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

The Other Side of Ramadan

Today is the first day of Ramadan, and probably a rare occasion where most — if not all — Muslim countries miraculously agreed that it would be on the 1st of August (correct me if I am wrong), so let’s hope it ends on the same date as well. At least for the first time ever, I would not have to hear sarcastic comments from a Westerner fresh off the boat regarding the whole moon calculation thing.

Indian Muslim vendor separates the seeds of a pomegranate.
An Indian Muslim vendor separates the seeds of a pomegranate at a roadside stall in preparation for Muslims breaking their fast at sundown in Mumbai, India on August 19, 2010. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

There are plenty of wonderful blog posts on Ramadan, including this one from last year by Mich and an updated version for this year here. Practically any news outlet is now talking about Ramadan, in any way or another, and marketing it as a product.

This is my concern.

Everywhere you will read something along the lines of “Ramadan is a time of reflection” and “it is a time of prayers, feeling for the poor, meditation, and sharing” among other things. Then in the next line you would find ill-crafted text that goes “Join us at our luxurious and exclusive Ramadan tent with open buffet for only AED 400 per person”. Then a little asterisk leads you to the fine print which mentions that your AED 400 does not include your shisha and the 15% tax.

Right.

In case you are interested, this is an image of what feeding the poor is like, just in case the exclusive tent does not have charity envelopes for you to donate in:

A child in Kabul, Afghanistan
A child sits with a plate of food that was distributed as part of the holy month of Ramadan, at a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010. (AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi)

Here’s a list of things I do not like about how Ramadan is being practised these days (generally as well as locally):

- Marketing products you hardly ever needed with plasters boasting a Ramadan discount or something along the lines of “in the spirit of Ramadan”.

- The endless barrage of TV soaps and shows, most of which are pointless and have nothing to do with the “Ramadan spirit” or “time of reflection and meditation”. Unless you’re a mosquito that can’t avoid anything glowing, that’s hardly meditation.

- Speaking of glowing, what’s with the jewellery industry crafting gold and diamond necklaces specifically for Ramadan? Is it a status symbol that I wear a ridiculously priced (and usually terribly designed) piece of jewellery that shows my religious support?

- People storming markets and grocery stores as though they have heard that there is no more oil in the world to transport anything further and what you have is all what you would eat till you die from starvation. People should be eating less during Ramadan — you’re shaving off more than half of the day fasting — yet somehow gluttony has become synonymous with Ramadan.

- Ill-tempered people. Okay I understand you have not had your coffee and you have not had your cigarette. That’s the point of fasting: testing your temper and tolerance. Fasting is not an excuse for you to be bad tempered. It is a motive for you to control yourself. I can understand some random bursts here and there — we are human, after all — but to still be a crazed lunatic as Ramadan comes to a close means you have missed the point.

- Speaking of lunatics: people driving. I do not need to elaborate.

- What pisses me off the most: Non-fasting people should not eat and/or drink in front or close to those who fast “to protect their feelings”. I appreciate your concern but Muslims should toughen up and stop victimising themselves with fasting excuses. Again, it’s testing your temptation. If you’re not fasting, you should be able to eat and drink as you please. If you don’t want to out of respect, that’s your choice, but having a law that can put you in jail because of eating and drinking in public is uncalled for. In malls, you see food outlets closed with very few open and barricaded to hide those who are eating. Seriously? My friends in Lebanon and Syria thankfully report otherwise.

I can go on and on but that would bore you. So if you have any other gripes at how people practise Ramadan, please mention it in the comments.

Why Ramadan is Still Special, Despite Everything

For those who know me I have been going through some rough mental patches when it comes to faith, but I am not one who likes to openly discuss these issues, even though I may voice a concern or two sporadically. This is because (A) for me religion/faith/etc is a pact between heart, mind, soul, and God, and talking about the contents of the pact with other people does not make sense, and (B) because such discussions always end up in a tribal warfare with two opposing camps I would rather not be a member of. They’re issues that are my own and I have to deal with them on my own. No one has the right to influence me, or anyone else, on how they should think of and feel God or religion or whatever they choose to believe in.

If it’s not from within, then I would rather live without.

I don’t need to give a PR press release on what Ramadan is about. Local newspapers online and off are <sarcasm> doing well  with their “Ramadan special Iftars”, other exclusive tents, and depicting the stories of expatriate converts as well as threatening people who eat in public with a jail sentence.</sarcasm>

Ramadan, to me, is a generally happy month, regardless of whether or not I am leading a happy life. I am visibly more quiet, calm, tranquil, and even more passive than normal. It’s not because I am upset. I simply enjoy the “spirit” if you can so call it.

serenity-kinan-jarjous-photography

Ramadan, to me, is when problems become trivial. I am saddened when Ramadan passes not only because of obvious religious reasons, but because nothing seems much of a big deal in Ramadan. I haven’t been presented yet with a life changing crisis in any Ramadan, but usual problems that piss me off and have me drive for hours around Dubai just to mentally escape realities I cannot deal with, all seem insignificant.

