a special appreciation for the Iftar.  I made it through the complete daily fast yesterday for the first time in my life.  My children, ages 8 and 10, chose to fast from noon until the evening dinner.  I am happy that they could participate in such an event.  Ramadan lasts this month until about September 10. 

Source: (a Pakistani food site)


Andrea Wilson said...

What a beautiful picture of sacrifice. Thank you for drawing attention to human compassion and away from religious tension.

Food Jihadist said...

Great post. I fasted for the first time this Ramadan (as a non-muslim living in Cairo wondering what it would be like). It wasn't as hard as it could have been if I wasn't a freelance journalist and had the luxury of staying up and sleeping in. It's a wonderful holiday. I love your site!