Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Pangs of Ramadan

"Wallahi this is hard," complained Abderrahman as he stopped by my desk the other day. "Ramadan in August is not easy! We have finished eight days, and still have 22 more to go."

He was perhaps expecting a word of encouragement or commiseration from me, but when none was forthcoming his tone picked up. "I've been reading articles about the benefits of fasting," he assured me. "It cleans out your digestive system and purifies your kidneys. It removes toxins from your body and gives it an entirely fresh start."

As Abderrahman left to wait anxiously for six more hours until he could swallow a taste of water or a morsel of food, I realized there was no way I could tell him what I was really thinking. Do Muslims realize how often people do not respond to them simply because of the realization the conversation will go nowhere? If I could have said what I wanted to, it would have been, "Abderrahman, God could care less whether you wait until sundown to swallow your saliva, have something to eat or drink, smoke a cigarette or have sex. He's not going to forgive any more or less of your sins based on how well you keep Ramadan. Fasting during the sacred month was only one of many Jewish pre-Islamic religious practices Muhammad adopted in his attempts to make the Jews believe he was the Prophet he claimed to me. You fast because you have been socially conditioned your entire life to do so, and the shame, fear, and guilt you would feel by not fasting far outweighs the physical discomfort of doing so. Most of all, just keep in mind the spiritual pride you will feel when it is all over!"

To be fair, Muslims are not the only people who live within the framework of the religious insanity that results from keeping man-made traditions intended to impose spirituality and morality. Yesterday I visited the land of my roots, the Pennsylvania Dutch country. As I followed Amish slow-moving horse-drawn buggies and saw Mennonite women with their plain dresses and white hair-coverings, I had the same question. "Do you really think God cares whether you drive a buggy or a Buick, whether you wear jeans or a long skirt?"

What I find interesting is how young Mennonites and Muslims, particularly teen-age girls, try to break away from the constraints of their religious communities. Anyone who has been to Cairo has noticed young Muslim girls wearing the hijab and long skirts - but with those skirts hugging their hips as tightly as they can wear them. Yesterday I saw young Mennonite girls wearing not the unattractive white hair coverings of their mothers, but thin slivers of black cloth that only covered a fraction of their hair. They almost looked as if they were cut out of black lace panties! (OK, I'll admit that is a very bad pun). The point is that Mennonite teenagers in Lancaster Pennsylvania and Muslims girls in Cairo Egypt are both suffering under the constraints of the religious systems imposed upon them, and both want escape. The more young people question why they do what they are told they must do, and have the courage to break with traditions that really make no sense, the better off they - and all the rest of us - will be.


Susanne said...

I guess they have been told so much that this is what God wants that they feel some obligation to Him, but I do sometimes wonder if it's more cultural pressure to conform rather than true conviction that this is decreed by God.

My Syrian friend (who lives in Germany now) invited a Moroccan friend to iftar at his house. He said he would cook for the two of them. The Moroccan said he had could not because he was expected home. Home with his German girlfriend. He was fasting but also living with a woman. How does that work?

What amazes me is that Muslims scoff at us for believing Jesus could die for our sins, yet they think keeping a fast will do the same. I choose to believe I need a savior because I can't be perfect enough and they choose to believe they can erase their sins by refraining from water, food and sex during Ramadan.

I guess we are both crazy. :)

Quotable Quotes: said...

I think your final sentence was the most important of your entire comment: "I guess we both are crazy."
I believe as you do - I think something significant happened when Jesus died that is different than any other death in history. But I also agree with you that the way we live our lives - trying to imitate the model he laid out for us - is a lot more important than arguing with people about why our beliefs are "better" than theirs.

Abu Ameenah said...

May Allah give you guidance and make your heart open up to Islam.

And remember that to know about Islam, one must go to its authentic source and understand it as how Allah's Messenger Muhammad intended it to be understood.

From Imam Bukhari Compilation of Authentic Hadiths, Book 1 Volume 3, Hadith 71, Narrated by Muawiya

I heard Allah's Apostle saying, "If Allah wants to do good to a person, He makes him comprehend the religion. I am just a distributor, but the grant is from Allah. (And remember) that this nation (true Muslims) will keep on following Allah's teachings strictly and they will not be harmed by any one going on a different path till Allah's order (Day of Judgment) is established."

Take care and stay well hydrated during the summer


Adam said...

Law cannot redeem.
Grace redeems.

