July, 2012

What Ramadan Isn’t

What Ramadan Isn’t

Every year, bloggers and local papers write countless posts on what Ramadan is for the uninitiated, with many — like myself — citing gripes frequently, but for the most part, newspapers love to shed light on how wonderful Ramadan is.

From my experience and from non-Muslims’ experiences around me, how Ramadan is portrayed is exactly like how any product is portrayed prior to its market debut: Phenomenally spiritual, wonderful, enchanting — and ultimately falls short on these promises. People have come to see Ramadan as a symbol that encompasses everything negative about Arab Muslims living in the Middle East: lazy, impolite, excessive in consumption (of edibles and non-edibles), and discriminating against non-Muslims.

In effect, what people see of Ramadan these days is exactly everything that is not what Ramadan stands for: discipline.

At some point in history, Ramadan joined the ranks of Christmas and Thanksgiving and other religious holidays in their notoriety for exorbitant consumption. The major difference is that Ramadan is one lunar month long, which effectively makes it the most expensive of months for everyone — be it brands, consumers, or just plain residents who are trying to make their way through the world.

I will borrow some of Christianity’s teachings of the Cardinal Sins to elaborate on how people these days make Ramadan the sad state it is in — what Ramadan is, in fact, not:

LUST

Forget about sex; this isn’t the sort of lust I am talking about. It is expressed moaning and griping for everything that is out of reach. Water. Food. Coffee. Chocolate. Yes, it seems cute and funny sometimes. But eventually the persistent nagging becomes worrying. The lust for that cigarette break. You’d see people experiencing withdrawal symptoms from everything they could put in their mouths. And good God, the accompanied bickering (and self-victimization. See “Sloth”).

Worse than the relatively understandable moaning the first few days, what ticks me off the most is the lust for everything luxury. Brands (see “Greed”) just love how people want to consume in Ramadan everything that is “exclusive”. Countless “Ramadan Specials” and “Ramadan Promotions” that draw people in for that luxurious Iftar (breaking the fast; the first meal). People actively look for those Ramadan tents to indulge the rest of the vices in. And the greatest indulgence of all is….

GLUTTONY

That’s right. With the UAE trying to control inflation during Ramadan period because there is a “high demand for commodities”, you’d wonder if the world is coming to an end. Anyone who has been to an Iftar buffet can see exactly why people complain from gaining weight in the month despite not eating half the day. Stores run out of food items quickly.

Let’s pause for a minute here. The population is unlikely to double a week before Ramadan. And, in practice, when people go out grocery shopping for the week, they’re shopping for a two or three-meal-per-day week. And probably add in a few extra items for the sake of indulgence and maybe for the night when friends would come over. Come Ramadan, and the very same people who should shop for that one meal for Iftar and the other smaller meal before sunrise would now shop for what you’d think is either a family of 826 or for an average family which is effectively constantly eating.

Food becomes the primary form of entertainment and indulgence. And, sadly, the tonnes of wasted food that gets thrown away is probably one of the worst by-products of a fasting Muslim.

GREED

This one goes out to all brands, hotels, companies, and institutes that feed on the lust and gluttony of people. Hungry? Come eat at our exclusive luxury buffet for only this much and that much. Why, you also get a nice view of Burj X at 90% humidity. Hey, check out our wonderful brand! See what we do in Ramadan! See how we play with your emotions so you can come purchase our products! Buy this bundle of electronics you don’t need in our EXCLUSIVE Ramadan offer! (also check back at our other “exclusive” offers every three months)

SLOTH

If there’s anything a fasting Muslim is ever good at, it’s this: “Hey… yeah can we postpone this? I am fasting you know.” Everyone is lethargic and no one wants to do anything. I sympathise because the lack of food and water will eventually hit cognitive abilities, but some people just push it way too far.

WRATH

So not only do people make Ramadan as an excuse to not do anything, but they get bitchy about it, too. And you haven’t seen wrath unless you’ve been in rush hour traffic in Ramadan.

THE DISCRIMINATION

Though Muslims and non-Muslims both get shorter working hours, from what I have seen in the UAE and KSA is that laws are enforced to “protect the feelings of fasting Muslims” such as having food courts in malls close or be obscured by a labyrinth of curtains. No one is allowed to eat or drink in public, lest a poor, hungry Muslim feels just awful for not being able to eat or drink or have that much needed coffee.