As long as no issues occur 20 minutes before Iftar that is, LOL :) but that is why I subscribed to food delivery during the month to ensure that noms will always be present regardless of plans.

I enjoy the call of prayers, whether or not I attend them. I am especially attached to the mosque on campus, whose Imam has a most exquisite voice that speaks to me. Ever since I graduated I still go to the mosque on campus in the last few days of Ramadan. Sadly this year, the semester has been pushed to commence after Eid, so I will not be able to enjoy Taraweeh or Qiyam prayers there. For those who want to know more about Taraweeh, you can reach Mich’s fantastic post on her reflections during the month here.

For those not in the know, Qiyam (officially called Tahajjud) is a prayer similar to Taraweeh that takes place in the last third of the night (1-3 AM depending on the mosque and sunrise). Qiyam can be done on any day, regardless of whether or not it is Ramadan. During the month, though, they’re performed in the last ten days of Ramadan in mosques. The religious significance of the prayer is the belief that God grants whatever you ask for if you’re staying up to pray at these odd hours. The Hadith is:

يتنزل ربنا تبارك وتعالى كل ليلة إلى السماء الدنيا حين يبقى ثلث الليل الآخر فيقول : من يدعوني فأستجيب له، من يسألني فأعطيه من يستغفرني فأغفر له

Last year I took a recording of Qiyam from the campus mosque and I often listen to it when I want to zone out, especially this particular segment here.

Wishing everyone to find peace in this month.

The Inevitable Ramadan Post

Ramadan is different this time around. Things have changed over the past couple of years for me and many other people. Personally speaking, this Ramadan would be an interesting one.

Despite everything else, Ramadan has always been one of the happiest months. It’s undeniably mostly psychological, but often it doesn’t matter how we feel good and happy as long as we do. It’s these simplest notions of guilt and pleasure that we build our lives upon. Otherwise, why would we invent so many things to make us happy and detract us away from what upsets us, which, with no coincidence, we, too, built.

Life to me, right now, is nothing more than manufactured, by our greed for power and desire for superiority. My religious side has always been bumpy as it never is easy to be part of a multi religious and partly atheist family. Regardless, whatever religious systems present are moral codes to regulate society. The truthfulness of the poetry or legends behind them doesn’t matter anymore in 2010. What matters is the outcome – power and prejudice. Normally, people have given up, and those who didn’t stick to their own derived forms of established ethics. Which is fine. God is God, in the mind or in the metaphysical – it really doesn’t matter as long as we’re happy with ourselves.

I haven’t prayed in two years, bar some intermittent sparks of piety, and I almost but completely forgotten why everything is the way it is to begin with. Yet in the night God is my only companion, and I still remember when I was a kid, praying that my dad would buy me the Nintendo 64 with Super Mario, which he did, in the States out of all places. I remember how God always answered in one way or another. And I explicitly remember praying to be made redundant so I can be happy as I don’t have the balls to quit a job – because I like to see everything through – and it’s been answered.

And yes, despite the depressive episodes and my mood swings, I am, overall, genuinely much happier than before.

In any case, you can learn about Ramadan over many places, but moryarti summarizes eloquently here (and on a humourous note,here). If you wanna start learning how to cook, no better than abufares‘ wonderful, but obtusely detailed recipes. You can also read Mr. Tahhan’s blog filled with delicious recipes and foodly photos from different cuisines.

Wishing you all a blessed Ramadan and more importantly, happiness and content with who you are, and your life, regardless of whatever you pray to, or don’t.

Ramadan Mubarak Everyone!

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What? Huh? When? Why?

Relax, I know it is in a month lol! But since ALLLLLLLLLLLLLL of you would be posting the same, people are gonna say ‘another Ramadan post!’ and copy paste comments. Qwaider of course will complain about the iftar timings in the West, especially now that it is summer and the sun in higher latitudes probably never goes down, and propose a Micro$oft $ilverlight $pon$ored $olution (thats a lot of $pon$or$ship). I think I will block my atheist cousin off MSN for a month LOL! He keeps trying to convert me. That infidel.

In any case, you can learn about Ramadan over many places, but moryarti summarizes eloquently here (and on a humourous note, here). If you wanna start learning how to cook, no better than abufares‘ wonderful, but obtusely detailed recipes. You can have a preview of some of the meals here.

Nice surprise eh? My supreme sense of intelligence with Forecast feature based on historical data (where is the effing TM symbol on iPhone?) told me I should post it a month earlier and shock you out of bed.

So, opposite-of-belated Ramadan Mubarak!