Yes it’s that time of the year again when the world stops turning and we all focus on the one thing that really matters. FOOD. Ramadan Kareem (Ramadan is generous) is a common phrase that we all say, hear and try to embody. Or so we think. Now before I go off on my rant and rave about the holy month I need to make a couple of disclaimers: one, if you are overly sensitive to the spirit of Ramadan this may offend you. What I say here has no bearing on the beauty of what Ramadan is or the respect due it, but rather a commentary on our modern interpretation of what our lifestyles have been like in this month.
Let me first start with the pre Ramadan craze and how that affects people. The weekend before Ramadan sees people lining up and standing in long queues to get their Ramadan supplies. It looks like they are constantly worried that there will be no food or toilet paper sold during Ramadan. I mean come on, why do you suddenly have the need to buy 19 cans of corn, 12 chickens, 5 boxes of milk, 3 bags of flour, 4 kilos of dates, 5 bags of noodles (you know the ones, (شعرية …etc all at one go? What is it about Ramadan that makes people need to buy in bulk? Prices are not cheaper, supplies are not going to run out, and how much storage space do you have in your house anyways? I truly think that the essence of Ramadan is to continue your life as normal, and just focus on the spirituality of the month rather than its gluttony.
Speaking of gluttony, how many times have we heard people talk about fasting being a cleansing of the body as well as the spirit? Well how do you manage that if at iftar you wolf down a 5 course meal? There is soup, salad, dates, pastries, main dish (if not two), and desert. How does your body cleanse itself if you let it run on empty then put ALL that stuff in one go? There is a saying in computers, garbage in, garbage out! Mix all those elements in and it’s a sure fire way to cause indigestion.
And can someone please explain to me how eating a 5 course meal, followed by a continuous stream of food all night is considered empathizing with the poor? A central theme of Ramadan is empathy with the poor. Yet we over eat, over spend, work less, and complain about it! If we really want to feel with the poor, shouldn’t we keep to our regular lifestyles, cook simply, work a same amount and really get in touch with the less privileged?
One of the things I really like about Ramadan is how we all suddenly find God and find our pockets. We all suddenly remember our prayer mats, the Koran, and don’t get me started on what we all stop doing! We do remember to give to charities, we do feed people, we do donate clothes and money though and that is wonderful. So wonderful that I would think that the beneficiaries of all this charity and giving would love to have some consistency throughout the year.
And please don’t get me started on the Ramadan tents and the TV shows. It’s like we are deprived of any entertainment throughout the year and we need to make up for it in 30 days!
I guess what I am trying to say is that what I see and experience in Ramadan these days is so far away from my understanding of Ramadan and what it stands for. I also have issues with people who consistently behave one way for 11 months and then for 1 month they change. If you believe in the ideals that Ramadan embodies, shouldn’t you strive to be that person throughout the year? God is around ALL the time not just in Ramadan! The poor are hungry and need clothes all the time not just in Ramadan and during Eid. The spirit needs to be tamed and we should be patient, understanding, polite, always not just in Ramadan.
I really don’t understand why we get crankier, ruder, louder, more gluttonous (and yes I know all about nicotine and caffeine withdrawal), when Ramadan is a time to get quieter, calmer, more focused, more spiritual. It is a time of rituals and traditions both cultural and religious. It is a time for families to come together, to share between themselves and others. It’s a time to feel with the less privileged. It’s a time to respect and understand our own privileges.
Alas I feel that these lessons are lost. You don’t have to fast to understand or learn these lessons. But I think you should respect them and give space to understand them and be given the space to practice the rituals of Ramadan or not. So next time you say or hear the phrase Ramadan Kareem think about what it means to you and how you will embody that phrase. I know I have already started my journey into the Ramadan Spirit.