The spirit of Ramadan
Last week I shared here a few words regarding the beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan that started last Thursday throughout the world.
Today I would like to share with you what I had written on my previous blog in 2013 as I was experiencing my first Ramadan as an expat in Dubai.
21/07/2013 - The Spirit of Ramadan
When i was small, Ramadan was synonym of trouble. Raised in a highly old-fashion neighbourhood in Paris, and even though it was only 25 years ago, I can tell you there were not that many Muslims in the district. At this time, Ramadan had no spiritual meaning to us: it mainly meant that our neighbours upstairs would get a lot of visitors, prepare smelly food and party all night long, and that us little white kids would not sleep much for a month. No need to say that it would "get worse" during winter when night was longer than day. To summarize, let's say that, by then, there was no real cultural exchange and knowledge sharing, and that the respect and community spirit you would expect on this month were non-existing. And then, the father of the family passed away because of cancer. We never heard the family party again, but instead they got a bird that would sing in the courtyard each morning.
I moved to Dubai a year ago, a few weeks before Ramadan started. Again, for a newcomer in the region, this month was a tough one. Even though I was working from home, once in a while I was going in and out the house by 45°, without having the right to even drink a drop. Once I even almost fainted in the elevator, due to heat shock. Poor newcomer I was.
And then something happened this year. Like a spiritual, cultural epiphany whose source I cannot really identify. This year, I think I've learned more about traditions, about daily stages, about prayers. Even though I had learned much from Muslim friends and colleagues in the past years, I think that this year especially I opened my heart and my mind like never. The events of the past weeks possibly had an impact on my "spiritual opening". But being curious about local traditions probably made the change.
Newspapers in the region cover Ramadan on a daily basis. First they review the moon sighting and lessons from astrologists; then they develop the do's and don'ts that people should respect, especially expats; then a great share covers diet practices (how to loose weight, how not to jump on food on Iftar etc...); the rest covers crazy driving and accidents. Each Friday, you can read in English a statement from the prayer sermon; during Ramadan the sermon expands its message to all days.
I do believe that things can make sense if you want to embrace them through another filter. Ramadan is a month of peace, sharing, understanding, forgiveness. Fasting is not about restricting yourself to listen to religious dictatorship; it gives you on the contrary an idea of what others might experience, and what you have "in extra" in your life. In the past days I've considered fasting as well and see what I could gain from it on the spiritual level. I am spending most of the day on water and juice, but don't eat until my body reaches its limits, even though it's still daylight, and especially when walking under 45°.
After all, it is just the contrary of my childhood's experience. I just had no idea by then that I would embrace a religion myself and one day compare it to Islam. Growing up sometimes gives you a better understanding of what goes on around you.
29/07/2013 - The Spirit of Ramadan, Part 2
When my husband came back home the other day asking me whether I had finally decided to fast after reading my previous article, I told him that I was not especially looking at food and drink as restrictions, but that I was rather interested in the spiritual aspects of Ramadan.
But still, appreciating Ramadan "as a full package" means taking all aspects seriously, including fasting, so I considered my options and my starting points: I cannot manage a day without drinking a lot of water, or I systematically get a headache; I cannot do without a certain amount of caffeine (at least a morning cup of coffee or tea) or I spend the rest of the day yawning; I need to leave my house in the morning with some cereals in my stomach or I get grumpy for the rest of the day.
Let's say that I am not making it easy on myself from the beginning and that I seriously look for problems. Let's say also that I am the greatest person to find excuses. So I read and listened, and got suggested to start small and simple: do not eat but keep drinking water and juice. But I also have a voice in mind constantly reminding me that "there's no middle way if you take such decisions: either you do it 100%, or you don't".
I tried, and to be honest it did not work that well. Eventually my stomach reminded me I was not prepared for it. However, walking around outside (in the streets or in the public transports) allowed me couple of times to push my limits, mainly because there was just no other choice. I also tried to go for the "less-guilty alternative" (eating a fruit instead of a proper meal) to fill my stomach. But still, this is cheating, and even though there are maybe 10 days left to give it a try, I already appreciate the failure.
And then I ended up reading the Pan-Arabian Enquirer, and laughed: I did not expect to get a good lesson from a satirical article.
I need here to quote the first lines from this morning's article, "Expat still pretending she’s fasting for Ramadan" :
"DUBAI: Despite having given up her efforts to fast less than two hours into the first day of Ramadan, Suzie Bramble is still attempting to convince colleagues that she’s going without food or drink during daylight hours. “I just feel so spiritual inside, like my body and soul are going through a deep cleansing session,” the 35-year-old British expat explained to co-workers in the Dubai offices of MPK Financial Services while on her way to the bathrooms with her pockets stuffed with biscuits. "
Yes, I did say in my previous post that I started "embracing the Spirit of Ramadan"; now I just feel like hiding until Eid. I do not like pointing at people, and I just cannot throw the first stone at others when I feel that stupid. Well done, Mr. Enquirer: I got your lesson, and finally listened to the voice in my mind.
But let me defend myself at least one last time: I will probably not fast this year or any in the future; however I'll keep on thinking about Ramadan in general,about the Friday sermons, about food waste on iftar, about traffic hell on Ramadan hours, about peace and quiet at the gym, and about the Iftar dinner at the Burj-Al-Arab on Friday.