Ramadan in America: Time to reflect

June 1, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

Marko Djurica/Reuters

 

By

Ahmed Tharwat

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan will begin next week on June 6th. This day-fasting month is observed by millions of Muslims around the world, unless you are in China, where anti-fasting cops resort to force-feeding observing Muslims.

Ramadan now comes in the summer season where the number of hours that Muslims must fast varies based on where they live. In a country in the northern hemisphere, like Denmark, there is a whopping 22 hours of fasting time. I fear there will be some very angry Muslims over there. However, in the southern hemisphere, Argentina has the shortest fasting day with only 10 hours. In my own state, Minnesota, there are 17 hours to endure and summer temperatures often reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit (about 32 C). This may make Donald Trump’s banning of Muslims from coming to Minnesota during the month of Ramadan not such a bad idea.

The hardest part about fasting in America is not so much the long hours and the heat, it is fasting in a country where eating is becoming a form of entertainment, where meals, coffee breaks and snacks everywhere and eating never seem to cease. Some Middle Eastern restaurants here will fetch outdoor tents where hungry Muslims and their families come to break their fast at sunset. Families and friends gather under the giant white tent to break their fast and celebrate the holy month together in a magical communal evening.

Muslims are often asked questions about their faith and practices, and we explain patiently that fasting Ramadan is one of the requirements of the five pillars of Islam. The other four are belief in one God and the finality of the prophet or “Shahadah”, pilgrimage to Mecca or Haj, Almsgiving or “Zakah”, and praying five times daily. Allah (God) says, “Fasting is mine and it is I who give reward for it. [A man] gives up his sexual passion, his food and his drink for my sake.” Thanks god this is only during the day!

 

 

In fact, most Muslims will observe fasting even if they aren’t keen on following other pillars of faith. However, not all Muslims fast and there are legitimate and creative ways to avoid fasting, like travelling (at least 80 miles on a mule, but nobody has tried this recently), bringing their old medical records to their doctors for permission not to fast, or just simply not fasting at all. Islam doesn’t require children to fast until reaching adolescence; l-Kharqi said: “When a child is ten years old and is able to fast, he should start to do so.”

But fasting at earlier ages gives Muslim children some sense of growing up, like a rite of passage, and kids want to emulate their older brothers and sisters. Some strict Muslim parents will demand their youngsters to fast for at least a short time as soon as they can walk. I have seen a Muslim girl as young as four wearing a hijab, so it is not too far-fetched to assume that she will be soon experiment with fasting.

Forcing your kids to fast is not always a virtue, and could be counterproductive. Growing up in Egypt, as a youngster, my parents were relaxed about religion. Indeed, my dad had a great contempt for zealous imams and preferred to live by example and despised preaching. In this way, my dad raised eight children and the only thing he liked about Ramadan fasting is the not eating part, “be hungry be healthy, the prophet says” he explained when we asked for food. In a Muslim majority country, cheating on fasting is not a piece of cake, and it can be very tricky in a country where everyone around is fasting.

At school, for non observant students, the bathroom was the best place for premature fast breaking, as no one was interested in what you are doing in the bathroom, they have been there before, it is a great place for multi-tasking, but you have to be careful. In my village in Egypt I was able to get by without fasting until I started going to school for the first time where everyone watched you. There you couldn’t eat or drink in front of anyone. Nobody believed me when I claimed I was Christian; everyone knew the only one Christian student in the entire school, and besides, I was the son of “Alnazzer”, the school principal.

Fasting gives you the bragging rights, and other kids will check to make sure that you have earnt it and haven’t eaten or drunk anything. “Open your mouth, show me your tongue,” they would ask you every time they met you in the hallway, and at this juncture, you had no choice but to open your mouth. Nobody will read you your Miranda rights here. Kids actually took this very seriously, and it wasn’t unusual to see a six or seven-year-old kid, surrounded by the whole class, sticking his tongue out, ready for the fasting checkpoint. The tongue had to have a gray tinge and be not broken from drinking or eating. If the kids suspected a fasting violation, they would bring their noses as close as possible to your face and smell your mouth to make sure that you had the blessing of Ramadan bad breath.

“During Ramadan, some people experience bad breath as the salivary glands do not produce enough saliva to keep the breath fresh,” said Dr. Rana Al-Thib, General Dentist at Hibah Shata Specialized Dental Clinic, Dubai Healthcare City. Muslims usually understand and tolerate bad breath in Ramadan, and believe that it has its reward from God. As the prophet says, “The change in the breath of the mouth of him who fasts is better in Allah’s estimation than the smell of musk. “ Americans may tolerate badmouthing, but won’t tolerate bad breath, and no amount of culture diversity training is going to change that. In fact, Americans spend nearly 10 billion a year to rid themselves of their bad breath but not as much to red themselves of  bad ideas.

Here in America, I miss the magnificent scene of the sun setting on the horizon, the anticipation of “Azzan”, the call for “Maghrab” (evening prayer) to break your fast, the food preparation, the sizzling smell of your favorite Ramadan dishes, the communal eating at the public Ramadan dinner table set up in streets and squares, the chat, the Ramadan TV series that brings families together, the walk in Cairo streets at night, and most of all the “Mosahraati”, a drummer who comes late at night beating his drum declaring time for your last evening meal, calling your own name chanting: “Esha Ya Nayem Wahed El-Dayim. Wake up sleepy-eyed and worship the everlasting. And one thing, please when you great a Muslim for Ramadan, don’t say as it was customary before Egyptian revolution Ramadan “Mubarak”…,  now just say ” Ramadan Kareem”!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ahmed Tharwat

Ahmed Tharwat is the Producer and Host of the Arab-American TV showBelAhdan. His articles are published in national and international publications. He blogs at Notes from America, www.ahmediatv.com and his articles appear in national and international publications. Follow him on Twitter @AhmediaTV.

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