If that is the case, why is the law not applicable outside of Ramadan, too? I mean, there are plenty of hungry, poor people and labourers on the street all year round, right? It’s OK to eat in front of them while they drool? Isn’t “feeling for the hungry and poor” one of the many aspects of why Muslims fast? So how are you feeling for them if you’re not confronted with the temptations? If you’re in your ivory towers of law that forbids temptation during the day and floods you with it during the night, in what possible sense are you fasting?

And why should non-Muslims be subjected to it anyway? They need to eat. It’s their right. They go to a shopping mall and they can’t even snack without hiding behind curtains. Listen, if a Muslims really wants to eat, he or she will eat. And I admit I’ve done it before.

 

So, here you have it. Things what Ramadan is NOT about, but have become the status quo thanks to us.

 

Image Credit: Sarah Kujubu

Morning Delights pt 5

Morning Delights pt 5

The morning is greyed out from the clouds, the rain battering the windows with their thunderous might. Waking up every day at this ungodly hour is an ordeal. Why have I signed up for this? Why have I accepted coming here? Why have I left everyone behind to chase illusions and dreams of a better world?

And, here I stay. Delusional. Amongst strange streets and alleyways and foreign-looking buildings. A different culture. A different life.

Only one stranger makes me feel at home.

I tried opening my eyes again; the outside world was too cruel I had to shy away and look towards the wall on my left. There, I had hung a frame of my father. A gentle soul. A person I never really knew. The most important figure in my life, elusive to me. Next to him was a frame of my mother. She has always been the reason to keep me going. The reason I wake up on gloomy days like this. A frame of my sister — looking all upset — was with the rest of the family. My eyes closed on me.

Throb throb throb.

This is wrong, I told myself. You just can’t feel that way. You know it is wrong. My thoughts a little whirlpool of rose petals being smeared by thorny doubts. But it just feels right… by time I took a leap of faith. So what? Give it a shot. Give it your all.

But my other self disagreed. No, it said, this might be a dead end. Why would you put yourself through such a thing?

Throb throb throb.

You know what your problem is? You think too much, and feel too little. Maybe… but you can’t just take your banners and march through life and expect not to be the target of pitchforks and arrows.

Throb throb throb.

Throb throb THROB THROB.

Tried to open my eyes.. my head is throbbing.. or.. was that a knock?

Throb throb thnock knock knock.

Bright light… curtains…

I make my way through the cluttered bedroom and out into the small corridor. The knocks are louder. Who else would wake up at this hour? I do not even know what hour it is. My hands were feeling the textures on the walls to know my bearings. I think I have found my way to the door.

It smells of… breakfast.

I could smell strawberries. Fresh, ripe, wet strawberries. A basket full of them. And I could pick up a whiff of something sweet… something baked. A cross between raisin bread and a currant bun.

It takes me forever to have the bolts undone. My mind cannot think of anything beyond strawberries and raisins.

I open the door — and immediately become self-conscious of what I am wearing … or rather, not wearing. The gaped greeting expressed it all.

“My goodness!” I said and closed the door immediately. “I am so sorry!”

“Do not worry. I haven’t seen much… just enough.” A nervous laugh.

I grabbed a shawl and wrapped it around my shoulders. Opened the door ajar, allowing the sweetness of the breakfast flow inside.

That kind face. The warm smile. Everything melted away. My doubts. My fears. My purpose. It all became clear once again. As though the hours of agony I have spent that morning were for naught. I only had to see a glimpse of that face and have my faith restored.

“Would you like something to eat,” he said, lifting the basket of strawberries and raisin bread and butter in my face. “When you told me you liked some raisins, I took an oath to allow myself to—”

I cannot believe he is standing right here, in front of me, and I appear before him in this absolute mess! I’ve been telling this to myself for the past few seconds.

“Are you all right,” he asked. “Marie? Are you OK?”

“Yes,” I replied, maintaining what was left of my dignity in my posture. He stood there, as handsome and dishevelled as he ever was. “It is a delight to see you.”