Reminiscing Ramadan

Last week marked the start of Muslim fasting month of Ramadan across the globe.

The ninth month of the 12-month lunar Islamic calendar, Ramadan brings along a lifestyle and culture of its own, changing people’s schedules to eating habits to how they should behave in order to fulfill essentials of the fast.

It’s a month that holds significance for many but, at the same time, it’s one that becomes a challenge for some. For the faithful, it’s a month that holds far more significance in terms of worshiping than any other month of the year. Whereas, for people like me, it comes as an unwelcome guest in a metaphoric house that has no door but windows.

Fasting comes as third in a series of five pillars that encompass the Muslim faith. The others include praying five times a day towards the city of Mecca, performing Hajj–the pilgrimage to the city once in a lifetime for those who can afford it–and giving alms to the needy. During the 29- to 30-day long month, the number depending on the visibility of the crescent moon to start or end the month, observers of the fast are required to refrain from eating, drinking and having sexual pleasures. It also obliges the faithful to be more caring, helpful and fulfilling toward the needs of other fellow believers of the faith.

Despite the fact that I’ve always viewed myself as someone born into the religion more by chance than by choice and that I’ve always had this feeling that certain beliefs were thrust upon me than I would have liked, there are certain things I like about the festive month.

Back in Pakistan, where I have lived most of my life, the month would bring along a whole culture of its own. It would revive certain norms and customs that were otherwise forsaken.

For instance, the month would engender a sense of empathy among well-to-do people for their needy neighbors and underprivileged people. Alms or Zakat, enshrined as one of the five pillars of the religion that obliges the-haves to give a certain portion of their yearly earnings and overall value of possessions in form of charity to the poor, would be distributed among people in need. The amount would not help much, but it would enable the recipients to buy basic commodities of life and the like.

For a food carver like me, the month was no less than a food carnival with savory dishes. From crispy pakoras to hot samosas and delicious jalebis to custard puddings, the meticulously laid dining spread during iftar would present the look of a never-ending buffet. But before one could get to taste anything, hearing azan from imam of the mosque was a prerequisite to break the fast. This was the time when the power of the ‘mullahs’ would become more evident than ever.

Then after iftar would come the taraweeh prayers at night, the ever-lasting jabber of the imam during prayers. If  allowed to look sideways during prayers, one could see people yawning more than doing squats during the prayers.

However, the hardest part would be waking up to the uncalled-for yelling of Haji Munir and Moli Fazal, imams in the neighboring mosques who would incessantly ask people, through the megaphones of their respective mosques, to wake up for sehri, or the meal before dawn.

With one quarter of the month passed, things would look a lot easier. Fasting for a whole month would be tough, but it was worth it. Not so for religious reasons for me but because I could see how much self-control I would have at the turn of the month.

This is going to be my third Ramadan away from home that I will let go unobserved. I can imagine how hard it is observing a fast from sunrise to sunset in this part of the world given that daylight here lasts for more than 18 hours. The fact is, I am not. But I certainly miss the cultural aspect of Ramadan.