Although there is absolutely nothing we sinners can do to redeem ourselves, God in his infinite mercy redeems us by his grace for choosing to live according to his law.

The Quran, the ultimate source of Islamic law, guarantees freedom of religion in sura 109 (The Disbelievers) and ayat 256 of sura 2 "Let there be no compulsion in religion." To my knowledge Islam (Submission) is the only religion to guarantee such freedom.

On the issue of dress, the dress code for believers is relatively simple: the garment of righteousness is the best (Quran 7:26). Men are supposed to guard their eyes and avoid staring at women and be chaste. Women are expected to do the same as well as cover their chests and lengthen their garments. ( &

If women want to be objectified by dressing in a manner designed to attract attention to their physical bodies it is their choice. It is the muslim male's obligation to avoid the temptation of staring at the female form.

In terms of your fasting friend...I think it would be best to remind him of the Pharisees of Yeshu's time and Yeshu's fasting commandments in Matthew 6. The Pharisees would fast and make a public show of it; their reward was self-righteousness, a hungry stomach, and a place with the proverbial goats on the Day of Judgement. Yeshu tells us in Matthew 6:16-18 to fast secretly going about our daily lives like it were any other day.

God knows all the secrets of the heavens and the earth, it is from God the best rewards from fasting come. I think that a hungry stomach and a little bit of social intercourse are rather poor rewards for a day spent without eating or drinking.

Thus, muslims should follow the advise Yeshu and not call attention to the fact that they are fasting.

Believers will act like believers, and be rewarded for it. Hypocrites fool themselves and end up with a load of regrets.

Law cannot redeem, Grace redeems.
If you don't hold to the spirit of the law, you might as well break it.

aemish said...

I challenge you to attempt a spiritual Ramadan pilgrimage for your own self and share the experience once completed.

Mine own was somewhat different from the preconceived notions you would fabricate here.

No hard feelings. Just, well, more along the lines of.. don't knock it until you try it.

Fair enough?

aemish said...

I loathe reading my own little diaries. They sound so immature. Still, it is all I have to offer this year as I myself am not fasting.

Quotable Quotes: said...

I have often noted - and blogged about - the fact that so many Quranic verses that seem to speak favorably of freedom or tolerance are taken from a context that teaches exactly the opposite.

You referred to the verse from al-Baqarah: there is no compulsion in religion. I invite you to read this tafsir of Ibn Kathir where he shows that verse means exactly the opposite of tolerance and freedom:

Quotable Quotes: said...

Thanks for the link to your post. I was excited to realize you were a blogger...then realized you must have been in a crazy writing mood last November....

Anonymous said...

I occasionally drop by here but have never commented before.Today I shall:

You compare Anabaptists to Muslims with just one example, as though Anabaptists are forced to dress a certain way and as if Anabaptists base their salvation upon outward standards.Actually, that's and incorrect if widely-held belief.

Unlike Muslims, Anabaptists let their children decide if they want to join an Anabaptist community or not once they reach the age of reasoning.They can decide to join another church, they can decide to go to a non-plain Anabaptist church and they can decide to reject Christianity altogther - and without being killed.Unlike Muslims, the Anabaptist belief is based on love and non-resistance. You'll not find an Amish suicide bomber or an Old German Baptist Brethren terrorist group.And lastly, but most important- Anabaptists do not believe that dressing a certain way will guarantee a place in heaven.Please listen to this Amish-Mennonite preaching on salvation by grace and against salvation by works:

You asked "Do you really think God cares whether you drive a buggy or a Buick, whether you wear jeans or a long skirt?" and the answer to that is yes God does care.You see while our salvation is based on grace rather than by works, God still requests His people to dress with modesty.Both the Old & New Testaments have rules regarding dress, mainly because God refers to our bodies as His temple, and requests us not desecrate our temple with immodest clothing and tattoos.

As an Anabaptist woman I only wear clothes pertaining to women along with the covering (based on biblical teachings).My clothes are not made in a sweatshop, strangers see my dress & feel free to request prayers and my clothing is an outward reminder to me that I am God's.I'm not oppressed, I choose to join an Anabaptist group and I know people who left the Old Order groups they were born into.I left a salvation by works group and assure you that there is a huge difference for the better in my Anabaptist church.I wish you'd realise that.

And yes, teenagers will be teenagers regardless of nationality or religion.

aemish said...

That must be it :p

Anonymous said...

I'm not aware of any Amish or Mennonitte suicide bombers or terrorists. So your comparison is lame at best.